I've been playing a lot of Saint's Row 2 this week. I really enjoyed the first one, and I'm happy to see that the second delivers as well.
It would be easy to write off Saint's Row as just a GTA clone, but if you take a moment to look at all of the things they do differently, you see that the similarities stop at the sandbox genre.
What I feel Saint's Row does so well is take that sandbox genre, and just run wild with it. The whole game is just such an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, depravity-ridden extravaganza. You don't get the great story and characters, or the remarkable city and graphics of GTA4, but what you do get is a boat-load of fun.
Character customization. In Saint's Row, you get to create your character from scratch, and the character creator is impressive. It was good in the first one, it's even better in the second one. Now not only do you customize your appearance, you can choose your default facial expression, your taunt and compliment emotes, even what kind of walk your guy has. You can be a guy or a girl, black, white, asian, latino, fat, skinny, whatever. It's going to be your character in all of the cut-scenes. And this time around you can even pick your voice (in the first game you were perpetually silent... now you have dialogue).
My guy? He's a super obese British pimp with mutton chops. Let me tell you, the cut-scenes are hi-larious.
Another of the game's huge strengths? Co-op. Full and complete co-op. My buddy came up from NYC last weekend, and we hooked up a couple of TVs and 360s, planning to goof off on co-op for a couple of hours... we ended up playing nothing but Saint's Row the entire weekend.
You can play the entire game in co-op. In fact, I recommend it. It's not that Fable 2 half-assed co-op either, where one friend is just some shmuck nobody. When your buddy joins your game, he brings his character with him. When you complete a mission together, you each see the same cut-scene, but with your respective characters in the main role. You both get the full experience, just, you know... cooperatively.
Everything in the game is designed to be done with a second player if you wish. None of it felt "tacked on" to me. And it's all way more fun with a buddy. I could go on forever about all the neat little things, all the cool little details we've found in the game.
You've got a main storyline, it's pretty straightforward (you're trying to take over the city), nothing to write home about. But it's often funny and always enjoyable. On top of that, there are a ton of activities to participate in to earn yourself money, respect, and permanent bonuses. And they are all way over the top.
Here's an example of an activity called "Septic Avenger". This real estate guy wants you to lower property values in a certain part of town. So you steal a septic tanker, and drive around spraying shit (literally) all over the buildings.
Or one of my personal favorites (back from the first game), "Insurance Fraud", where you go out and throw yourself in front of cars to try and wrack up the biggest medical bills possible.
The first Saint's Row had a lot of little bugs and glitches, and Saint's Row 2 seems to have its fair share as well. But they're minor annoyances in the light of the fun the game provides. Saint's Row gives you what you want in a sandbox game: the freedom to go hog wild.
It's good stuff.