When it comes to crime simulators, the Grand Theft Auto series receives most of the attention, but don't rule out Saints Row 2. THQ's sequel to one of the best-selling Xbox 360 games ups the ante with tons of potentially offensive material and lots of blood-spilling action, allowing you to go over the top as you rise to ghetto fabulousness.
Saints Row 2 takes place in the city of Stilwater, where you attempt to recruit gang members and become the ultimate thug. Naturally, this comes at the expense of the innocent and your enemies. This includes running them over in a vehicle, mowing them down with an assault rifle and blowing up their trailer homes. You'll use them as human shields, plant charges on their cars and chuck them through windows, partly to complete missions, and also because it's fun torturing them.
Before you hit the streets, however, you'll need to make a character, utilizing the game's advanced character creator to build the criminal of your dreams. You can play as either a man or a woman, adjusting their weight, size and shape of their faces as well as signature taunts, such as the middle finger and our personal favorite, pretending to take a dump. The character creator is without question one of this game's greatest features, as you'll be able to come up with all sorts of ghastly abominations, from a fat, topless guy to a grandmother with a man's body.
For the most part, Saints Row 2 plays similar to its predecessor, as you have the option of completing the story missions, finishing side quests or just going on a personal killing spree. With that said, you'll be able to play through the story mode alongside a buddy in the game's co-op mode, available via Xbox Live and the PlayStation network. Furthermore, the objects you pick up transfer back to your offline game and you'll enjoy unique co-op missions.
In addition, the game features a ton of vehicles, such as cars, trucks, jet skis, World War II fighter planes, an attack helicopter (there's a helicopter mission where one player flies and the other operates the chain gun) and motorcycles, all of which catch fire and explode after sustaining excessive damage.
Missions range from protecting your "homies" to ripping through a trailer park, the standard, criminal fare. You'll accomplish your goals using a series of weapons, from shotguns and automatic rifles to demo charges and a bazooka. There will also be downloadable content, but THQ isn't ready to discuss what that entails.
From our limited time with it, we feel Saints Row 2 will offer a fun experience that differs from Grand Theft Auto. On paper, they're very similar, but THQ's game is much more over the top, and we feel its character creator and off the wall dialogue will set it apart from its competitor. At the same time, it doesn't look nearly as impressive, with jagged character models and bland looking environments that pale to the glory that is GTA IV's Liberty City. Keep in mind, however, that Volition still has several months to polish the game.
We thoroughly enjoyed the previous Saints Row, so we're more than willing to embrace its feature-packed sequel. At least our desire to conquer the criminal underworld as a short, emaciated old grandmother won't go unrealized. Just refrain from throwing up your gang signs in public.