The original Saints Row had some interesting and exciting multiplayer modes, with Blinged Out Ride and Protect the Pimp being two of the most popular. Unfortunately, the multiplayer always felt kind of tacked on; yes, the two modes related to the rest of the game, in a way, but they didn't transfer smoothly from the single-player experience. The single-player and multiplayer experiences contained in Saints Row were distinctly separate.
In their presentation talks at a recent event in San Francisco, designer James Tsai and producer Roje Smith explained how they changed that for Saints Row 2. They had three main goals for multiplayer: make the transition from single-player to multiplayer smoother, make sure multiplayer had constant action, and implement what they called the "megamode" — a collection of more focused gameplay modes that enhanced the overall action. Tsai also indicated that he hoped this all-inclusive gameplay type would help to avoid fragmenting the community as the different modes did in SR.
The newest (and last) addition to the SR2 multiplayer portfolio is a new game type called Strong Arm. You and three of your friends need to take over a neighborhood from a rival four-person gang, and to do this, you need to buy the entire neighborhood. You can earn cash in the traditional way by hosing down enemy players, but shortly after each round begins, you can earn even more by participating in, and being better than your opponents at, activities. These activities include things like winning a street race, finding a ho and keeping her alive under your control, racking up fake injuries in insurance fraud, or destroying as much as you can as fast as you can. The winners of each activity receive the cash they earned for doing the activity plus a little extra; the losers still keep the cash they earned. A team wins the round when it reaches the target dollar amount.
What adds spice to this mix are the tags. In each of the seven available Strong Arm maps, four tags (randomly selected from a pool of 11) appear. Claiming and holding a tag spot will earn your team a variety of enhancements, including unlimited stamina, extra nitro boosts (for racing), and the ability to sic the cops on your foes.
It all sounds good on paper (or in pixels, whatever), but did they hit their goals?
"Megamode"? Check. No round will ever play the same way twice (unless you want it to, thanks to the customizable lobbies), and each round is packed full of things to do.
Constant action? Check. Actually, before you get used to it and can get a handle on it, it's almost too much. You've gunned down an enemy on the way to a tag, and halfway through your spray, you get the activity notice — find a ho and protect her. Do you finish the tag? Do you make sure none of your enemy's teammates can revive him before he gets smoked? Do you grab the ho 50 yards from you and hope you can hang onto her long enough? Do you find a nearby spot to lurk and take out any enemy who tries to grab her instead? Can you get a teammate to come help you do both? Making fast decisions, and knowing (and playing to) your strengths, are two elements you'll need to master.
Smooth transition from single-player? Check. The familiar activities take on a whole new dimension when real people are involved. Remember how annoying it was to flop in front of a car in Insurance Fraud, only to have it swerve away at the last second? It's a completely different world when your buddy's in the oncoming car aiming for you — and the resulting flops are spectacular. You also keep all of your single-player character customization when you jump into a game.
As a fan of BOR (and, to a lesser degree, PTP), I'll admit some disappointment when I found out neither of those modes were going to be present in Saints Row 2. (A DLC pack for these two would be very welcome.) After spending some quality adrenaline time with Strong Arm, though, and seeing how absolutely crazy and chaotic the gameplay was ... I'll be too busy giggling like a schoolgirl while I'm running down my teammates on purpose to miss them all that much.
I was one of the winners in WorthPlaying's Saints Row 2 Multiplayer Premiere Event contest. The event was held on September 24th in San Francisco at a club called Slide. Although it marked the public premiere of Saints Row 2's multiplayer component, quite a few consoles were set up for co-op play on the single-player map. I sat down at a pair of Xbox 360s and had access to virtually all of Saints Row 2 that night! I should note that the music inside the club drowned out the audio from the game, so I can't provide specific details on that aspect of the game.
We played on approximately 22-inch widescreen flat-panel monitors, but to be honest I'm not a big fan of the current generation of HD televisions. I've become fond of my 27-inch SDTV with component input, which has more vibrant color and zero pixelation. For that reason, I found it hard to determine if there were any improvements in the graphics over the first game, but it did appear that there was a slight upgrade in the overall look and feel. However, I'm more influenced by gameplay than graphics in the games I choose to buy, and I was relieved to find that Saints Row's crisp and "go-ahead" controls were still intact in the sequel. (I was chosen as a contest winner in part because I am such a huge fan of the original Saints Row.) I didn't explore the cover or throwing controls too much, but the addition of fine aim to the non-scoped weapons created exciting new options without compromising fluidity.
I first played with Bill McClendon, one of the other contest winners, and we played co-op through the first mission, Jailbreak. After waking up from a coma, an NPC leads your character out of the prison with your co-op partner's help. I didn't catch how the co-op partner is "written" into an otherwise single-player story, but I quickly dropped the confusion and started having too much fun to care. During the mission, Saints Row 2 prompts you to stay relatively close to your co-op partner, but otherwise, you can decide how to complete the mission. Of course, that means that within about five minutes, we were running over each other and totally screwing around. Eventually, we completed the mission and were free to explore the fictional city of Stilwater untethered. If you get killed in co-op, your partner has 30 seconds to find and revive you with a pour of his 40-ounce, or else you respawn where the game decides. There were some familiar landmarks throughout the city, but it did "feel" a little different — kind of like déjà vu. There are tons of additions to the map that made it an awesome place to explore. And for those like myself who enjoy finding video game glitches, it's obvious that Saints Row 2 will deliver.
After chatting with the guys (and gals) from THQ, Volition and WorthPlaying, I sat next to Adam from WorthPlaying and another contest winner, Jeff Smith. We played the Strong Arm multiplayer mode with six other guys on the Xbox 360 setup. In this mode, two teams of four compete in four activities that have been brought over from the original Saints Row single-player game. The team that racks up the most money at the end of the match is the winner. It's one activity right after the other, so it's just nonstop action. At first, I was disappointed over the minimal availability of cars during the match, since they are instrumental in racking up money, but since I was carrying a full array of weapons, including the RPG, I found plenty of ways to impede the progress of the other team. Unfortunately, Jeff, the Saints Row multiplayer legend, was on the other team so we pretty much got our butts handed to us. While playing Strong Arm, it became immediately apparent that this mode was designed to bring in even the most casual gamer, or at least one who doesn't play online very much … like me. Even with the controversy surrounding the removal of Protect The Pimp and Blinged Out Ride multiplayer modes in Saints Row 2, I think the new multiplayer mode will still appeal to even the most hardcore online Saints Row player.
At the end of the night, I listened to the Volition developers give interviews while gameplay was projected on the main screen. I was just overwhelmed by the amount of customization and sheer number of ways that are available in Saints Row 2. I always rent a game before I buy it, but thanks to THQ and WorthPlaying, I don't have to! I'll definitely be buying Saints Row 2 and playing online.
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