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Previews

Saints Row 2

Preview: Doing what it does best - customisation

Saints Row did very well for THQ when it was released in 2006, which isn't surprising. It was the first urban free-roamer on the next-gen consoles, and despite how much it looked like a re-skinned GTA, we still lapped up its gang-banging, drive-bys and other gangster activities because, well, it looked a felt pretty good.

Now though, things are different. Back then nobody had seen Rockstar Top Trump cards, and today the fantastic looking Grand Theft Auto IV is at the forefront of everyone's mind. Is THQ worried? Not really, Saints Row 2 is pushing the one feature it has over GTA, and that's customisation.

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The character customisation in the first Saints Row proved to be a real hit, so developer Volition has cleverly fleshed it out for the sequel. This time around you can choose both a male and female character, tweaking details as fine as their length of their brow and the wrinkles in their skin.

But the real touting point of Saints Row 2's system is the ability to lavish personality on your avatar. Through custom emotes, combat styles and even how your gangster walks (you can have him walk like the 'I've got a broken leg' rude boy thing, or full-on a flaming queen.

We were shown a huge selection of different animations to bolt onto our creation, including the 'Ride the Donkey' taunt, and perhaps not bound for the US version, 'Wanker' emote.

Apparently the world and characters in Stillwater will react differently depending on the positive and negative emotes you chose for your character. We didn't see any sign of this in the demo we saw though.

The customisation feature extends beyond your avatar too. Using an in-game menu system you can upgrade and purchase items for your gang's pad. At first you'll start off with a run down, dirty house, but you can quickly upgrade it to look modern, classy and even stick a stripper pole in the back - because we know every good crib has one of those (right CVG Mike?).

This side of the customisation looked far more basic that the character tailoring but it's still something unique and over GTA IV. If SR2 is to stand even the slightest chance, it'll need to play on everything it's got.

As great as the character creation looks, if the main game turns out to be rubbish it'll all fall flat. Thankfully, Volition looks to have made some welcome tweaks to the original's solid foundation, which leaves realism at home and goes for the fun factor's wide, tattooed jugular.

The second game follows up on the events of the original a few years down the line. Your nameless character wakes up in a doctor's office after being blown up and betrayed by the Saints. With generic rage and revenge smouldering all over the place, it's time for your virtual gang-banger to build up a new gang and rid Stillwater of the competition.

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While the action takes place in the same city as the first, it's thankfully nowhere near the same place. 20 years of structural advancement has happened since the first game (that's 20 "videogame years" - in real life the post office would be shut and they would've built a new Starbucks) so there's a significant amount of fresh real estate to explore.

The one mission we were shown takes place in a dusty, rundown trailer park in the desert - a far cry from the skyscrapers and posh cars of downtown. Here we're introduced to one of Saints Row 2's new gangs, the Sons of Samedi, one of a few new criminal groups replacing the gang trio from the original.

The Samedi hang out in this new area of town, which isn't exactly the richest of neighbourhoods. Caravans and deck chairs litter the dusty trailer park. This isn't a Havan holiday camp though, there's a drug operation going down in Samedi town and our character has been tasked with taking out the trailer labs.

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