With the same funny attitude and writing, Saints Row IV provides a simply over-the-top action experience that is the epitome of what fun should be in a video game. Now enabling players to make massive leaps, glide around the city, or fling people around like dolls using a telekinesis power, some massive risks are taken with Saints Row IV which immediately pay off thanks to the brilliant execution. Aside from a final mission that could’ve used some tweaking, there’s nothing disappointing about Saints Row IV unless you’re one of the five people out there that wishes the game was more Michael Mann than TROMA in its execution.
+ Superpower abilities are awesome and convey a sense of power.
+ Writing is once again funny and on the mark in its pop-culture and cult references.
+ Voice acting is superb. Seriously, everyone in the game nails it.
+ Missions are diverse and have some huge surprises.
- Last mission is a bit too difficult and not quite streamlined enough.
Seeing a developer create a game which is fearless in what it strives for is something that’s rare these days. With so many games created under the mandates of either publishers or the presumed tastes of players, specifically the mainstream Mountain Dew chugging audience, it’s refreshing to see a game like Saints Row IV come around.
Sure, we’re on the fourth entry in an established franchise, but the team over at Volition have provided us with a game that’s entertaining, completely daring, thematically refreshing, and overwhelmingly funny in the various obscure and cult references it provides; basically it’s a kick-ass video game.
It may be easy to assume what Saints Row IV will provide either because of the various media materials that have been released in the past six months or simply because of what was offered up in Saints Row: The Third. Things like giant deadly dildo bats, crazy gangs, and giant fist weapons that turn people into bloody meat chunks upon impact are some of the things that have been ingrained into our minds as to what the Saints Row franchise is all about. But thankfully things don’t have a complacent feeling in Saints Row IV as the game has a fresh vibe to it despite the somewhat huge thematic leaps that have been made.
After becoming media darlings and destroying one of the most powerful gangs in the world, the Third Street Saints are now politicians – or at least would-be politicians given the only things they know is how to party, drink, and shoot stuff up. Now assuming the role of the President of the United States, the heroic leader of the Saints (the player) needs to face the toughest adversary ever: an alien invasion. Okay, the whole inclusion of aliens into the Saints Row franchise may have some fans of the series annoyed since it is a rather big jump in the realm of silliness. But it’s just that – silliness that’s ultimately fun as hell.
Somewhat evoking shades of the period when Volition was behind the Red Faction series, the inclusion of a deadly alien force in the game is one that I couldn’t help but have a massive grin on my face the entire time. Obviously things are never taken too seriously within the game since this isn’t meant to be a Spielberg style sci-fi tale akin to War of the Worlds as we instead have an alien villain that just so happens to have a British accent and is fond of quoting lines of Shakespeare. So yeah, this is the Saints Row that we’ve come to know and love.
However sudden the inclusion of an alien invasion may seem within the game, it does work wonderfully for what the main narrative and gameplay mechanics are. With each of the Saints (Shaundi, Pierce, etc.) being abducted by the deadly Zin army and inserted into a computer simulation based on Steelport, it’s up to players to free their homies and teach an alien a thing or two about messing with the deadliest gang in human existence. All together the sudden arrival of a deadly alien armada armed with high-tech weaponry isn’t too much of a leap based on the territory SR3 went into with its highly advanced hacker gangs and genetically engineered armies. So while it may sound like the game is in full-on scene chewing mode absurdity, which it partly is based on the jokes and some of the special levels that pop-up, things do come together to make a cohesive experience.
It may be disappointing to hear that the city of Steelport is once again the setting of the game, though it isn’t an immediate recycling of what we saw in Saints Row: The Third. Besides key environmental objects such as massive alien ships hovering the sky, major hangouts of the Saints have been trashed beyond recognition and the city itself being in a state of perpetual nighttime thus giving off a slightly noir-ish vibe. So there’s a very distinct vibe within the city that makes it feel different rather than like little to no effort was put into making things look different. Overall such a difference in feeling within Steelport isn’t just because of the stylist changes that were made, but because of the new perspective I had due to the arrival of superhuman abilities.
In classic Saints Row fashion, the team at Volition seemingly decided to say “Screw it, why not?” by throwing superhuman powers into the mix. Again, it may sound like the game may have jumped the shark in a way that’s almost meta given the obvious parody laden pastiches that the series is now built upon, though the inclusion of such an element does richen the overall experience. Explained rather wonderfully given the simulation basis of Steelport, suddenly being able to make massive leaps into the air or get my Barry Allen on by sprinting at super speeds down streets didn’t feel as out of place as I had originally it expected to be. Doled out at a rather good pace through unlocks earned by doing things such as battling against giant alien beasts who are “Wardens” of the cyber prison that the Saints are in, things are certainly taken in a non-traditional way when compared to the original Saints Row formula. That said, who doesn’t want to run up the side of a building and then glide towards the ground wearing nothing but a thong if given the chance?
Thankfully, the core gameplay in SRIV isn’t overpowered or ruled exclusively by these newfound powers. There are certainly elements in missions that take advantage of using powers such as being able to shoot fire or ice out of my character’s hands, yet even then it didn’t feel like Volition was in a way pandering to the audience or trying to make an excuse as to why I could suddenly fling a car at enemies due to a newly gained telekinesis power. Most of the time the powers I was given were woven into missions in a way that made sense, whether it be using telekinesis to pull an object apart or using my leaping ability to reach an area before the timer counts down to zero.
