As I continued to play through the game I couldn't get over how similar the whole thing felt. Oh sure, they've rebuilt a lot of the locations and there's certainly a lot that is new here, but at its heart this is just the same boring old city all over again. I couldn't get over the fact that this felt like an elaborate expansion pack, similar to what we saw from games like Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories. It's not like they didn't have an opening, they could have easily had the character go to prison in another city. But instead they chose to start the game back up in Stilwater, which is probably the most disappointing thing about the game. Half the fun of these sandbox-style games is that you get to explore the world and see all of the nooks and crannies. But in Saints Row 2 I felt like this part of the game was robbed for me, even with all of the new stuff added in.
Speaking of familiar things, all of my likes and dislikes about the first game came flooding back as I played through this game. For example, I had completely forgotten that in order to play missions you had to play the various mini-games (which I'll get to a little later). Leveling up your respect is a major part of the game, yet somehow that completely slipped my mind. I also forgot that in a lot of ways the game controlled like a Gears of War-style action game, where you have a crosshair and you control the aim at all times. Maybe I'm just used to games like Crackdown and Grand Theft Auto IV, but for the first little while I was expecting to be able to auto aim.
As negative as I am making this sound, I can't deny that Saints Row 2 is a fun game. The missions are short and entertaining, and in some ways offer objectives that you didn't get from Rockstar Games' most recent Grand Theft Auto outing. For instance, Saints Row 2 is overflowing with exciting on-rail segments, which involve you as a passenger in some sort of vehicle (car, boat, helicopter, etc.) shooting at whoever and whatever gets close to you. These missions were always some of my favorite, yet for whatever reason GTA IV decided against throwing them in. Thankfully that's not the case with Saints Row 2, so fans of Vice City and San Andreas will no doubt get a kick out of the over-the-top missions found in this title.
The one thing I keep hearing about Saints Row 2 is that it puts the "fun" back in the sandbox style. I'm sure there are a number of people who were disappointed with the more realistic tone of GTA IV, especially when it came to taking out some of the new over-the-top aspects (parachuting from the tops of buildings, jetpacks, etc.). These people will no doubt find that Saints Row 2 is a welcome addition, since this game is not realistic at all (not even a little). This is a game that doesn't even attempt to offer complex emotions or deeper meaning, it's just an excuse to drive fast and blow stuff up.
This over-the-top approach is no more evident than when you try one of the game's multiple activities. Much like the first game, Saints Row 2 features all sorts of crazy mini-games when you're not killing cops and trying to take over the city. In total there are more than a dozen, including some of the best mini-games from the first game (insurance fraud, drug dealing, races, and so on). On top of the familiar modes, you also have a few new mini-games that prove to be just as much fun ... if not more fun.
One of my personal favorite modes is Heli Assault, a mode where you take to the air and protect a car from oncoming enemy cars and other helicopters. Another mode is Fight Club, which allows you to test your metal against up to six computer-controlled characters in a small ring. There's also FUZZ, which is a parody of the long-running show COPS, where you dress up like a cop and kill protesters, arsonists and other unruly characters. In other mini-game you play a septic truck who is earning money for every house, cop and car you douse in ... well, you know what. Perhaps the most exciting mini-game is something called Trail Blazer, which has you on an flaming ATV driving around setting people and cars on fire to earn extra time. Not all of these modes are as solid as they should be, but there are a few that I could play over and over again. Sadly there are only twelve levels per activity, which is a shame because I found that the game left me wanting more.
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