Saints Row 2: Hands-on preview

At first glance, it's almost as if Saints Row 2 developer Volition is going head to head with Rockstar. You simply can't shake the unnerving impression that you're watching some kind of Grand Theft Auto spin-off, albeit one that someone has applied a layer of Tarantino-style black humour over the top of. And then set fire to it.

The original Saints Row was received with open arms by a gaming community eager to fight their way through anyone other than Rockstar's view of what a sandbox game should entail. Those willing to invest in the story of the 3rd Street Saints from Stilwater were greeted with not only many of the attributes of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but a bunch of new features including extensive character customisation and plenty of side-quests to keep the interest levels up. Little wonder it sold over two million copies - not bad for a game only released on the Xbox 360.
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Roll forward two years and Saints Row 2 is nearly ready for release. Set fifteen years after the events of the first, Saints Row 2 will find your character alive yet incarcerated in a prison hospital after the near-fatal boat explosion at the close of the first game. With a bit of help from another inmate, you eventually escape the confines of the prison and head straight back to Stilwater to resume your gangland tendencies and revive a broken and splintered 3rd Street Saints fraternity who have all but drifted out of the scene.

It's difficult to ascertain which of New Zealand's conservative groups will complain the loudest at the release of Saints Row 2 - on the one hand you have a fairly damning indictment on the pointlessness of parole for seasoned criminals, but on the other you're playing a game that makes it fun to commit crime. I suspect that as with Grand Theft Auto IV, several people will voice some fairly uninformed opinions, and the rest of the country won't care.

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