Saints Row 2 - 5 Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: August 8, 2013
As the release of Saints Row IV approaches, some who have been caught up in its marketing schemes may be interested in the earlier games of the Saints Row franchise. We have already taken a look at Saints Row: The Third, and thanks to the Humble Deep Silver Bundle, which is still on sale as I write this, we can now take a look at Saints Row 2.
The Saints Row franchise features the Third Street Saints gang creating chaos with gunfire and explosions, and Saints Row 2 is no exception. After waking up from a coma and busting out of prison, you, as the leader of the Saints, go to the Stilwater Courthouse to free Johnny Gat, a Saints Lieutenant who is most happy when murdering. From there you proceed to challenge and defeat rival gangs and a rather corrupt company, all in an open-world action-adventure environment. By the way, the game has received a Mature rating from the ESRB for violence, strong language, and more, and some screenshots in this review may also contain such content. If you should not be seeing such content, you should probably not be reading a review for a game that contains so much of it.
Five years after its release, does Saints Row 2 still deserve attention, or should you look the other way? Read on to find out.
Saints Row 2 is a five year old game. Can I leave this section at that?
More seriously, it is a five year old game and does not show its age very well. The environments are often flat and bland, some characters look odd with how they are shaded, and it is not uncommon to see people walking around wearing the exact same clothes, because only so many outfits are loaded in the memory. On the plus side though, vehicles look pretty good, especially as they take damage, when you can see the deformed panels and bouncing doors. Wheel damage adds a wobble to them, as well as sparks if the tire has been destroyed (but the tire remains on the wheel).
Volumes, such as fire, water splashes, and smoke definitely look dated. I would guess they are actually flat textures being stacked to create the volume, as well as add some variance to their appearance.
Some specs before discussing performance:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
In theory, Saints Row 2 was running at 60 FPS for almost the entire time I was playing it. In reality though, it was stuttering quite a lot; especially while driving, but other times too. Why would a five year old game have a stutter on such a modern and powerful computer? Because this game is a port, and appears to have not been well optimized for the PC. Apparently some mods do exist to address some of these issues, but I did not use them. Fortunately the stuttering was the worse graphical issue I had for almost the entire game. There was one mission where the framerate dropped to, at best, somewhere in the twenties. I disabled V-Sync and immediately the framerate returned to around 60 FPS, and made the mission playable. After the mission, and without quitting the game, I turned V-Sync back on, and the framerate did not drop again.
For a port though, you do get a decent number of graphical settings, including View Distance, Dynamic Lighting, Motion Blur, and Motion Blur. It is actually listed twice in the display settings and I am not sure why; maybe there are two places motion blur can occur and you can control them separately. I ran the game at max settings, except for motion blur and depth of field being off (personal choice) and I turned the anti-aliasing setting down from 8x to 4x. I did this at the beginning to ease the stuttering, and it actually did help.
One thing to say for the engine is that I never experienced any loading delays while just running around the city of Stilwater. Sometimes cut scenes took a moment to load, and resetting a mission was not quite instantaneous, but from point A to point B, I never spotted any pop-in, of the environment at least. People and vehicles were routinely popping in and out. In some cases I could just turn around and things would vanish, which is somewhat annoying when you are hunting for a specific vehicle and it was there a moment ago.
Cut scenes, by the way, appear to be all rendered in the game, so your character's customized appearance is reflected within them.
There is more to say about the game's graphics than that they are five years old, but sadly the more is mostly that it is a port and shows it.
Two brief points about the audio before moving on. One is that most of the in-game music is delivered by vehicle radios, which can be controlled by the player, to a degree. You can control what station is dialed in for your vehicle, but you do not control nearby vehicles. The radio stations do have a decent collection of tracks. The other point is that during at least some of the voice work, I could hear noise in the background. This is not present during other recordings, such as the music, but makes me a little curious about the conditions of the voice recordings.
As easy as it would be for this game to have a 'save-the-princess' story, it is actually more complex than that and provides motivation for the player to be interested in continuing. Most of the time at least. Being the leader of the Third Street Saints, you are determined to rebuild your gang's former glory. To do this you have to defeat and exterminate the gangs that have taken your territory while you were lying in a coma. Though the separate campaigns start off as just a large-scale turf war, they can get personal as friends are murdered and revenge is sought. Of course as one side escalates, so must the other.
Part of rebuilding your gang involves finding new lieutenants, and to prove yourself to them, you have to do certain tasks for them. These missions do not take long, and as unimportant as repossessing a car may seem in the scale of the game, it is one of the missions you must complete to earn a lieutenant.
Once you have your lieutenants, your character assigns them the duties of tracking the three other gangs. Now when you run the gang missions, you will interact with a specific lieutenant. This works well for teaching you a little more about the specific characters, but you do not get a life-story out of any of them. Really you just get to experience their personality some more.
There are four campaigns in the game; three main campaigns and an epilogue campaign. With the mild exception of the epilogue, none of these campaigns relate to the others. The destruction of one gang, accompanied with the death of its leader, does not lead to another to attempt to claim more territory or otherwise reference the fall of an adversary. This means that each campaign is like its own separate story, including the epilogue campaign, as it does not specifically reference events in the other. I mention this so you know not to expect some grand story arc tying everything in the game together, because there is not one. The closest you will get is the Saints' motivation to conquer Stilwater.
Being an open-world action-adventure game, Saints Row 2 allows you to run around and do almost anything you want with the weapons and vehicles available to you. You can run down pedestrians with a sports car on the sidewalk, drive in the oncoming lane on the highway, shoot things, and eventually play the missions and activities where you actually have to do that stuff.
