Upon hearing that said inevitable sequel would be making its way to all major "next-gen," platforms, I was relieved to read that I could enjoy GTA's foul-mouthed cousin on my Playstation 3 (this was after my first 360 had succumb to the Red Ring of Death, and I had vowed never to purchase Microsoft's second console again; never only turned out to be five months). I even went as far as to pre-order Saint's Row 2; confident that Volition's second effort would be just as puerile and hilarious as the first.
Oh how wrong I was.
Sure the vulgarity and violence were there, but the fun was not. After Grand Theft Auto IV's triumphant arrival, Saint's Row 2 felt unpolished, rough. It was ugly. I could still free-aim while driving, but I didn't care. There was no Niko, no Little Jacob, and most importantly, no Liberty City. For those of you residing in Brisbane: Stillwater was Lutwyche compared to Liberty City, which was as lively and memorable as Melbourne. Within hours I was walking back to my local retailer to demand my money back.
Years later, my brother pleaded that I re-engage with the title; insisting that it would play better than I remembered. Sorry Rubes, you were wrong. Years later, Stillwater is just as ugly and lifeless as I remembered it to be. No longer Lutwyche, now as dark and as desperate as Zillmere. Even more blemishes became apparent after having played so many more visually-magnificent games since 2008.
The following is a rant about my feelings toward the Australian Government's baffling games classification system, and is not really related to the original intent of this article. Still, if you'd like to read about some questionable decision-making then please, read on!
Some of the themes encountered were abhorrent as well. To the point where you seriously have to question the criteria for games classification in Australia if a game like this gets released, and another like Mortal Kombat is refused classification. Sure MK is far more violent, but allow for me to share with you an early mission from Saint's Row 2.
The player character's gang needs a new base of operations, so you are then tasked with cleaning out a dilapidated church which is home to a rival group and a portion of Stillwater's homeless. After dispatching the resident members of the Sons of Samedi, you are then asked to destroy the makeshift shanty town the homeless had set up inside the structure. You're even asked to throw these people at their homes to destroy them quickly. It gets worse. Finally, you need to kill the remaining hobos to claim this turf as your own.
Moments before this gang-banger's innocence is lost forever
After this ritual slaughter, you're treated to a cut scene depicting your user-made hero and his old friend stacking the bodies of the freshly slain. One even has the gall to complain that the clean-up duties should be delegated to some fresh recruits. After killing thirty-something innocent, disadvantaged people I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of apathy. After my willingness to murder Stillwater's most downtrodden inhabitants, would it matter if I ran down a couple hundred pedestrians whilst commuting between mission objectives? Apparently not. With no sense of consequence or moral compass, nothing I did mattered; whether that included spraying raw sewage across the city or accidentally shooting a few civilians while engaged in a firefight with rival gangs. This I would argue, is behaviour that is in direct contravention of Australia's classification code; as the violence I rendered in game would offend against the "standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults," (ComLaw, 2005: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2005L01284).
The OFLC sure have made some crappy decisions
Now let's compare this to Mortal Kombat which pits up to four "kombatants," against each other in a fight to the death. Players can defend themselves against their opponents with a variety of devastating and ultra-violent moves. Pretty much anything that I've seen in the demo (which you can download by creating a US Playstation Network account, once the bastard is live again) is violent beyond the confines of reality and - while not suitable for minors - was nowhere near as traumatic and dehumanizing as my experience with Saint's Row 2. Maybe the Office of Film and Literature Classification needs to look a little deeper than the viscera shown on screen. In MK you partake in ridiculously violent fisticuffs for the purpose of self-preservation. Saint's Row 2 tasks players with killing those that have already hit the bottom, and are unable to help themselves back to health and prosperity. I know which game that I would prefer to have in the hands of Australia's gaming community.
"Honestly sir, he was coming at me with a weapon!"
End rant. I dare say it was a result of playing Saint's Row 2 for longer than I should have. On the bright side, the game's soundtrack does feature tracks from both Mastodon and the Dillinger Escape Plan, so it's not all bad. Let's return to the topic I had originally intended to address.
Appalled at what I had seen and heard across an hour of broken play, I decided to trial the developer's impending effort, Red Faction: Armageddon. While at first the familiar palette of red and brown was unappealing, my opinion quickly changed upon first using the game's most striking ability: players can now repair all of the destruction they cause.
No longer would a fallen staircase impede my ascension towards an objective. Further to that, any reckless rocket fire could now be forgiven with the touch of a button.
I didn't get to see its application in firefights - say where you could repair a surface that previously provided cover - but the potential is strong to say the least. My only fear is that the experience will be reduced to dispatching hordes of multicoloured demons as seen for the majority of the demo. I sincerely hope that the final release offers more than tense, though uninspired encounters with Mars' dangerous faunae.
Did anyone else find the early stages of Saint's Row 2 as objectionable as I did? What about your thoughts on the Red Faction: Armageddon demo?
1. Comlaw (2005). National Classification Code, http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/F2005L01284. Visited 15/05/11.