Video games today have become systems. Core concepts, RAM utilization, multiplayer DLC, Achievements, Cloud computing, dashboard updates, campaign lengths, QTEs – games and their underlying identities are like blueprints, waiting to be broken down and analysed and discerned. Not Saints Row IV, however. Deep Silver Volition’s next iteration in the awesome-gasming, explosive-tastic open world action adventure is as much about breaking and beating the system within the story as well as the systems of gaming.
Simply put, games can stop trying to be super-serious and just be fun. Games can stop being art and revel in bad-assery, humour and outright chicanery. And in doing so, Saints Row IV showcases just why games are art in the first place – because they allow us experiences we would never be able to have otherwise.
The start of the game is fairly simple and first-time players will be introduced to the crux of the Saints Row franchise quick. It’s the campaign that starts five years later, when the leader of the Third Street Saints ascends to the highest position in the United States, namely the Presidency, that really kickstarts the story. Kinzie Kensington, Oleg, Pierce Washington, Viola, Benjamin mutha-f**king King and Keith David are along for the ride with plenty of new and returning characters.
In between solving the world’s problems with a button press here and there, it all seems peaceful enough. That is, until the evil Zinyak and alien Zin Empire invade the Earth, laying siege to the White House and kidnapping your friends before trapping you in a virtual world. As the game progresses, your priorities will shift from escaping the simulation to ultimately defeating Zinyak.
Let’s make a couple of things clear from the outset: Yes, you’re back in Steelport. However, the game has been entirely redesigned to accommodate the new features, enemies and transportation you’ll be requiring. Drive-by missions and Trafficking are no longer part of your prerogative. You’ll be pushed and pulled in multiple directions and realities in Saints Row IV. The best comparison we can come up with is Rockstar Games using the same engine for GTA III to create Vice City and San Andreas. The basic groundwork has already been laid by Saints Row The Third and Saints Row IV builds on it like there’s no tomorrow.
In the virtual Steel Port, nearly every aspect of the old game has been overhauled. You’ll come across five towers in the city, which can be ascended and ultimately conquered for Respect – the equivalent of Experience Points – and Cache – which is essentially money within the game. Conquering the towers is also the easiest way to collect Code Fragments that will upgrade your powers.
The powers of Saints Row IV may remind you of Radical Entertainment’s Prototype series. Hell, the gliding animation looks the same for crying out loud. But when you’re running on water or speeding up through a busy lane as the sheer wind force causes cars to fly off the road, or when you leap into the air for the first time, clearing small buildings like they’re nothing, or running up walls and bouncing between them (which will come into play during the Insurance Fraud missions), you’ll feel the difference. Saints Row IV is a faster, more fluid and hilariously awesome take on Prototype’s powers. The amazing part? That’s just for the basic movement.
You also have control over six other powers, including Telekinesis, Fireball, Stomp and Death From Above (a dive bomb). Each power has its own element, which can be switched during play, and each has their own benefits. The Fireball can become an Iceball and freeze targets, allowing them to take double damage. Telekinesis can be used to hurl enemies and objects as well to sap the life out of enemies or turn them into living conduits for electricity. Death From Above…well, we’ll let you discover what that can do when fully powered up, but needless to say, it beats Prototype’s dive bomb by a light year.
Powers can also be combined for devastating effects. Suppose you want to shoot an Iceball at enemies and then leap up into the air for a giant stomp that will shatter them all at once? Or maybe you want to levitate your enemies all at once with the Stomp’s Gravity element and then launch Fireballs at them, with the Explosion upgrade passing the combustion from one enemy to the next in a chain reaction akin to Satan’s ladder? How about just rushing around and straight up bashing enemies with super-powered grapples while bursting with electricity? It’s all here, and many more wicked combinations await your input.
Conquering virtual Steel Port isn’t just about becoming more powerful though, just as gaining the best powers isn’t simply about completing Activities and collecting Code Fragments. You also need to complete various Loyalty and Side missions along with the basic story quests. While the story missions will revolve around freeing your crew members and ultimately taking on Zinyak, the Loyalty and side missions allow you to unlock new weapons, super powered homies, new allies that can only exist within the simulation, different upgrades to your powers, new elements and much more. You’ll also learn a fair bit about each character and their motivations, so the Loyalty missions double up as a wonderful character bonding exercise (except if all the characters were sociopaths).
The side missions interweave within the different Activities in the simulation. In order to control properties, you’ll need to take part in different hacking mini-games. Trail-blazing now involves you running around at high speeds and hitting the targets in time while the Rift missions have you both platforming and eliminating targets using Telekinesis and participating in Temple Run-like romps to the finish line. Mayhem missions have been expanded upon to include Tanks, Telekinesis, Stomping, Mechs and even regular Mayhem using weapons.
Virus Injections act as Horde-mode like missions that have you taking on numerous waves of enemies. You can also take up Assassination missions to face off against super-powered foes that will test your mettle until you outright start bum-rushing them with super-powered throws, taking the fight to the skyscrapers for breathing room and engaging in whacked out superhuman clashes. Perhaps the only boring activity in the game is one in which you must hijack different vehicles around the city and deliver them to a specific location. This isn’t even because it’s boring on its own – the rest of the game is just on a whole other, jacked-up level that it makes you feel that way.
