Saints Row 2: Ultor Exposed
As anyone who read Thunderbolt’s Saints Row 2 review will be aware, I am one of the many people who consider Volition’s gangsta-em-up to be a refreshingly madcap alternative to the relatively more sedate (but superior) Grand Theft Auto IV. So it is inevitable that, as SR2 was measured against Rockstar’s benchmark sandbox title, this first batch of Stillwater-set downloadable content cannot escape comparisons with The Lost and Damned.
The crusades of Johnny Klebitz and his leather-clad pals essentially delivered a whole boxed game’s worth of superlative story, missions and side quests, plus a handful of new vehicles and weapons, and set new standards for what can be achieved with DLC. In short, it put a lot of full-priced 360 games to shame, which means Volition really has to pull out all the stops in order to keep up with the competition. Let’s cut to the all-guns-blazing, OTT chase; they’ve not succeeded.
What do you get for your 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80/USD 10.00)? In short, not a lot. Three original missions in a new “story arc”, six vehicles, one “homie” to ride shotgun with you (the much-publicised inclusion of ginormo-norked pornstar Tera Patrick), a handful of customisation items, 4 new multiplayer maps and a new competitive scoring system in co-op mode. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, let’s just break this list down a little bit into it’s component parts.
“All three of these missions seem to have been hastily constructed”First off, the new story missions, which most people would consider the “meat” of the package. Unfortunately for those hungry for steak, there is barely enough meat here for a chicken nugget. With just three new single-player missions on offer, the sum total of which can be completed in less than an hour (and that’s being generous), Ultor Exposed is certainly not going to compete with TLAD in terms of quantity. So how does it compare quality-wise? Not good, action fans, not good.
All three of these missions seem to have been hastily constructed, and even the most ardent Saints Row fan will be disappointed with these nondescript and badly put together offerings. At best they show no innovation whatsoever, and at worst seem prone to some of the biggest flaws present in SR2. Over the course of the entire game these persistent irritants were forgiveable in SR2, as there was so much fun to be had that it was easy to overlook some minor problems. When the player is focused specifically on just three sequential missions, these issues don’t seem so minor anymore. Hamstrung by lack of variety, Volition’s motto for this add-on pack seems to be “if in doubt, throw a few more helicopters at them”. Lazy design, and it gives Ultor Exposed the feel of a cash-in on the part of the developers.
The six new vehicles are something of a mixed bag, but there are certainly some decent ones in there for you to play with. Tera’s Temptress is a speedy little number but not much different from all the other sports cars in the game, and the twitchy handling can make it a bit of a pain to drive. Most creatively designed is the Pulse, a three-wheeled bike that lacks speed, but handles solidly and is an entertaining ride.
“If you’ve already completed the main game then Ultor Exposed is nothing more than an expensive diversion.”
Equally interesting is the EDF Scout, a tank-like vehicle complete with a roof-mounted re-aimable multi-missile launcher. This is lifted wholesale from upcoming Volition release Red Faction: Guerrilla, a piece of product synergy which THQ’s marketing department must be rather proud of. In a nice little in-joke, this machine is supposedly created by Ultor’s design department for mining purposes (in a nod to Red Faction’s Mars setting, we are told “you won’t believe” where they are mining).
The Scout is a useful vehicle to have, but the best of the bunch is the Stallion, an old-school Stirling Moss-style race car that is extremely fast and handles terrifically. In addition there are two aerial vehicles, an Ultor-marked plane and attack chopper. Both come mounted with miniguns and missile launchers, and are fun enough to mess about with, even if there’s no real cause to use them for any practical purpose.
All these vehicles are placed directly in your garages/aircraft hangars, so no effort is needed from the player to track them down or earn them. This immediacy will be welcome to some, but surely it couldn’t have hurt to throw in a few side quests to steal them for yourself? The very fact I’m discussing the vehicles in such detail shows how little of worth is provided in this download. Everything on offer is just too shallow and superficial. Speaking of which…
Much has been made of Ms Patrick’s involvement with SR2, but in the end all it seems to amount to is a cameo appearance in Ultor Exposed. Tera plays herself as a mutinous microbiologist working for the Ultor Corporation, who comes to the 3rd Street Saints to try to help her spill the beans on her employers’ shady practices. In a game that largely appeals to adolescent boys, a pornstar seems to be the epitome of cynical stunt casting. To put it bluntly, from the poor line readings on show here she certainly wasn’t included for her acting talents. On my first playthrough, one of the game’s many bugs served to make Tera look rather stupid. “There’s the chemical truck”, says your pervy partner in crime, even though we’re underneath a concrete bridge and the truck in question is not even remotely visible as it trundles along directly above you. Add to this a fairly shoddy character model that fails to make the most of her most obvious assets and Tera’s inclusion is revealed to be nothing but a marketing gimmick that just doesn’t work in terms of the game itself.
“Everything on offer is just too shallow and superficial.”The new co-op mode which introduces competitive scoring during joint missions is a nice extra, and anyone who enjoys the multiplayer mode (if you can ever find people to play with/against) isn’t going to turn their noses up at additional maps to run riot on. These genuinely add value to the package, but how much depends on whether you intend to play with other people or not. If you are only looking to add to the single-player experience, these additions are not going to make much impact on you.
Last, and probably least, a number of new haircuts and outfits are a welcome but far from essential bonus. Being able to dress up as an alien or give yourself a mad professor hairdo is all well and good, but hardly groundbreaking stuff. If this was on the back of a significant number of decent activities then great, but when you can spend more time customising your character than playing the missions, something has gone seriously awry. The inclusion of Saints Row-themed Joystick Junkie clothing that can be purchased in real-life is a nice touch, yet at the same time just further evidence that this release is more to do with boosting the coffers of all involved than really expanding the game. Nods to other Volition games, merchandising ranges and cynical casting are one thing, but the billboards for the X-Men movie Wolverine scattered liberally around Stillwater are quite another, and suggest that Tera Patrick isn’t the only person here familiar with a “money-shot”.
If you’ve already completed the main game then Ultor Exposed is nothing more than a diversion, and a relatively expensive one at that. It might be of further value if you’ve yet to play SR2 fully, as the missions will seem more integrated and the vehicles will quite likely be useful rather than just extra toys to play with. For veterans seeking more thrills and spills though, there will be an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Even achievement whores won’t get their money’s worth, as there are only two to unlock, and neither hold much challenge.
One of the main problems Volition face with this pack is the fact that DLC has, in some notable instances, improved in leaps and bounds. When TLAD is available for 1200 Microsoft points, spending two-thirds of that on Ultor Exposed seems like an absolute rip-off. At half the price, this may be worth your time, but even at 400 points it would still be far from an essential purchase. It reeks of a cheap rush-job.
With at least two further DLC expansions planned for SR2, Volition are going to have to work a miracle to make up for this non-entity, and to ensure fans of the Saints can keep the faith.