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2 Reviews

Saints Row 2

Stilwater emerges from behind GTA's shadow and finally finds its own identity - as a comedy routine

So we're straddling a quad bike and tearing through a underground shopping mall, striking shoppers off the front fender like bowling pins.

Bullets whizz past the diver's helmet we're wearing (why not?) as we're pursued by the local fuzz. We crash into an S&M store, quickly change into a fresh pair of leather chaps, gut a security guard with our samurai sword and leap into a nearby Lamborghini. And we're off.

It's completely ludicrous. It's also just one of the stories you'll be regaling friends with as you compare notes on your extended vacation in Stilwater - Liberty City's trashier yet funnier cousin. If Grand Theft Auto is sipping a dry martini, cool and serious, then Saints Row 2 is jugging a bottle of Buckfast.

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It doesn't ever pretend to be sophisticated or significant: it's just here for a big, nonsensical, hugely entertaining party.
This is evident across our first eight hours of playtime: we've surfed on car roofs, base-jumped off a mountain and parachuted to safety, and raced airplanes between skyscrapers and under bridges.

We've botched a store robbery, covered residential areas in excrement from a sewage truck and were aided in a city-wide motorcycle gunfight with a rival gang by a guy who looks like Emperor Ming, but is dressed like a giant hot dog. Oh, and we also survived a zombie apocalypse.

City of clowns
Slightly surreal but always entertaining, SR2 is a welcome break after Grand Theft Auto's carefully crafted realism. It's also stepped out of the fairly hefty shadow cast by Rockstar's opus, finally finding its own identity that takes the debris from its decent predecessor and assembles a gangster flick that's a riot of wisecracks and dark humour.

Stilwater has been rebuilt and now holds more architectural and cultural diversity - it's no longer a poor man's representation of gangland slums in America. The city's districts now range from trailer parks to business districts and the gangs are cut from Yakuza, Caribbean and Maori descents. The diversity takes a step away from the wannabe gangster tones of the original, leaving you to create your own interpretation of Stilwater.

Customise surprise
It all starts off with the hugely impressive customisation options that now allow you to twist your character (and by extension every cutscene that they subsequently appear in) to your own bizarre desires. We went for the mime face paint, a massive beer belly, and a Bob Hoskins-esque London accent. A tense samurai showdown is far more entertaining when you are a cross-dressing fat cockney mime.

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But even without the humour the cut scenes are kick-ass. Taking cues from Hong Kong cinema, the storyline shows some genuine flair, each piece of the narrative kicking into place as you attempt to displace the three new gangs and reclaim Stilwater as your own.

This is a task that never gets boring thanks to the sheer variety of mission types. Skipping a stealthy break-in to a casino for an all-out rampage between blackjack tables, stealing radioactive isotopes from nuclear power plants, escaping a gang ambush while heavily drugged so the screen heaves and blurs... there's almost zero chance of you getting bored.

If you do decide to wander off the storyling, there's loads of other stuff to discover on the streets of Stilwater. And we really mean discover; it's like the game is stuffed cool easter-eggs extras.

Jump on a car roof and you'll activate a Tony Hawk-style balancing mini-game. Swerve through traffic and hit stunt jumps and you'll rack up Burnout-style points. Whip off your clothes and see how long you can terrify pedestrians and avoid police capture.

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