However, apparently the game is still being optimised, so we were only allowed to tour the smaller outlying islands and flit between a few specific missions on the mainland. The first of these involved escaping from prison at the beginning of the game, murdering a range of doctors and guards on the way - most of whom were women for some reason.
The developers describe the game's plot as "darker" and more "Tarantino-esque" than before, but it still lacks any of the satirical humour of Grand Theft Auto. This is a real issue in Volition's game, where the sadistic violence is never tempered by anything.
To be honest though, if you've clicked on a link that said "Saints Row 2 preview", the chances are you're not going to feel morally compromised by the game's gleeful portrayal of random violence. You're probably more interested in how visceral that portrayal actually is. Well, using the over-the-top weapons is certainly fun, from a flamethrower to a new sticky-explosive charge, but the only real tactical consideration seems to be grabbing a hostage and using them as mobile cover.
Few of the other missions on offer suggested any additional depth, with a very simple on-the-rails shoot-'em-up section on a boat and later a helicopter, as well as Grand Theft Auto-style rampage missions and races on both a jet bike and in a car. All worked fine but the former was still inferior to the twelve-year-old Wave Race 64, even with all the new wave-creating weather effects turned right up. The car-handling model is purposefully arcade-like in style, which will please those that found Grand Theft Auto's stance an awkward compromise. The presence of mid-mission checkpoints will also be welcomed by those who fretted at their absence in Rockstar's games.
According to Volition the aim was to make a more arcade-style Grand Theft Auto and while it is a relief not to get called out for a game of darts every five minutes, there appears to be very little else to see yet beyond crashing cars and standing in the middle of a crossroads with an infinite-ammo rocket launcher.
Which is just as much fun as it sounds, but does nothing to shatter the original's glass ceiling of longevity. Even after speaking with the developers, it's not clear that anything else was ever really intended, but it's a shame that the development sights haven't been calibrated as high as the marketing. Saints Row 2 does seem to do a number of things better than Grand Theft Auto, but it'll have to show a lot more to outdo it come the October release.
Saints Row 2 is due out on PS3 and 360 on 17th October.