Saints Row 2

If "Grand Theft Auto IV" is the drama queen of open world gaming, "Saints Row 2" is the class clown, the Farrelly brothers to “GTA’s” Tarantino, with any trace of gravitas scrupulously shot off.

Related Links: "Saints Row 2" screenshot gallery

If “Grand Theft Auto IV” is the drama queen of open-world gaming, “Saints Row 2” is the class clown — the Farrelly Brothers to “GTA’s” Tarantino — with any trace of gravitas scrupulously shot off. Blithely chaotic and exuberantly sadistic, developer Volition’s gang-banging spree supposes players have the attention span of a Chihuahua, distracting with zany tasks that fire like a tennis ball machine on Ritalin. Factor in the new cooperative play mode, and publisher THQ has a shrewdly crafted jack-of-all-trades that should surpass the original’s two million copies sold if it doesn’t get lost in the autumn game deluge.

“Saints Row 2” features a fully traversable, scrubbed and disinfected update of the original game’s Stillwater, a gangland Chicago/Detroit analogue carved into 40-some districts. Waking from a coma induced by the original game’s ending, the nondescript protagonist, who’s extremely customizable right down to his or her gender, breaks out of an island prison and motorboats back to Stillwater, where former gang mates in the 3rd Street Saints have all but vanished.

Getting the gang back together is just a line on the dossier for this amoral showboater. More fun ensues as players explore a city that’s better looking and more lifelike than the original, trying out familiar stuff like racing and escort missions and eventually fight-clubbing in underground arenas or devaluing property by spraying it with sewage.

Missions cue throughout the effortlessly navigable map and tend to involve shootouts against three cosmetically distinctive, albeit tactically interchangeable gangs who’ll get easily annoyed if their turf is invaded or members harassed. “Saints Row 2” scales its challenge a bit one-dimensionally, simply throwing more goons at flash points or clapping on restrictions like timer countdowns, though the story culminates in a satisfying free-for-all with the city’s smarmy corporate overlord.

In many ways, the game is a direct rebuke to “GTA IV’s” deliberately drawn — and more adult — narrative. “Forget that pretentious crap,” “Saints Row 2” says to the teenage boy in all of us. “Let’s blow some shit up!”

It takes only moments, for instance, to shift from buying guns and grenades to running down criminals in police cruisers and hurling crates of fireworks at pursuers from the backs of trucks. Optional activities and shops crowd the map from the start and come with such a wide palette of flavors that boredom seldom sets in. Vehicles take forever to damage and all corner like they’ve never heard of inertia, illustrating the game’s obsession with solid control over realism.

“Saints Row 2’s” production values seem a hair lower than “GTA IV’s” in terms of Stillwater’s visual depth and density, but they more than compensate with a witty script and solid voice work by Daniel Dae Kim, Eliza Dushku, Keith David and Neil Patrick Harris. There are also a solid list of radio stations for use while driving and a compelling new feature that allows players to kit out their playlists by purchasing tracks at music stores around the city.

The sequel’s biggest improvement over the original is the integration of online co-op gameplay, which happens naturally and dynamically, as other players wink in and out of single-player campaigns.

Flitting around Stillwater murdering rival pimps while poaching their ho’s or imitating the fuzz for a reality TV show with a cameraman in tow is even more fitting with a friend playing shotgun. Online multiplayer isn’t as well integrated, however, with only two tacked modes, neither very original, in which 12 players can compete over dollars and body counts.

Saints Row 2

Rated M. $50 - $60.

Production: A THQ presentation of a game developed by Volition Entertainment for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

Cast: Related Links: "Saints Row 2" screenshot gallery

More Digital

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Sirius Logo

    SiriusXM Unveils $8 Essential Plan for Consumers Without Cars

    SiriusXM wants to cater consumers without cars, or cars without compatible stereos, with a new $8 plan for mobile and in-home listening. Dubbed SiriusXM Essential, the plan offers access to 200+ channels featuring the network’s entire music programming, as well comedy, news and select sports channels. Consumers will be able to test the new plan [...]

  • Mueller Report Book Editions Top Amazon's

    Mueller Report Book Editions Shoot to Top of Best-Seller Lists at Amazon, Barnes & Noble

    Robert Mueller is now a best-selling author. Book publishers’ forthcoming editions of the special counsel’s report zoomed to the top of the Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s lists of book best-sellers Friday. That comes a day after the report was publicly released, culminating the nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election [...]

  • Marques Brownlee - Retro Tech

    YouTube Orders Marques Brownlee 'Retro Tech' Original Series

    YouTube has turned to one of its homegrown stars — technology vlogger Marques Brownlee, aka “MKBHD” — for its newest original series. The video platform has greenlit series “Retro Tech” featuring Brownlee, in which he’ll unbox and review vintage technology products that have defined pop culture. The show, slated to debut in December 2019, follows [...]

  • Netflix Tests Random Episode Button in

    Netflix Starts Testing Random Episode Button

    Netflix is testing a button to play random episodes of select TV shows, the company confirmed Friday morning. “We are testing the ability for members to play a random episode from different TV series on the Android mobile app,” a Netflix spokesperson told Variety. “These tests typically vary in length of time and by region, [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content