As the years have gone on, I feel as if I have gotten increasingly more cynical, and less permissive of things that I openly would have praised in year’s past. I do truly and always want to sing the praises of just about anything I believe to deserve it, but there are and were moments where I was a bit too excited and felt too justified in saying nice things that I ignored some of the negligence thoughts that now fill my mind whenever I play any game, which kinda sucks now that I think about it.
Saints Row IV (With all the DLC, but somehow not the GOTC edition) Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, XBO
Developer: Deep Silver Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
In describing the story, I cannot help but find it to be a bit cluttered and overbearing, including a barrage of ideas that were all crammed in to make the game all the more ridiculous and increase the scales so high that a step in any direction could be viewed as a step down. The Third Street Saints went from a petty street gang to a group of pop culture icons, to saviors of the free world, to becoming the leaders of the United States of America. But as they learn how terrible the world of politics are, they are kidnapped by a group of planet conquering aliens known as the Zin, who lock the president and leader of the Saints inside of a virtual reality simulation. And thanks to a series of hacks, the leader of the Saints also has super powers. That all happens in the first hour or so of the game, and shortly afterwards the Earth gets blown up.
Combine this with a desire to more or less close the lid on and pay tribute to the series so far, and Saints Row IV has a lot of goals in its story, and while I do believe it is rather wonderful in theory, the actual execution felt a bit lacking in regards to everything the title is putting on the table. For example, the entire president angle could more or less be removed from the title, same with a couple of supporting characters who really do not contribute much. The main antagonist, Zinyak, is certainly a foreboding and distinct character amongst the series’ rogue’s gallery, but I felt that there was more one could do with him. He is an intergalactic overlord who has conquered dozens of planets in the past, but beyond having a love for classical literature and music, I felt as if I did not get to know him all that well as a character.
What’s there is an entertaining little romp that manages to be funny when it wants to, and manages to walk the line between seriousness and silliness pretty well. Feeling dramatic when it wants to, but never forgetting this is a game where you can play as a toilet who, while wielding a rocket launcher decked out to look like an ice cream cone, can fling explosive furries at robot skellingtons. While that does sound to be a jolly good time, it’s the execution of these ideas and incentive to go about these actions are where the game either sinks or swims, and while I feel Saints Row IV keeps its head above the water, it does not always have a lot of grace.
Don’t get me wrong, the story missions, and the majority of the DLC missions, are pretty much all memorable and entertaining in some fashion, from the writing, characters, overall premise, or just a fun execution. I would have honestly loved to go back and play through some of them twice, but for reasons that are forever lost on me, there is no option to replay missions. But when it comes to just going about your business and exploring the city of virtual Steelport, I felt that something more could be done. I absolutely loved collecting the thousand plus clusters scattered about the city, and found the activities to at least be palatable to pretty fun depending on the task in question. However, after I went through the majority of these side activities before getting to the second half of the story, I truly did feel as if there was nothing much to do in the city.
It was just a blue hued collection of buildings I soared through, taking in the sights and delightful licensed soundtrack with only one reason to ever cause a bit of mayhem. Whereas the previous games in the series had some lengthy and not overly well thought out side activities to do, all Saints Row IV has are challenges that ask you to perform an action a certain number of times. Kill 250 enemies with a black hole gun, taunt fifty of them, get gold medals in all the activities, and so forth. None of them are that hard to get, but rather involve a great deal of patience and going through the motions you need to in order to simply make a group of enemies to come after you.
Once they arrive, the enemies will quickly filter out into stronger ones who make getting unique kills far more annoying than they need to, and, once you are on high alert, the enemies vanish and a big bad Warden shows up, with an incredibly repetitive pattern, and a QTE finisher that you will likely fail a third of the time. Once they are defeated, you need to repeat the whole cycle over again if you want to complete challenges that, in the grand scheme of things, give you nothing in return. It makes screwing around so much less enticing as I kept feeling as if I needed to get those one hundred “Death From Above” kills, instead of playing around with a barrage of what has to be at least thirty AI controlled party members, who would just get in the way, and not help go through the motions with Warden number forty.
I cannot stress how much irritation this one aspect creates amongst an otherwise incredibly enjoyable game. Yet after getting through in in thirty or so hours, all I had to do was a cross between repeating the cycle, or soar through the skies, leaping from building to building while listening to the game’s wonderful licensed soundtrack. There’s so way to restart the optional wave based combat instances, and while you can theoretically lay through activities repeatedly, there is only so much fun a person can have while driving around a mech and wreaking havoc on a specific section of the city before the spectacle loses its appeal. I genuinely wanted to spend more time with the game, but after clearing off my map and watching the credits roll (twice due to one particularly enjoyable mission), there was nothing else. I suppose that I could explore the world a bit more, looking into the many nooks and crannies that one could miss when exploring the world at super speeds. Unfortunately, the fact that this spirit crushing virtual reality simulation still has a deluge of casinos and strip clubs does not inspire much confidence in me that there are a deluge of little details for me to find.
In my review of Saints Row 3 from a few months ago, I recall mentioning how I felt that the city of Steelport looked rather unappealing during the day, while it looked far more enticing and comfortable at night. I still agree with that, and think it is part of the reason why I do like how Saints Row IV looks, at least beyond a few elements. Firstly, there is too much red and blue amongst the color schemes, as the Saints’ controlled areas are represented by blue, there are blue clusters enticingly laid out over the city map, and the main character glows blue whenever running or soaring through the skies. While everything having to do with the Zin is based somewhere between red and orange, from their skin tone, their vehicles, territory, the glowing portals they spawn out of, and their spaceship as a whole. It’s just kind of boring, and is such a simple dynamic that I can’t help but question how much thought went into it.
Why exactly are the Saints represented by blue? Everything having to do with the game’s menus and HUD, along with the series history, always painted them as purple. Two antagonist gang factions from the series’ nine were represented by blue. And if you want to have the antagonists be represented by an opposing color, why not change their tone from red and orange to, say, yellow, the opposite color of purple. One could say that red is a naturally intimidating color, representing blood and fire, but the red colored antagonist is something the series incorporated in every game, and comes across as a bit cliche and generic no matter how I look at it. Heck, everything about the Zin’s aesthetic irks me in some way, being a race of incredibly intelligent musclebound alien warriors who drive in slick LED covered vehicles and only have one non-specialist character model to go between the couple thousands you inevitably go through over the course of the game.
For whatever reason, Saints Row is a series that I really, really do want to love. It can be such a fun, silly, and humorous romp when everything goes right, but due to the inevitabilities that come when making even a AA title, I still feel as if the series has never really hit the nail perfectly on the head. Part 4 in particular has such a grand end goal of being a frantic super power based adventure that throws in everything but the kitchen skin in order to send the series out with a colossal bang- which it does to some extent. Its end product is one I enjoyed immensely, but going through it once again its shortcomings became all the more apparent, and my desire to see the developers take another crack at something even remotely similar has only risen as a result.