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Saints Row 2 • Page 2

What an unholy row.

In any case, the extensive suite of customisation options extends across the nine available cribs (compared to three in the first game), which you can build up from dilapidated lofts to pimped-out party houses in another effort to build your respect, increase your gang size, and attract all sorts of hangers-on (such as the pole-dancing girls, who have no doubt been included in a bid to reach that elusive female market).

Indeed, as in the first game, your sense of style is essential to your domination of the city, as the game's lead designer Scott Phillips explains: "As your style increases, you get more respect for doing activities, missions, that kind of stuff. Anything you do in the game gives you more respect, which means you're able to play more missions as respect is the currency used to purchase missions. So the more money you spend on style, the easier it is for you to get more respect." So that's why they're so keen to explain all the different ways you can style your car, clothes and crib.

On to the game proper, though, and a quick demo mission, cleaning out the stronghold of the new Sons of Samedi gang, demonstrates the game's broader visual aesthetic. "We made a conscious effort to make the gangs really look and function in the world very distinctly from one another," says Donovan, who describes the look of the new gangs as, "a lot more over the top, a lot more stylised".

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Saints Row 2 lets you take to the air in a variety of craft, including executive jets, small jet fighters, bi-planes and choppers.

The mission takes place in the new trailer park district - one of six new districts that have increased the size of the city by about 45 percent according to Donovan's reckoning. It provides the backdrop as Phillips shows off three new features that they hope will improve combat: fine-aim, human shields, and wieldable objects. The first of these switches to a slightly zoomed-in, over-the-shoulder view to increase accuracy with firearms (helping you kill your enemies in all sorts of new and interesting ways in a bid to increase your respect). The second allows you to grab any person in the world and use them as movable cover or just shoot them in the head. As you'd expect, holding a hostage in front of you will make the police think twice before taking aim, although enemy gang members are "a little bit more into self-preservation", according to Donovan. "A little bit more brutal." Consequently, they're a little bit more prepared to test the effectiveness of your new human shield.

And finally, you can pick up a variety of objects in the game to use as weapons, from breezeblocks to post-boxes, either throwing them, or using them to bludgeon your enemies. And as with human shields, it's a feature that your AI opponents are just as likely to use as you are. Apart from that, it seems to be morally ambivalent business as usual: there are new diversions, such as vehicle-surfing, for players to discover for themselves; there's drop-in/drop-out co-operative multiplayer; there's planes, choppers, and watercraft; a bigger-budget soundtrack; and on the PS3, some Sixaxis controls (which will, apparently, be the only difference with the 360 version).

The million-dollar question, though, is how it will fare next to GTA IV, and it's not one that Donovan shies away from. "The only thing I know about GTA is what I've read," he says. "From what I've read it seems they're going in a more realistic direction. I think for us it's almost about a hyper-realistic quality, over-the-top, all about memorable moments, very compelling gameplay, and frankly we wouldn't be releasing this year if we didn't think we could be competitive. I think co-op is a huge distinguishing factor. Unless they're really holding something - I don't think they are - I think that's a big plus for us."

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