Even more, the powers feel rather naturally given the freedom that Saints Row offers as a sandbox game in the form of seeing how much crazy crap I could get away with before biting the dust. Freezing civilians and then shattering them, picking up motorcycles with my TK ability while the rider is still on it, or doing power stomps as I jump off a skyscraper are some of the things that easily puts the game in a perpetual state of fun that never really dries out if you have an imagination and a knack to cause mayhem.
The same old Saints Row formula of shooting fools up gangsta style is still in play, though there is a slight twist thanks to new weapons with alien origins (lots of laser pew-pewing), and those that are simply absurd such as the Dubstep gun. So on top of the new elements Volition added in the form of superpowers, the game doesn’t even falter in the more traditional elements; a thing which I think is rather a testament to the talents of the studio.
It may sound like Saints Row IV is a bit of a hodgepodge of elements considering that it’s possible to run at super speeds within the city and then suddenly whip out a machine gun to bust a cap in an army of aliens. While it may sound strange on paper, the experience as a whole comes together quite wonderfully thanks to missions that fully embrace how absurd things are. As we saw in Saints Row: The Third it’s obvious that Volition isn’t taking themselves or the franchise in an uber serious way as other developers do, but there are some rather epic and surprising missions within the game that managed to constantly out-do one another instead of feeling like a mere palette swap was done.
Besides trying to clear the Zin menace out of Steelport, a constant task within the game was to rescue my fellow Third Street Saints homies and key confidants such as Vice President Keith David (who totally kills in the game by the way thanks to his badass attitude). Opting to go in a way that fully embraces the random nature the series is known for as well as playing up the simulation setting, I had to embark on rescue missions in which the setting was based on the fear of a specific character. While I’ll refrain from spoilers, these missions not only feature a diverse sense of style and action, but in a few cases there are also some nice callbacks to previous installments in the series – almost to the point that it feels like this is officially the grand send-off of the series as we know it now.
Eventually the missions do come together in a grander fashion once the whole crew is assembled and it’s officially time to take on Zinyak once and for all. All together I must say that I was impressed with the pace of the campaign in SRIV since it really didn’t have any mandatory fluff to it. Aside from some early training missions and introducing a side activity or two in a story capacity (such as the return of Professor Genki), each mission had a distinct feel to it that never once wore out its welcome.
The chief thing that makes SRIV so much fun is that there’s a huge sense of freedom in it. I know, it must sound “shocking” to hear that an open-world/sandbox game has a feeling of freedom within it, but thanks to the powers that I could do at any time, after they’re unlocked mind you, the game easily trumps what Volition has provided in the past. Going around the city jumping onto buildings, chaining together leaps and wall-runs to get max XP, seeing a random data Cluster and nabbing it, and then suddenly going into a side mission is just fun that’s exponentially consistent.
Even though many of the core elements Volition put into the game are traditional things that we’ve seen before (XP collection fetch quests), the base gameplay is simply so much fun and raucous in a way (gotta love being able to pull wrestling moves on unsuspecting bystanders) that the end result is pure bliss, albeit of one cartoony gang action mayhem.
The only real point that I ever found myself a bit drained of what SRIV was providing me was actually in regards to the very last mission. Big in scope and the overall narrative that was happening, the constant objectives that were being flung around results in a bit of multitasking which was a bit too annoying considering the extreme forces I had to contend with such as tanks, aliens armed with missile launchers, and deadly robots wielding mini-gatling gun type weapons.
The somewhat tough odds of the finale and the fact that the game suddenly turns into a platformer in a sense did result in some of the momentum stopping ever so slightly due to the various retries that accompanied my playthrough. I know, it may be silly to be a bit critical of the difficulty and design of a final mission in this day and age, but I did feel like Volition perhaps tried to be a bit too epic all while biting off more than they could chew in providing a massive cyber grand finale against a monumental alien force. All together I can appreciate what was delivered, but I did wish things were almost streamlined better rather than being told to fix three different things every two minutes all while an elongated escort mission plays out.
Once again melding original material that’s rooted in the lore of the franchise along with stuff that’s a riff on things we know and love (Metal Gear Solid, Godzilla), things obviously have a parody nature within SRIV, yet they never feel too forced nor did they immediately take me out of the experience since I knew what the joke was. More importantly, the writing itself is extremely consistent in being funny with its profanity laced dialog and witty banter between characters such as the two Shaundi’s, Vice President Keith David, and a few major surprise characters – some of whom are familiar faces to the Saints Row franchise.
It may have seemed like it would’ve been tough, if entirely impossible, to top what was given to us in SR3, but Volition has done such a thing by not only bringing back a few key jokes (gotta love group sing-alongs) as well as adding a rather extensive array of new things to poke fun of. Just like the rest of the game, none of the material feels like it’s been recycled from what was left on the cutting room floor as there’s a clear attention to detail and obvious care given to all the things that are parodied as well as the few returning faces that make a comeback such as a legendary member of the Third Street Saints.
Saints Row IV can best be summed up as a bouillabaisse of awesome. Building upon what was created in Saints Row: The Third, the game ultimately has a little something of everything to please everyone. With the same over-the-top approach to storytelling and mission design, I couldn’t help but relish the elements that were reminiscent of the agile navigation found in Crackdown, the throw tons of stuff at people using TK powers akin to Psi-Ops, and of course the brutal action that we love and expect from the Saints Row franchise.
While I doubt this is the last we’ll see of the Third Street Saints, Saints Row IV is so well-executed that I would be content with this being the last game Volition released in the series since it’s simply that damn fun.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.