Review: Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV is the next entry in the increasingly insane franchise from Volition, Inc. The Saints are back again, and this time the stakes are higher than ever. Does the game better its predecessors?
- Worth The Time?Yes, any enjoyment of previous installments makes this an easy choice.
- Things LovedThe Dubstep gun, the main villain, the powers fit the game like a glove, there is a staggering amount of variety, customisability is awesome, the main story packs many memorable moments, the weapons are enormous fun, Nolan North as a voice actor choice, cameos are really entertaining, the boss fights are fantastic, the game pulls no punches, co-op is brilliant.
- Things HatedThe city design can be bland, being forced to do large amounts of side missions to power up makes them get repetitive, the protagonist seems to take a backseat in this game and doesn't have a large story presence barring the beginning and end, powers don't change dramatically through upgrades, collecting points to upgrade your powers can be tedious.
- RecommendationIf you enjoyed any previous installments in this series, Saints Row IV is a no-brainer, but its gameplay similarity to Prototype may also easily inspire additional fans. Absolutely worth your time and money.
- Name: Saints Row IV
- Genre: Action Adventure, Open World
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Co-op (2 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Volition, Inc
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Price: R440 (PC), R640 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PC
The Saints Row franchise has long left GTA’s shadow, having progressed into a game series that glorifies the outrageous and indulges in insanity like a child would a chocolate cake. After Saints Row: The Third went completely bonkers and left its sense of grounded reality behind, Saints Row IV was determined to do one better, and that by far was its easiest achievement, as it blows away all manners of sense and takes the series to even more ridiculous heights. I think what my brother, more or less a stranger to the series, said about the game personified it really well. He walked in on me playing it and just laughed and said, “This game makes absolutely no sense, but it’s so awesome.” That is what Saints Row IV really is. It’s pure enjoyment, and wants nothing else but to entertain its players. It’s eager to please, and it does so with kick ass style and vigour. BioShock pun not intended.
If there’s one thing you can always say about the Saints Row series, it’s that it’s bold and full of life and spirit. Saints Row IV takes place five years after the events of The Third, and sees your character start the game as president of the United States, with none other than famous actor Keith David as your vice president. While preparing for a press conference, the Boss is told by his fellow Saints that an alien invasion is imminent, but just as he’s told, it happens and he and his allies are captured by the evil emperor Zinyak and his Zin army. The emperor throws the Boss into a warped simulation of Steelport, the nature of which I won’t spoil, but he is soon contacted by ally Kinzie who tells the Boss that the Zin’s prisoners are trapped in personal simulations of their greatest fears in order to break their will. With Kinzie’s aid, the Boss breaks free and joins up with her and Vice president Keith David in order to fight back against the Zin and destroy their simulation and their empire, and save the Saints.
The easiest way I can describe the story is by saying it’s entertaining. At every corner there’s something to smile or laugh about. I’ve always felt that the Saints Row series has never had the most interesting villains, but Saints Row IV makes up for it with Zinyak, a ridiculously pompous alien who is such a contrast to the protagonist it’s constantly laughable. The story itself has plenty of memorable moments, although my one upset about it is that the protagonist seemingly takes a backseat in this one to all the other characters, save for the beginning and end. In previous Saints Row titles, especially the second game, the Boss was the one who had the most narrative presence, but in this title I felt like the side characters were receiving a lot more of the spotlight, and I felt less like the bad ass leader of the Saints that I used to feel like. That said, it’s a little forgivable when you can have Nolan North as your character’s voice actor. Still, that aside, it’s an enjoyable ride, the pacing is good and the cameos and rip offs are fantastically well placed and never fail to make you grin like a teenager texting (or is it sexting these days?) their special friend. It’s a rare thing when games do humour so successfully, but this element is one of the series’ biggest strengths, and it continues here in fine fashion.
Saints Row IV controls, plays and functions largely like its predecessor, except it’s been overstuffed with variety, many of the side missions are new or have been redone and of course the big news is that there are super powers. Yes, super powers. There is special data in the simulation that allows you to access these, and Saints Row IV seems to be heavily inspired by Prototype. While in the beginning your powers will be rather mellow, pretty soon you’ll be sprinting ridiculously fast, running up walls, gliding through the air and causing mass havoc with ease. I’m very pleased to say that the powers actually fit the game like a glove, and feel as natural as any of the weapons you’ll end up using. Powers are upgraded by collecting loose bits of data scattered by the dozens all over the world, and you can run around collecting them without worrying about where you spend them, as there are more than enough in the world to upgrade most if not all of your powers. The only trouble is that, since you can only pick them up in ones or threes, collecting them can be a bit of a tedious process.
Otherwise, you’ll unlock powers through story progression and their upgrades from side missions and ranking up. Your usage of powers is limitless except for their cool down periods between uses. While there are just a handful of powers in the game, they’re all very fun to use and are varied with their different elements. For instance, the Blast power allows you to hurl a destructive projectile at your enemies, and its elements include Ice, Fire and Mind Control, which causes enemies to turn on each other. Upgrading this power increases its radius, adds additional effects, reduces the cool down and so on. I felt that, much like the standard upgrade system that was included in The Third to increase your individual capabilities, powers don’t change dramatically through upgrading them, although that isn’t so bad at all when the different elements are taken into account, giving you plenty of variety to work with. I don’t want to spoil the other powers as they’re unlocked through story progression, but they’re all plenty of fun to use and really do well to give you an epic power fantasy experience in this game.
