Saints Row IV for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
I’m pretty new to the Saints Row series, with my first exposure to it coming from Saints Row: The Third. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t exactly change my life. Saints Row 4 really is a whole different kettle of fish, completely changing its gameplay focus from GTA-style driving and shooting to epic superpowers. It shouldn’t work. It really really shouldn’t work. But, well, it just does.
Saints Row IV continues the story of the Third Street Saint’s inexorable rise to its logical conclusion, with the election of the Boss to the position of President of the United States. Not long into their first term, Earth is invaded by the alien Zin Empire and promptly destroyed, but not before abducting key members of the Earth’s population, including most members of the Saints. The Boss is imprisoned in a simulated version of Saints Row: The Third’s Steelport, where he/she is able to hack the system to gain super powers. He/she sets their main task as the rescuing of the other Saints from simulations based on their worst fears and taking down the Zin overlord, the brilliantly effete Zinyak.
The plot of Saints Row IV is filled with references to the earlier games in the series, which is probably great for those with a long-time relationship with these games but left me frequently lost. Despite that, I actually really enjoyed Saints Row IVs story. It’s interesting, for a series which positioned itself as a sillier, more arcane hyped up GTA, the plot is actually surprisingly warm. There’s genuine affection between these characters, and the plot’s flipping between irreverent silliness and moments of genuine emotion actually work, when they really shouldn’t. You really feel how much these characters care about each other! This game parodies Mass Effect very heavily, but it actually captures that feeling that Mass Effect had of building a family, not just a crew. The villain, Zinyak, is fantastic, one of my favourite villains since GLaDOS. Of course, fundamentally, Saints Row IV mainly aims to be really funny, and there is certainly succeeds.
Saints Row IV is fun. Like, seriously fun. This is one of those rare games where just traversing the environment is a huge amount of fun, and I never got tired of it. If I were to compare it to anything, I’d say Prototype, but it does it a lot better. Although the Boss can’t fly properly, the combination of super speed and a massive leap combined with a glide means that you certainly get the visceral thrill. The combat powers are a hoot too; it’s hard not to enjoy shooting fireballs out of your hands or smashing to the ground with such power that it causes a mushroom cloud. Saints Row IV immediately turns the biggest weakness of the Saints Row series into its biggest strength.
The main missions are a lot of fun, and feature an impressive amount of variety. A lot of them are parodies of other games, with Metal Gear Solid getting a notable mission. They’re generally fun, but usually contrive a way for you to lose your superpowers. This is a bit of a problem, as once you start out with insane fun powers, it’s difficult to enjoy the passable third person shooting and driving when they’re gone. That said, the raw combat is better than GTA 5s. There’s plenty of other stuff to do, with loads of side missions and activities. Some of these are really fun and use the super powers in interesting ways, such as the great new Professor Genki game involving telekinesis, but a lot of them are pretty basic and feel like padding. Stealing vehicles feels rather basic after leaping around cybernetic dream spaces and throwing mascots through hoops. There are loads of collectibles, the most notable being Crackdown-style orbs which allow you to level up your superpowers, which is a good incentive to chase after every one that you see. Saints Row IV has a lot of content, and although not all of it is necessarily worth doing, there’s enough stuff that is to justify the asking price.
In some ways though, Saints Row IV is a lazy game. The biggest weakness of this release is the re-use of Steelport, which means that as good as everything else is, Saints Row IV can’t quite avoid feeling like a really good mod rather than a genuine new entry in the series. Steelport wasn’t really anything to write home about in Saints Row: The Third, but it was nonetheless designed with driving and shooting in mind, so it at least worked. You’ll do very little driving and much less shooting in Saints Row IV, but the world remains, aside from a couple of visual tweaks, identical. It seems to be a trend in open world games that you can’t have a great open world that also has great gameplay. Games like Skyrim and GTA 5 had amazing settings, but lacklustre gameplay, and games like Saints Row IV and Kingdoms of Amalur had great gameplay but uninteresting settings. Maybe Fallout 3 is the closest to mastering both? Still, Saints Row IV is held back from true greatness by its laziness, and if Volition had held out for another year and created a whole new setting alongside their new mechanics, we could have had a genuine masterpiece.
Saints Row IV isn’t the prettiest game out there, but it gets the job done. The animations are generally better than the actual character models, and some of the worlds created in the main mission are genuinely really cool. One of the real highlights in the voice acting, with the supporting cast varying between comedy and genuine drama really well. There are a range of voice actors to choose from for the boss, but I went for ‘Nolan North’, which is literally labelled Nolan North. For all this guy gets knocked for being in everything, he’s popular for a reason and he absolutely nailed it. One area where Saints Row IV comfortably knocks GTA 5 out of the water is the soundtrack, with classic songs regularly used to hilarious effect. Seriously, the opening scene of the game had me in tears of laughter solely through a soundtrack choice.
Saints Row IV is a huge amount of fun, but doesn’t come close to reaching its full potential. If Volition continue with the super power angle, and takes a bit more time in preparing the setting, Saints Row V should be a sight to see. It’s pretty cheap now, so Saints Row IV is absolutely worth picking up and playing.