As in Vigilante 8, players will control a vehicle and eliminate all other vehicles in the arena with the use of weapons and upgrades. The player can choose to play through a story mode, Quest Mode, or play with an assorted number of bots in Arcade mode. The game also offers a new two-player cooperative mode and a Grand Melee Deathmatch mode, wherein the player endures attacks by multiple AI opponents. Second Offense introduced the "Salvage Points" system, which allows the player to upgrade their vehicle by collecting Salvage Points from destroyed opponents, improving the vehicle's offense, defense, speed, and targeting abilities. The vehicle's external appearance also improves with more Salvage Points and turns into a totally different design when it is fully upgraded. Special icons scattered over the game zone allows the player to improve mobility over certain environments, such as hover pods, skis, and outboard motors. The original game's five standard weapons - mines, rockets, autocannons, homing missiles, and mortars - are now supplanted by flamethrowers, with each weapon now capable of performing three special attacks using movements on the control pad. The Totaling and Whammy combat modes from the first game are also retained, as is the concept of stages with interactive features.
Completing secondary objectives in Quest Mode would also help unlock secret characters. Aside from being able to play music CDs, the player can also access the Vigilante 8 levels for multiplayer matches by inserting the game disc.
The game is set in September 1977, two years after the events of Vigilante 8. The southwestern United States has become peaceful in the wake of the Coyotes' defeat, but the Oil Monopoly Alliance Regime (OMAR) continues to dominate most of the global petroleum market, well into the 21st century. With new Coyotes leader Slick Clyde leading OMAR during the twilight of his life by 2017, Clyde thinks that a failure to conquer America (which has adopted nuclear and sustainable energy) would be his biggest regret. He plans to change history by stealing prototype time machines from Stanford University's quantum physics lab, travel back to the 1970s, and eliminate the Vigilantes to ensure OMAR's supremacy.
Many of the characters that previously appeared in Vigilante 8 reappear and have their own Quest Mode campaigns. Boogie, Dusty Earth, and Dave's Cultsmen are only available in multiplayer mode.
The game's protagonists are the Vigilantes, which had been all but disbanded following the events of the first game. Its leader, Convoy, marries ex-Coyote Houston and runs a trucking business, but apparently dies when the Coyotes ambush them on September 17, 1977. Returning Vigilante characters include gambler-turned-bounty hunter John Torque, and Convoy's rebellious niece Sheila. The Vigilantes are supplanted by the Flying All-Star Trio (Team FAST), black stunt performers who are actually Houston's long-lost siblings, and Dave's Cultsmen, a trio of hippie followers idolizing Vigilante 8 character Dave.
The game's main antagonist is ex-Vigilante Slick Clyde, who now leads the Coyotes after finding Houston's old mind-control armband. His underlings in 2017 are Japanese orphan Obake and cyborg Dallas 13, who is revealed to be Obake's close friend Darius but disappeared after a mistake during the Stanford University heist. Sid Burn's former lover, arms smuggler Nina Loco, is a new addition to the Coyotes, having safeguarded most of the advanced weapons they stole in the first game. Boogie and Molo are the only returning antagonists from the first game; Nina springs Boogie from jail and Clyde breaks out Molo as he is transported to a correctional center by prison bus, giving him the prison bus as his personal vehicle.
The game also introduces a third faction: the Drifters. While not an organization per se, the Drifters are individuals who are somehow drawn into the war. They include Chrono Police (ChronoPol) agent R Chase, who is investigating Clyde and OMAR's activities; former NASA astronaut Bob O, American Indian shaman Dusty Earth, doomsday preacher Padre Destino, The Garbage Man, and former FBI agent Chassey Blue, whose Hollywood career is in shambles following a scandal the Bureau engineered to put her back on the job.
As with Vigilante 8, most endings in Second Offense are connected to tell a whole story.
Dallas 13 captures Houston, who fights back and kills him. Using Dallas 13's time-machine, Houston goes back to stop Convoy from driving off a cliff as the Coyotes attack. Convoy activates special cannons in his truck and goes into battle. Houston also reunites with her Team FAST siblings, whom she had not seen after she was abducted from a gymnastics class in 1973 (presumably by OMAR agents).
Later, Agent R Chase corners a defiant Slick Clyde. The Coyote leader fights back and is on the verge of killing him until Obake incapacitates Clyde and leaves with him through the time warp. Now back in 2017, Slick wakes up in his car with Obake at the wheel. Having discovered the truth about Dallas 13's real identity and how Clyde killed her parents, she maneuvers the bomb-laden car on a collision course with OMAR headquarters, where Slick dies. OMAR's collapse prompts Uzumi to step up and unveil her family's clean energy technology to the world. Sulking over his failure to arrest Clyde, Chase smashes his ChronoPol badge and finally meets childhood crush Chassey Blue (who also threw away her FBI ID). Since his ChronoPol badge is destroyed, Chase is declared AWOL and he drives off with Chassey as other ChronoPol agents go after them.
Sheila enters the FBI Academy with Chassey's blessing and graduates. Her first assignment is to take down Molo, who thought Chassey was chasing him.
Under the guise of a road accident victim, the Garbage Man runs off with Bob O's lunar rover. The Garbage Man is revealed as Vigilante 8 secret character Y The Alien, who cannibalized the rover to get parts for his spaceship. Bob O, who is actually a NASA lab monkey, joins Y as they launch the ship.
Padre Destino is vaporized when a portal appears in the course of his prayers and shoots a blast of flame at him.
With the second defeat of the Coyotes, Nina decides to give the remaining Site 4 heavy weapons to a Mexican gang and rendezvous with them for the payoff. However, the shipment is actually a bomb that destroys the gang's limousine. Expecting to get away, Nina stops when she sees John Torque blocking the road. Having stashed her in the trunk of his car, Torque goes to the nearest jail to collect his bounty. He changes his mind and they go to an island paradise, with Convoy and Houston joining them.
Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense was announced in 1998, initially with the title Vigilante 12, referring to the game's additional four characters compared to eight characters in its predecessor. A school bus was featured in the game during development, but Activision expected to replace it with a prison bus because of "sensitivity to violence."Strategy guide
Brady Games released an official strategy guide on December 6, 1999. Written by Bart Farkas, the guide features all character information, walkthroughs, and cheat codes for all three releases of the game.
In December 1999, Chaos! Comics joined forces with Activision to release a Second Offense
comic book. The comic further details plot elements that were barely tackled in the game, such as the aftermath of the Stanford University heist and Nina's rescue of Boogie. Although there was a preview issue, the series did not advance after issue #1.
The game received positive reviews. IGN stated that the game has improved in terms of car and environment variety, the physics engine, and gameplay, but the missions seem trite, adding that the game also bested Twisted Metal 4. Joe Fielder of GameSpot lauded the game's upgrade system and the variety of songs in the game soundtrack, but was not as approving of the "aggravated" physics model and the graphics, which are just the same as the first game.
Despite positive reviews, Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense failed to sell well against its competitor, Twisted Metal 4. In October 2000, Activision declined to comment on a report that it had no plans to continue the series on the PlayStation 2 or any other new consoles.