Did we mention guns? There are plenty of guns as well. From the good ol’ Desert Eagle to the Zin arsenal to the Dubstep Gun, which busts out different tunes depending on the clothes you wear, and the Singularity Gun that fires miniature black holes, you won’t whine about a lack of wallop in Saints Row IV’s firearms.
You’ll even be able to pick up any Energy Sabre to outright disintegrate enemies with a single slice. Upgrading guns is also handled much more efficiently in SR IV. Rather than spending money and powering up a gun, one level at a time, you can choose whether to increase a gun’s recoil reduction and damage or invest in powerful elemental effects like Acid Rounds that do damage over time or Explosive Shells that send foes flying.
Perhaps best of all, the addition of the super powers and new weapons never gives you an entirely overwhelming demeanour. You’re still very much vulnerable to damage in your state, and there are no shields or defensive barriers to protect you. Your foes aren’t messing around either – from the normal police officers to Zinyak soldiers and super-powered Lieutenants and Wardens, you’ll also face off against UFOs and Alien Tanks along with some mechanized foes.
The odds can be overcome, but for the most part, you’ll be better off running and weaving in and out of surroundings to disperse of crowds rather than staying in one spot. Volition even took a page out of Assassin’s Creed, with a golden CID unit that runs around the city and can be destroyed to bring your Notoriety down to zero.
But this is all about Saints Row IV on an extrinsic level. We haven’t even scratched the surface on the amount of references, nods, surprises, winks, homages, set-pieces, plot, and missions and marvelously messed up moments that constitute the entire game. For a game that is essentially nothing but a “glorified expansion pack”, there is so much more to the core gameplay experience of Saints Row IV than to The Third.
You’ll still find plenty to occupy your time even if you finish the main quest. You can collect audio logs for various characters to learn about their back-stories and what brought them to the dance in deep space. You can traverse the city and destroy Zinyak statues for Cache and Respect. You can hijack a space craft with a homie and surf on it before crashing into the streets.
You can hear wrestler Christopher Daniels hosting the Rock genre’s radio station. You can complete activities at different challenge levels, namely Gold, Silver and Bronze. You can complete challenges within the game to earn more Respect – pretty much anything from blowing up UFOs to killing aliens will help. You can take part in Professor Genki’s murderous game show. You can do so much in so little time and still have a blast that it’s exhausting.
So where does Saints Row IV falter? There are only a few bugs, but one of them was horrific that it nearly caused me to smash my keyboard in anger. Needless to say, the game seemingly heeded my call and didn’t repeat it. You’ll find a few graphical glitches here and there, along with some animation and AI hiccups (which are currently being addressed and should be absent when the game hits retail on August 20th). We also find it kind of heart-breaking that Whored mode has been taken out. Say what you will about how tacked on it was, but it was wonderfully demented and offered up an ever-bizarre array of challenges. The Virus Injection missions somehow substitute for it but it just doesn’t feel the same.
For a game that allows so much more avenue for powers and upgrades, we’re happy that Saints Row IV can scale so well. You’ll never feel over-powered but you’ll always be able to take the fight to your foes. However, around the end-game, you’re pretty much equipped to take on everything. That’s not to say that you won’t be challenged – and rest assured, that the last few missions are insane – but the general emergency response in the simulation to your antics won’t be posing a threat. We also love the new Vehicle Delivery system, which is in itself a nod to The Matrix, but we miss bo-dukin’ into vehicles like before. With the new Super Speed power, it just isn’t as easy anymore. At least you can travel faster than any of the vehicles in the game.
A note on the music and voice acting: Excellent, as always, especially the serious instrumentals and background score accompanying missions. The radio song selection is amazing as well, and includes classics like Paula Abdul and The Wild Pair’s Opposites Attract, Haddaway’s What is Love, Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing and many more.
Every character here knows their role, and the Saints once again have amazing dialogue to accompany their every action. Not many games make you feel like a created character is actually the protagonist, the President of the United States or the leader of a dread gang rather than, well, just someone you created a few minutes ago (that too, all of the above at once). But Saints Row IV achieves that effect perfectly, and offers enough character customization, wardrobe options and accessories to personalize your “puckish rogue”.
Also, JB Blanc as Zinyak? Instant classic.
What else can be said about a game like this? It may not be the Game of the Year but the other blockbusters are officially on notice. If Saints Row IV can bring an unforgettable adventure that’s more fun than a barrel of donkey beer on the back of a dragon, then the rest of this year’s releases have their work cut out for them. Will Saints Row IV stand out in the sea of open-world titles to release this year, including Grand Theft Auto V and Watch_Dogs? Most definitely and if you’ve been wondering what the fuss is about the series, now is as good a time as ever to take part in psycho-circus of fun. If absolutely nothing else, Saints Row IV begs the question – how will Deep Silver – Volition possibly top this?
This game was reviewed on PC.