The 1st October was a pretty good day all round. The first phase of tax-cuts came in, but much more importantly we were invited to an exclusive look at Saints Row 2.

Take 2 and Volition have put an enormous amount of effort into making sure we all know its coming, and that it's bigger and badder than ever.

Arriving in a somewhat dodgy looking nightclub underneath a strip club on Customs St, our first thought was: is this really the right place? Is this a trick? However, upon entering the room we were greeted by a bunch of gorgeous looking women wearing Saints Row 2 t-shirts and playing the game. No, this was definitely the right place. Thanks to the great people at THQ New Zealand we had an open bar, and enough pizza to feed a small African nation.

Once well fed and sufficiently open minded from the alcohol, we were able to give the game a brief play-through. Due to the time constraints we can’t give you the in-depth look you all are most likely eager for, however we will do our best to give our impressions. We were not playing final code, so these perceptions should be taken as an alpha preview.

The first thing we were launched into was one of the most advanced character creation systems we've ever experienced. You are at an absolute loss for sheer choice. Having created an enormously obese bleached blonde, and witnessed others making emaciated pimps as well as crack whores and paedophiles, you can be sure you really can create any character you can think of. You can then customise everything from their voice to their walking and running styles. It was rather impressive seeing a pimp walking down the street in a way that only the hardest of pimps can.

Graphically the game was pretty impressive. Comparisons to Grand Theft Auto IV are a must under the circumstances, but despite not looking as visually complex, it's really just a different art-style.

From the outset the developers wanted to create a fun experience that focuses on crazy missions and absurd sights and actions. For example, riding down the street on a motorbike slicing and dicing with a katana, or spraying the neighbourhood with sewage trucks. Saints Row 2 is essentially a Scary Movie take on GTA IV, as it focuses much more on humour and parody. But the graphics really allow the diverse characters to shine and look fantastic, and some of the effects are simply amazing. At one stage we were racing away from a dock in a boat and the water effects as well as the helicopters that were chasing us were just spectacular. As the Saints Row girl standing next to me commented - “it's like a movie.”

We didn’t get to have a solid look at the mission structure, however it seems to be much like you'd expect. The map will show you your destination and you head there and complete certain objectives. This is where the emphasis on fun instead of realism shines through, in the driving. In the build we played, the cars seemed to lack weight, but this did make the whole driving experience easy and un-frustrating. The inclusion of cruise control must truly be applauded as it will allow you to concentrate on the drive-bys as opposed to accelerating away from the scene.

An area that was disappointing however was that the guys from Volition have opted for ragdoll physics instead of the far more spectacular Euphoria engine that has made its way into titles such as Star Wars: Force Unleashed and of course GTA IV. Euphoria allows characters to react in real time to collisions and also to pre-empt collisions. Ragdoll physics simply involves crumpling and falling. Don’t get me wrong, ragdoll physics is great and is widely used in many many titles, but it simply seems last-gen after having experienced Euphoria.

Despite this, Saints Row 2 is an exceptional title. Volition has made a conscious choice to create the game the way they have, and they clearly felt it would be a better product for it. GTA IV moved away from the unadulterated fun model of sandbox game that players loved in San Andreas to a more realistic story-driven experience, and Volition has tried to steer Saints Row into the gap Rockstar has provided them.

Overall we were very impressed by Saints Row 2. Stilwater is virtually unrecognisable as it has received a real work-over by the guys at Volition. And the map was just enormous, with an immense sense of freedom that felt to be lacking for many in GTA IV. All in all the night ended far too quickly and we were sad to see the game disappear for another few weeks until the release on the 17th of October.