Is constantly spouting pop-culture references and obscenity laced threats insanity? If so Saints Row IV is beyond the pale and should be thrown into a cell not too dissimilar to Hannibal Lecter’s. Snapped up by Deep Silver after the crash of THQ, does this fourth, and possibly final, entry into the world’s craziest open-world game series make good on its promise of super-power based madness?
After a short Call of Duty lampooning introduction, The Saints have won the hearts and minds of America to place you in The Oval Office as President of the USA. It isn’t long after a brief reintroduction to the returning cast that the alien Zin empire invade and you are placed simulation of Steelport from Saints Row: The Third with your staff abducted. From here it is a quest to take down the simulation, rescue your friends and defeat the affably evil Emperor Zinyak.
The majority of gameplay takes place inside this virtual Steelport, taking part in missions with smaller activities in-between. To any fan this sounds like nothing special, but Saints Row 4 comes with an added twist. With some sly references to The Matrix and Hackers, you are provided access to a range of super-powers including Flash like speed, Prototype like air-dashes and the power to lob fire and ice. This fundamentally changes the way the game is played, preventing the gameplay from feeling stale and similar to other games. It also means Steelport doesn’t feel like too much of a rehash as you aren’t driving, but gleefully bounding over entire city blocks. Even though they are the most used powers, jumping and gliding can feel floaty and imprecise, but with time comes the skill to compensate for these issues.
The Ice-Man Cometh
These abilities convey a great deal of power, bordering usually into too much. Groups of enemies by the halfway mark can be casually swept away with a grenade like throw of a fireball, and new weapons like the dubstep gun take care of any heavier artillery. This sense of power begins as amazingly entertaining once you get your first taste, but makes encounters a light bump soon after.
With great speed comes great stress on the game however, with the seams showing more as the engine is pushed to its limits. Frame rate dips and momentary lapses are common as your barrel down a free-way tossing cars left and right. The graphics have also started to look rather dated, with faces in particular looking like mushy clay.
Powers are upgraded with light blue pickups called clusters that litter the city’s roofs and alleys. With well over thousand to collect it quickly becomes boring leaping from one to another to increase the radius of your all-mighty stomp, but most abilities are powerful enough without upgrading, making collecting them a mostly pointless activity. Other pick-ups include hidden audio-dairies, destructible statues and text-adventure fragments. They add a little fun to exploration but are easy to forget about without missing anything of worth.
All Hail Our New Alien Overlords
The optional activities make good use of the powers and new features, asking you to perform actions like perfecting your telekinesis by throwing colour-coded spiky balls to destroy towers, or using a robot to cause havoc. Many of these quests are copies of ones found in other games, but with a new coat of paint to brighten it up. However, that doesn’t stop many becoming boring by the third time you perform it. To keep you motivated to find and complete these tasks, homies give you side-quests with nifty rewards for completing them. Want that dubstep gun early? Better get chummy with Keith David.
The cast of characters is comprised of returning characters, some from as far back as the first Saints Row. Along with the long-time favourites Pierce and Shaundi comes Ben King, Kenzie, Matt Miller and real-life actor Keith David. To go along with the meta-acting, other celebrities make cameo appearances, including Roddy Piper, Neil Patrick Harris and Terry Crews to round out your posse. Each cast member does their best to make the gloriously sharp script entertaining and funny. Rarely is a line wasted, with each short piece of dialogue full to the brim with references, nods and full on rip-offs. While comparisons to The Matrix are heard often, anyone with a wide knowledge of sci-fi movies ranging from the original Transformers series to Star Wars will find the humour tailored to them best. These are best shown when the game throws you into one of its many mini-game missions that help break up the action. One stand out moment takes place in a Streets of Rage side-scroller complete with pixelated graphics. Setting the game inside a computer simulation has given Volition a great excuse to throw more ideas at the wall, and most of them stick. Rarely does one of these moments outstay its welcome, possibly making you sad when they end.
Sadly though, the high level that was set in Saints Row: The Third for comedy isn’t reached until two hours into the game. While this isn’t too bad in the long run, it makes sure this instalment doesn’t start on its best footing, instead being far into the games playtime. During this period missions are bland and don’t play to later strengths, with later tasks being far more dynamic and multi-tiered. Once it hits that point, the game goes full pelt and more chuckles can be found by admiring the smaller details the game slips by occasionally.
The Soundtrack Focuses On Electronic And Dubstep To Compliment The Cyberised Setting
Long-time fans may find this game as a major departure from the series core. There is no gang related turf-war, taking over the city is a side-effect of performing activities and the uselessness of vehicles as a whole removes the franchise from the previous three games. While the gameplay is fun and engaging, it isn’t Saints Row as we have come to expect it. Mileage may vary on this, with the huge changes being likely to annoy as many fans as it endears, but these changes make Saints Row IV an almost entirely different experience. If Saints Row: The Third was over-the-top, IV overshoots that mark purposefully, and perhaps at times too far. Being crazy is fine, but Saints Row: The Third was still grounded in some form of reality. Saints Row IV goes so far beyond that mark that it losses a little of its charm at the cost of more insanity.
One thing that truly lets down all of the game however are the bugs. Living in a simulation must come with its fair share of glitches and issues, but Saints Row IV takes this idea a little too far with objectives not completing properly, objects not performing the correct function and hard crashes being far too frequent. While many can be solved with a quick checkpoint reload, this wrecks the pacing and enjoyment as you are yanked out of the action because the game had an aneurysm. Many of these issues can be expected to be fixed in patches, akin to Saints Row Third, but right now puts a damper on the experience.
Saints Row IV is an amazingly entertaining game, full of ideas and wit. Super-powers and a razor-sharp sense of humour keep it all engaging even when combat breezes by in your god-like wake. If it wasn’t for the disappointing opening hours and the commonplace bugs Saints Row IV could step above being good to become great. As it is Saints Row IV is a fitting send off for the Third Street Saints, even if it wasn’t the one it entirely deserved.