Story: You are the leader of the 3rd Street Saints, a gang which has wiped out the competition to control the city of Stilwater.
Well, you were...
You wake up from a lengthy coma to discover that there are new gangs in town, your old neighbourhood has been redeveloped and the Saints have disbanded. You're back to stealing loose change and dreaming of the big time.
Luckily, it doesn't take long to get hold of a bazooka and start causing some mayhem...
Gameplay: Think Grand Theft Auto with more explosions and even less realism.
Drive around town, taking on missions to gain the turf of rival gangs. These mostly involve some combination of driving, shooting and blowing stuff up. Occasionally you have to fly somewhere or guard something.
To unlock missions you have to earn respect by doing whatever activities you can find. There are dozens of options, from entering a demolition derby to throwing yourself in front of traffic to commit insurance fraud. Even driving dangerously earns respect, adding spice to every journey.
Save System: Autosave after each mission.
Comments: The original Saints Row was disparaged for being nothing more than a blatant copy of Grand Theft Auto III with better graphics, improved combat and mid-mission checkpoints. Quite why people would want to complain about a version of GTA with most of the major irritations removed is a mystery, however. I thought it was rather fun (in a Daily Mail-baiting kind of way).
Saints Row 2 is pretty similar, except it's Grand Theft Auto IV with worse graphics, improved combat and mid-mission checkpoints. If it's a while since you played the first game, you're going to struggle to spot the differences. The most noticeable are helicopters, planes and some extra types of side mission, such as protecting celebs from harassment and pretending to be a cop for reality TV. The 'Stronghold' missions to capture enemy territory have also been made more interesting. The story is remarkably familiar, only this time the main character has plenty of dialogue but the plot is slightly weaker.
The main gripe is that the whole thing is a little rough around the edges with slightly substandard graphics and a number of bugs. The final few missions are a little underwhelming as well. Less of a problem (but still annoying) are numerous references to the first game without giving a proper recap.
Saints Row 2 is nowhere near as clever or impressive as GTA IV. It is more fun, though. The simple street layouts keep it accessible and there's always something fun to do. Dull journeys are avoided and messing up normally results in a little setback rather than teeth-grinding punishment.
Obviously, this isn't a game for children - it's full of swearing, drugs, violence and sexual references - but it's not going to bring an end to civilisation. The over-the-top nature of it all firmly separates it from reality. Impressively, however, the script somehow manages to portray the homicidal psychopaths in your gang as likable people you'd want to go for a beer with. Then, every so often, they do something that's just plain nasty, bringing you up short and putting all their other actions back into scary perspective. Ultimately, this gives a better insight into the nature of evil than any number of World War II games where you get to heroically slaughter Nazis.
Or maybe I'm reading too much into it and it is all about driving dangerously and shooting things...
Conclusion: Saints Row 1.5.
Graphics: The options menu lets you choose between slow-down or screen-tear, so it's safe to say there are plenty of minor issues. Nothing interferes with the fun, though, and good art design frequently makes Saints Row 2 more interesting to look at than many more technically competent games. Only some barren interior locations let things down.