Saints Row 2 contains the same slightly disquieting mix of openworld, urban violence and gang culture as its predecessor. It begins with your character waking up in prison, having been comatose since getting blown up in the last game, lending the game the perfect pretext for a darker, revenge-oriented story as you return to Stillwater to find out how and why you were betrayed. Your character is, according to the game's producer, Greg Donovan, "a very angry young man or woman who needs to rebuild the saints, find out why he was betrayed, and reclaim Stillwater for his own." And it's a game that is, apparently, "a lot darker, a little bit more sinister."
It's set ten-to-fifteen years after events depicted in the original game, except things have moved on rather quickly in your absence. "Internally we're referring to that as comic-book time because the amount of change that the city has undergone would have been impossible in 10-15 years," explains Donovan. "But we don't really care because it makes for a better game."
The story also provides a pretext for three new gangs to arrive to fill in the power vacuum, and a new emphasis, from standing on the periphery of gang politics in the last game, to being thrust right into the centre of it this time, responsible for building up your levels of respect to help you recruit the very best homies and lieutenants. So you can kill everyone in the face as you try to rise to the top. "In Saints Row your character was adopted by the Saints, you were a passive member of the gang," explains Donovan. "In Saints Row 2 you are this angry leader of the saints - you are the one that recruits new lieutenants, you are the one giving orders, you are the one in charge."
One area that's been expanded upon is the range of character customisation. While that might seem like it's a rather trivial feature in a game that features an entire city full of mayhem, the chaps at Volition were keen to talk it up, talking about all the visual improvements they've made - by adding normal maps, and "increased granularity", for example - and the fact that you can adjust your girth, masculinity, femininity, muscularity, age and voice. "Also we use a single mesh system in this game and that means every piece of clothing that you see in the world can be worn by your player character in this game, which is something that was not possible in Saints Row," continues Donovan. "And given the fact that we have over 500 individual pieces of clothing [a bit like Ellie - Ed], when you add colour to that you have near limitless combinations of what you can make your character wear."
That's a lot of customisation, but perhaps the most impressive thing is that you'll also be able to customise your character animations. "Not only are we allowing you to customise the appearance of your characters, but also the way they emote and act in the world," says Donovan as he cycles through the various walk cycles and taunts. Those taunts include all the sort of gesticulations you might expect from, say, an angry crowd of football hooligans (wanker signs, for example, or punching the air while holding your elbow - is there an official name for that?). In any other context it would be fairly offensive stuff, but in a game in which the raison d'etre seems to be to shoot everyone in the face, it all seems fairly mild.