You don't often come across a game that lets you dress as an emaciated Asian male in pink bra and panties, whilst firing laser-guided rockets at overhead choppers and watching policemen stumble about as they try to brush off the satchel charges you just stuck to them. Well, when we say not often, what we actually mean is not ever. Welcome to the game that makes the 'not ever' possible - welcome to the game that lets you dress up in bra and panties, regardless of gender. Welcome to Saints Row 2.
So before it even begins, Saints Row 2 earns itself OXM's 'Most Likely To Turn Heads Award', which we made up just now. But, even that isn't a surprise when you consider what it's been built upon.
Loud, chaotic and boisterous, when Saints Row was released back in January 2006, it slotted nearly into the GTA-sized hole in the 360's line-up. Most were expecting a shallow "me too" GTA clone rolled off the factory line that would provide a few moments of fun before squeezing between the True Crime and The Getaway corpses in the gaming graveyard. What we got was a polished, solid sandbox adventure built around the idea of earning respect, as you teamed up with Julius to take The Saints from underground gang to the rulers of Stilwater.
Time to rebuild
Saints Row 2 takes place 15 years later, as you wake up from a coma in a prison infirmary. The Saints have been disbanded and three new gangs have moved in to take advantage of the power vacuum. Your job is to rebuild The Saints and claim back Stilwater as your city. But first it's dress-up time!
You begin by creating a character and that's where Saints Row 2's wacky customisation options come into place. You can change everything from your gender to your fatness, your age to your personality, your walking style to your taunt (OXM's favourite is "The Riverdance").
And yes, you can create the emaciated Asian we were referring to at the start. Saints Row 2 doesn't discriminate. It just gives you the options, then turns a blind eye to your own personal preferences. Who or what you create is your business. Unless you go online of course but hey, that's another story for another time.
Even your crib has been given more consideration. It used to be little more than home to a disc, spinning and hovering above the floor, symbolising somewhere you can save your game. You can now upgrade your crib with TV systems, new beds, flashy decor and create a place for your gang to hang out in style, which leads to more respect. And strippers, if you happen to buy a stripper pole for your crib.
Stilwater itself is 45 per cent bigger this time, and though nobody's going to get out their ruler and check, it wasn't exactly a small place to begin with. The sheer scale of the project is revealed when producer Greg Donovan tells us work on this sequel actually began three months before Saints Row 1 even hit the shelves.
While Saints Row 2 takes place in the same city, it won't be quite the same as you remember it. "It'll be a lot of fun revisiting Stilwater and seeing the changes to the city," says Donovan. "Some of the fans will enjoy it, but some of them will be pissed off."
When pressed for an explanation, all he offers is "the church region is 'under development' and is unrecognisable... but if you know Stilwater well, it'll be funny too."
This hints at the tricky balancing act Volition faces, trying to incorporate the old that drew such a large fan base while bringing in the new, so nobody can throw around accusations of laziness or complacency. Stilwater has undergone plenty of changes to keep it feeling both fresh and familiar to those who played all the way though the original.