I can't pull off any form of "gangsta" talk. It's a geographical, ethnic, cultural impossibility. I'm from Ireland and while the place I grew up definitely had its nasty undercurrents, it was definitely more "farm" than "phat". Any attempt to describe watching television as "chillin'" or imply that I might be about to get "all up in this bitch" sounds so ridiculous it makes me want to strangle myself.
That goes for you, too. I don't care what part of Britain (or Europe) you come from, you still sound like a blithering idiot when you try to talk like a rapper. South London, where I live, is full of such blithering idiots, oblivious to the cringing of all around them every time they open their mouths. Shut up - you're not from the ghetto, you're from Surrey. The only time you've ever been anywhere near a "project", it was the one you did about butterflies in Primary Six. Your dad's not a pimp, he's an investment banker (granted, after last week, the path from the latter career to the former may just have shortened significantly). You have a trust fund. Shut up.
This odd hang-up of mine renders the process of playing Saints Row 2 multiplayer a vaguely discomfiting experience. It's gangland mayhem on-screen, but a glance to my left or right confirms that my gangster allies and rivals are a group of pasty-white European journalists.
Yet, as the action grows more intense, I can sense the imminent outburst of whiteboy gangsta speech growing nearer and nearer. With each passing kill it becomes more and more inevitable that someone is going to drop an N-bomb, only to look around with extreme embarrassment and try to explain that it's fine, really, because Fiddy Cent does it all the time and anyway loads of his friends are.... Oh God.
This is, at best, a passing concern. Perhaps once you're on Xbox Live or PSN with the game, you'll be able to pretend that all of the other players are actually proper gangsters (or, in the case of the huge number of Scottish 12-year-olds on Xbox Live, who all sound like Wee Jimmy Krankie, just mute them). Or perhaps you'll just be having so much fun that you won't be bothered by the whole thing. On the strength of what we've seen, that's a pretty good bet.
When we chatted about the single-player game earlier in the month, we did touch upon one of the most important aspects of the multiplayer - co-op. Drop-in, drop-out co-op where you can join a friend's game (with your own character), play some missions, and then drop out back to your own game, keeping any cash or unlocked items, in which the respective missions will also be marked as complete. The entire game is playable co-op, and there are no restrictions (as far as we can tell) on what you can do within the city in co-op mode. If it's possible in single-player, it's equally possible with another player running around.
That, we suspect, is going to be the most popular of Saints Row 2's multiplayer features by far. However, it's not the only way to get your share of online gang warfare from the game, and the team at Volition have been putting in the hours on a few more combative multiplayer modes as well - some familiar, some not so much.
At the familiar end of the spectrum is the Gangster Brawl mode, which plays out over a variety of maps based on the city's themed districts. Supporting up to 12 players, it's essentially a deathmatch mode, with all of the various weapons, vehicles and so on available for use in the frantic death-dealing. There's also a team-based variant of Gangster Brawl, for those of you who want some allies to battle alongside.
So far, so obvious - and we suspect that there are other fairly traditional multiplayer modes in there too, although these aren't detailed for us. The "real gem", as one of the Volition team terms it, lies in Saints Row 2's other major multiplayer mode.
Called Strongarm, this is a team-based mode where you, as a member of the four-man Blue gangster team, are pitched against the forces of the nefarious Red gangster team. The objective is to win control of the city from your rivals, and the game takes place over one of a number of custom-designed maps which are loosely inspired by the city from the single-player game.
Each map is divided up into districts, and each district can be acquired by generating enough cash to take it over. In part, this is done through straightforward combat - but the best way to turn over lots of cash is by taking part in activities, which pop up randomly on the map as the match progresses.
These activities are either the same as, or variants on, the activities which proliferate in the single-player game. As each activity appears on the map, the eight players rush to the activity zone to take part - and could find themselves doing anything from a variety of racing, stunt-performing or combat tasks through to more ridiculous events like Insurance Fraud, where you attempt to pratfall as dramatically as possible in the target area in order to rack up cash.
Of course, since everyone is taking part in activities at the same time, the temptation to try to interfere with your enemies is high - and that's where the game gets incredibly frantic at times, as you can imagine. For some players, this is going to be enormously good fun, although we can see those who prefer their combat a little more controlled being left somewhat cold by Strongarm's madcap antics.
Strongarm's other major feature is tagging - another feature lifted from the single-player game, where painting tags increases your gang's respect level, but imbued with a rather different significance in multiplayer. Here, claiming a tag spot affords your team with a buff effect, which turns the best tag spots into major objectives in themselves. Some buffs will have simple effects, like giving all your teammates Unlimited Sprint. Others are more complex, like Police Response, which turns the city's cops on your rivals.
According to Volition, there are so many different buffs in the game that no map will contain them all, and they rotate randomly around the various tag spots each time a game is started. That promises plenty of variety, at least - teams won't know which tag spots are really worthwhile until such time as they've actually captured them. For those sick of playing in online games where everyone knows the map so well that the game runs like clockwork, that element of chance could be a nice way to mix things up a little.
We remain convinced that co-op (and single-player, of course) is Saints Row 2's strongest suit - but from what we've seen of the multiplayer so far, it's a pretty solid effort and a good addition to the game. The open nature of the game probably won't work well in entirely public matches, but for those with a decent Xbox Live friend list, it'll certainly provide a few nights of frenetic entertainment. But for everyone's sake, let's not pretend we're from Compton.