None of the missions seemed to take more than 15 minutes or so to complete, which is not too bad considering that means you only have to stop creating chaos in the open-world for that long. Often the missions start with a cut scene, explaining what you are doing and why, and sometimes the mission also ends with a cut scene. The transition from gameplay to cut scene can be abrupt, with the screen just going black and audio stopping while the cut scene loads.
Completing campaign missions and taking enemy strongholds results in you taking over part of the city. When you control part of the city, you collect money from it, and may be at risk of having your control challenged. Occasionally you will receive a phone call that an area is under attack, so you have to go there to kill the enemy lieutenants to defeat the attackers. You will want to do this, not just for the money, but also because you have to have every gang stronghold to unlock the final mission in that gang's campaign. After completing a campaign mission, you are able to replay it from your one of your hangouts using a newspaper feature, as your exploits are recorded in the local papers.
The activities are more random than the missions are, but many have cut scenes explaining them as well. You are not just spraying fecal matter on the city because you can; you are doing it to help someone out. Completing at least some activities unlocks rewards, such as increased accuracy and decreased bullet damage, which are handy. I have not completed all activities, because there are a lot and I am pressed for time, so I do not know if all activities are tied to rewards or not. The septic avenger, helicopter assault, and mayhem activities I have completed though.
If you are thinking you would enjoy playing some of these activities with names like 'septic avenger,' that is good, because you have to. There is a cost to initiating missions, one bar of respect, and you earn respect by completing activities. Collecting respect is not very difficult, especially as you level up your style, which grants percent bonus respect, and multi-level challenges can be strung together. When you complete one level of a multi-level activity, you have the option to continue to the next level or exiting the activity. Depending on the nature of the activity, you may be warped to where you need to be, or have to drive there yourself.
Having completed the campaigns, I have only encountered two balance issues. One is that you can be overwhelmed, and when you are, you are dead. Numerous things can happen to you, such as being hit by a car or trying to enter one that start an animation where you take damage during. One car strike can doom you from full health, as in the time it takes for you stand up the gun fire of your enemies has killed you. You can definitely expect to be hit by cars a lot as it almost appears the AI has been designed to be bad drivers.
The other balance issue that may not be one has to do with ammo. It can be very easy to run through your ammo very quickly. Walking over the weapons of dead enemies will give you some ammo, but it does not seem to be much, so eventually you will have to purchase some at a store. The prices, though, are quite high, at hundreds of dollars for a quarter of a magazine. Later in the game you can be collecting tens of thousands of dollars from what you own, so the prices are not that bad.
One other thing to note before moving on to the negatives is your garage. As you play you can collect vehicles in your garage, making them available to you at most of your hangouts and at some mechanics, if the vehicle you want is a car. During a mission though, you do not have access to the garage, so that tricked out car with a machine gun turret is unavailable to you. Unless you are a little clever that is. If you park the vehicle near the mission's starting point, but not too near, the vehicle will remain there, so just walk over, hop in, and get to blowing stuff up. For some missions, you really want to do that as the challenge involved is just much easier in an armored vehicle with an unlimited-ammo machine gun.
It took me roughly 16 hours to complete the campaign missions and some of the many activities for 60% completion. Completing the other activities and finding all of the collectibles, I would guess, will add on another five to ten hours. A fair amount of that time though will be spent driving to the different activities and repeating some, as you failed on your first attempts.
On to the negatives, which I believe all stem from the same thing; this game is a port. Just one look at the keyboard and mouse controls will reveal it is a port almost immediately, with curious mapping of some functions. Probably the most annoying of these, for me at least, is that toggling precise-aim is mapped to your 'V' key, and then zooming in and out are mapped to 'H' and 'N.' Really it is the toggling that annoys me the most, as being zoomed in for precision aiming makes it hard to see other enemies shooting at you.
Something you will not see in the controls is the mouse-smoothing, which is always on and frustrates many attempts to carefully aim your shot. Mouse acceleration is also on all the time, and actually changes depending on the context, but it never bothered me quite as much as the mouse-smoothing. Both of these settings make some sense when using a controller, but not a mouse.
The camera can also be annoying when driving, as it will lag behind your turns. This can make it harder to avoid turning into objects, and if you do hit them your car may be spun around. The camera, however, will not spin around in situations like this, so you either have to drive backwards or turn around manually.
Speaking of driving, the physics can be quite unrealistic. Sometimes objects, like lamp posts, will topple over as you run into them, and other times they will stop you immediately. It seems that this is tied to how fast you are going, but the different behaviors are just so distinct that it does not make sense. Also the physics between vehicles is just wonky at times. Large and heavy APCs will be knocked around by small sedans, and in some cases the sedans will even speed underneath you and pop you into the air. Considering you should have tonnage on these smaller vehicles, if one were to get underneath you, you should be crushing it instead of leaving the ground.
I am not sure what exactly was causing this, but at times the controls would stop responding correctly. This most often happened when I was driving and holding the accelerator down. Occasionally I would just stop accelerating, even though I was still pressing the key down. Releasing and re-pressing the key was all it took to start accelerating again, but why it stopped I do not know.
Take away the porting issues, and you have some rather fun gameplay with a decent design for encouraging exploration. Well, actually it requires exploration as you have to complete activities to advance the campaigns, but it still gets you outside.
Additional in game images
After five years, is Saints Row 2 still something worth playing? Unless you are very interested in the Saints Row franchise, I would say no. The gameplay is fun, but the porting issues are so numerous that I would not recommend this game to general, open-world action-adventure fans. There are better quality games of this age and genre to recommend. If you are strongly interested in the franchise though, and can see past the porting issues, I see no reason why you would not enjoy this game.