The Saints Row series has always been a bit of an oddity to me, but at the same time, few games managed to change themselves up so drastically over a single generation of consoles. From GTA clone, to a silly parallel to the series, to a game that tried to ape its wacky demeanor but somehow felt lacking. To part IV, which is probably going to be my GOTY unless I finally play Bioshock Infinite.
Saints Row IV Review
Release Date: 20/8/2013
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit
More specifically, after becoming a pop culture icon, head of a multi-billion dollar company, and savior of a city, the Boss of the Saints was able to rid the world of terrorism, land their ass in the oval office, and led the country in what was looked to be a one term presidency. That is, until aliens invaded, kidnapping the President, and shoving his/her mind into a virtual reality simulation, where they gained superpowers. Also, they’re in space. Which is about the most absurd, but strangely fitting way to end a series if I ever saw one.
But in terms of an ultimate goal, it is a very clear departure, as you are no longer going against other gangs and building up your territory. Instead, you need to find your allies from prior games, along with a new face or two, and bring them together so you can take the poshy spikey headed pink skin British alien man named Zinyak and his empire down. Which is done through a series of missions as to be expected, with adventuring and side questing around the city occupying every other moment.
Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Saints Row: The Third, as my intro would lead one to believe. It was due to rather similar reasons as most people, but one of the biggest factors was how the game felt very lean in terms of content given that it was an open world sandbox game. And looking at it by the numbers, Saints Row IV is pushing it even leaner, with far fewer activities and missions to partake in. With the key difference being how the missions took the handful of glorious moments that were scattered about in Saints Row: The Third, and expanded into, well, most of the missions in Saints Row IV.
A big part in that is the humor, which is nailed right on the head. With scenarios so overdone and absurd that it can be part of the joke itself, the dialog shared between the other Saints and their Boss are regularly chuckle worthy, and the dialog itself is one of the few things that made me burst out laughing in quite a while. Even if it was because they decided to make you into a toilet again, throw in another couple text adventures, integrated a song beautifully well, or just make several call backs to the previous titles.
As well as taking from The Matrix, They Live, and unintentionally Metal Wolf Chaos, the game very much feels like a way to cap off the series, and throw in nods to people who’ve been sticking with it since the first game. Most of which are tied into interacting with your crew on the ship in an homage/parody of Mass Effect 2 in particular. With the structure itself being pretty darn similar, and the loyalty missions that offer the biggest chunk of development to your crew. Except instead of getting a new outfit and shagging options, both of which are still bonuses, they get super powers themselves.
Which in terms of gameplay changes just about everything. While the core of the game is still pretty much Saints Row: The Third. With outfits, mechanics, the basic setting, animations, and about every vehicle being very recycled, the act of going out and merely traversing the world feels momentous different. With the ability to run as fast as the game can process without crashing, jump a good hundred meters into the air, and glide through the darkened virtually perverted Steelport being just about the most delightful manner of exploring any environment that I’ve seen from any game.
Though, most of my trips were not quite as quick as they may seem, due to the hundreds of collectables, several dozen strongholds to beat your way into, stores to hack, and side activities to do. But whereas the story campaign feels to go for the quality over quantity approach, as the total mission counter is the lowest in the series, I can’t say the same for the side attractions. Apart from things like mayhem and insurance fraud, combo heavy feats of destruction on the city and the Boss respectively, not many attractions from the previous games return, and with only 32 total instances available, I can’t help but find the end result for side content more than a bit lacking.
Granted, Steelport was never that large of a city to explore, though nobody felt the need to expand it, and the map is very much delightfully cluttered if you put things in perspective. But after going through every little thing I could do aside from repetition heavy challenges, one elusive gold medal as a reward for doing one activity preposterously quickly, and upgrading every weapon, there just was not much for me to do after a while. And that was after trying to figure out how the blazes some of the challenges worked in order to get a gold medal, due to how lacking the tutorials for the Rift series can be.
It’s especially curious when considering that you can still hold hostages, mug people, surf on vehicles, and use human shields, none of which seem all that necessary. Yet more or less recycling activities like Snatch, Escort, or even assassinations seemed a bit too gauche. I do believe that the lack of focus on cars could very easily be justification for this, but the support still remains completely intact, so I can’t help but wonder why so little attention was paid to them especially considering that it would offer something different.
The superpower excuse does sound like a good one, but there are many times when you are in the real world or another simulation and do not have access to your powers. Which does feel appropriately demoralizing, as you are stuck with only a small arsenal of weapons and not the ability to set everything within ten feet of the Boss on fire. Which does very much make it sound like the protagonist is a hair over powered, if only because they are. About five hours in, I got the more or less infamous Dubstep gun, fully upgraded it, and without even needing powers, I was effectively invincible against anything aside from the recorruring minibosses.
While with super speed, you can easily toss enemies into the air, do a super melee attack on most individual foes for an easy beatdown. Or perhaps toss a fireball that sets them on fire, explodes them, then sets their allies on fire to do the same. If you properly pace your way through and do not indulge in every challenge right from the get-go, like I chose to, the world is more or less your oyster to wreck shop in. Which may sound like like a negative, but it never stopped the game from being so gosh darn fun.
Something that was very likely the focus of development, seeing as how the visuals were certainly not. With the foundation of the prior title’s visuals not being all that worth recreating, a lot of the game does look like Saints Row: The Third with super powers modded in. With the biggest difference being how the city has been placed into an eternally red or blue tinted night time emitted by large towers. Alongside advertisement replaced by Zinyak’s face and the constant demand to obey or give in to his simulation. Tough, I had little to no trouble aside from three odd crashes when otherwise smoothly running the game on Ultra, and even then it hardly pushed the technical envelope, with its colorful and almost cartoony art style being the primary visual highlight.
Alternatively, the soundtrack continued to be something that I couldn’t resist from squeezing around the legal system to obtain. As the selections and their implementation are pretty superb. As there are few things better than rushing into the final boss battle as Stan Bush’s You’ve Got The Touch plays in the background. Or hitting furries in the face with a giant phallic bat as two mates catch up with Thin Liz’s The Boys Are Back In Town. Or just soar across the city while listening to a reenacted passage from Othello courtesy of the main antagonist while hearing one of seven voices shout with glee as they get shiny collectables.
To me, Saints Row IV is like the cliche final summer you would have with a childhood friend. The experience is filled with more than a handful of moments that will stay with you forever, but as August looms around the corner, you know that time and distance shall keep you separated, possibly forever. As the days never seem quite long enough, and the acclaimed two months shrink into countable hours before dwindling to the final meeting that will linger for many a year. You ponder where such a mate could’ve- Oh bollocks with this. Content quantity gripes aside, Saints Row IV is a hell of a send off to the series on top of possibly being one of the best open world sandbox games of all time.
An exceptional product that is hindered by a few issues to the point where they are barely worth noting for this superb title. Definitely worth both your time and money.