Saints Row 2 begins with your character, having woken from a coma minutes ago, trying to escape from prison with his former gang mate. Once you have evaded the Stilwater police, you track down your old gang, only to find they have disbanded and scattered. You decide to reunite and retrieve control of Stilwater from the rival gangs that moved in while you were away.
From there, you're left to your own devices in a city bustling with characters to meet, jobs to do and secrets to discover.
Saints Row 2's huge map is open for exploration from the outset, and it's possible to spend hours exploring its shops, side streets and diversions before attempting the first story mission. The side missions are particularly entertaining, combining humour with original gameplay. Crowd Control is one of the best examples; you can earn money protecting celebrities from over-enthusiastic fans, gaining bonus cash if you dispatch troublemakers imaginatively, such as tossing them into a jet engine.
Customisation is another of the game's features, and almost everything associated with your character can be redesigned, allowing you to inject your own personality into Stilwater. There is an impressive level of depth to the character creation feature, allowing you to create anything from the mundane to the outrageous, and you can visit a cosmetic surgeon at any point if you feel like a makeover. There are dozens of clothes shops in Stilwater, and you can adjust the colour and style of each item of clothing, so even shopping and trying out new outfits is entertaining enough to lose hours in.
As your empire grows, you can purchase properties and redecorate them to your liking. You can decide on your gang's uniform and which vehicles they drive, and you can take your own stable of cars and fit performance-enhancing engine parts, nitrous oxide kits or just go for a new colour. It all adds to the feeling that the character you are controlling is your own, and as you progress through the story missions, you can see his or her style spreading into the surroundings.
The story missions are full of original ideas and excitement. The gunfights in particular build in intensity, showing off the spectacular explosions that frequently accompany your mayhem. The police are lenient to a point, but once you're on the wrong side of them they send armoured guards, the FBI and even a military helicopter after you, more often than not bringing your rampage to an abrupt end.
It's not just the sense of freedom that makes Saints Row 2 such fantastic fun, it's the knowledge that behind every corner, there's something to do. It's a game filled with hilarious moments that are made all the better when you stumble across them by chance.
This is a game with its tongue is in its cheek, and a thoroughly entertaining romp from start to finish.