You know, Saints Row is quite a lot like another game I've played. Can't remember which one. Anyway, a number of internet-based backs were put out by the first wave of advertising for this sequel, and their owners found their fingers reaching for the Caps Lock button once it became clear THQ and Volition were suggesting Grand Theft Auto IV wasn't perfect and they could do certain parts better. Grand Theft Auto! That's the one.
But you know what? They sort of have in places. Saints Row 2 has better combat than Grand Theft Auto IV, which for many was a bit of a fudge (although we got used to it pretty quickly). It's not even as if Saints Row 2's solution is clever or original. You point the gunsight where you want to shoot with the right analogue stick and use a new Resident Evil 4 style over-the-shoulder view if you need to zoom in a bit. And that's it: no, woolly lock-on, no intemperate cover system - just point and shoot.
Apart from the over-the-shoulder bit though, that's largely how things were in the original Saints Row - and a decent control system wasn't quite enough to lend it the same endurance as its blockbusting inspiration. With none of the wit or depth of content as Grand Theft Auto, the game's capacity to entertain floundered after a few hours. Volition, though, has what it refers to as "the three Cs" to counter this problem: co-op, customisation and combat.
We weren't being show the co-op mode in the session this preview is based on, so one can only wonder what effect playing through the whole single-player mode with a friend will have on the game's appeal. "Quite a lot" seems a reasonable speculation. "A great deal" and "immensely" are plausible second guesses.
In terms of customisation there was a quick demo, but most of that aspect of the game has been covered already. It is impressive, even if Volition insisted on showing it off by creating morbidly obese women in their underwear. The options also extend to facial mannerisms, gang-related gestures and even your car and crib - going beyond even the excesses of Mass Effect and EA's sports games.
So, that's "three Cs" out of the way, but the fourth one that no one's quite so keen to discuss is content. Is there enough of it and does it offer the same variety and immersion as you-know-what? In terms of quantity there certainly doesn't seem to be a problem, with the map for the newly redesigned city of Stilwater (now one-and-a-half times the size of the original) peppered with more mission markers than you'd find bullet-holes in an Alabama road sign.