Variety is the name of the game in Saints Row IV, and it’s often staggering how much is in here to play around with and spice up your game. The sheer amount of weapons, without factoring in the awesome customisability that can potentially change up their entire appearance and user experience, is very impressive. For example, you can customise a set of standard issue pistols to be like Star Trek’s famous Phasers, making them shoot laser beams as a result. Most weapons have these preset style options that you can cycle through and play with. While they don’t change how the weapon is used, it does add great variety and makes tired weapons feel very fresh. The weapons are a definite high point in Saints Row IV, and are enormous fun, with plenty to choose from as you get access to normal, Saints Row abnormal (purple dildo bats) and alien weaponry. With guns like the Disintegrator, which vapourises people in a single shot, the Inflator, which causes people to basically become Majin Buu and blow up, the Abduction Gun, which beams cars and people up to the skies, and the Dubstep gun, which is one of the most awesome weapons in a game, destroying everything with the power of wubs, it’s hard not to be in heaven. All weapons are upgradable and customisable, which is great.
The structure of the game is a lot like The Third. You’ll access your map, money, missions and upgrades at any time from your cell phone, and from there you can choose missions and make your objectives. The world is littered with so much to do you’ll find events every few steps. While you won’t be fighting rival gangs or anything like that, you will be taking over Zin territory and converting it to Saints hangouts. Since you’re in Zinyak’s simulation, when you start out everything is under alien control, so even a simple store requires hacking before you can buy from it. This initially gives you a huge amount of variety to work with, and will do so much to eat up your time while giving you plenty of fun. The problem though is that all of the side quests, with the exception of side characters’ story-focused loyalty missions, simply task you with doing the side events littered around the map. For example, a side mission may task you with doing four or five events in any order, and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. After a while, it starts to make the side events feel very repetitive.
It’s great that the game actively encourages you to see everything it has to offer by means of side events, but the problem is that in order to gain much needed experience and extra cash you’ll essentially have to do them. I did most of them myself, getting to an almost 80% completion rate by the end of the game, and it was very obvious then that if I had not done them, I’d not have been able to unlock or upgrade enough of the great content. Basically, the game forces you to edge towards that perfect completion rate and do side events until they’re basically chores if you want to get all the good stuff or upgrade your weapons and abilities to their maximum levels. This does sound bad, but it’s honestly the only major issue I had with the game, and the variety and fun involved in these side events will certainly keep you very entertained if you don’t dig into them like a checklist the way I did because I wanted my upgrades and levels. It’s just worth being a little concerned about when there are barriers to enjoyment in a game that is all about fun, such as with gathering points to upgrade your powers.
That said, none of this stops you from having ridiculous amounts of fun with Saints Row IV, or puts a damper on the magnificent variety. And I haven’t even touched on all the cars, tanks and air vehicles you can get access to as well, although with super speed at your disposal they really aren’t there for travelling purposes. I can’t stress enough how impressive the diversity is, and how everything you do in this game is entertaining. The main missions are filled with memorable moments, the boss fights are fantastic, the rip offs and cameos and moments of humour are great, and the side events are aplenty. With classics like Insurance Fraud, where you hurl yourself in front of moving traffic for points, returning, and new games like super races, super powered fight club and digital mini games being added to the mix, there’s a lot to get invested in. As I said, it’s just a small pity that you’re forced to do them all in excess if you want to unlock a lot of the cool stuff, so the risk is fairly high of them getting a bit chore-worthy, especially that hacking mini game. At this point it probably sounds like I’m criticizing a lot, but in truth when you value up the entertainment you get from this game, made up of countless fun times and laughs, and you throw co-op in, it really is effortless to forget the few design issues.
The game is really long, especially if you do all the side missions, so if you need hours to kill then Saints Row IV has you covered perfectly, and will require multiple game sessions out of you to get through it all. On top of that, there is co-op, which is handled so incredibly well that often you feel like it’s the way you should actually be playing the game. It’s much like it was in The Third, except of course you’re throwing super powers and the insanity of Saints Row IV into the pot. Using either online or system link you can team up with an additional player to do any main or side mission, or just freely explore the world together and tear it apart. Of course you can also go your separate ways. All the experience, cache and collectibles will get shared between players and saved to both their profiles, so you can do some grinding if you need. Co-op really turns this game into a different and arguably even more awesome experience, and the level of entertainment skyrockets, as you cause mass mayhem in plenty of hilarious ways. And if one Dubstep gun isn’t enough, well, double wub is all I say.
Visually, Saints Row IV is a marginal upgrade over The Third, but it looks great overall and performs without any hiccups whatsoever, no matter how much carnage happens on screen. While the super powers and digital feel of the whole world all look great, I was a little disappointed to see that, because the simulated world is perpetually in night time, the city doesn’t look as varied or full of life as Steelport did in The Third. I feel the developers could have put more visually dynamic events in the game, or at least make day cycles unique in the simulated world. Nevertheless, this isn’t a major issue, and the game looks visually great otherwise. However, the biggest highlight here is by far the soundtrack, as it’s simply amazing. There are plenty of tracks on radio, but the real winners come in during the main missions. I remember thinking how epic the final stretch of this game was because of the chosen tracks alone. Saints Row IV has plenty of style, and this is further illustrated in its spectacular sound track.
Saints Row IV could have been a little better in some places, but that doesn’t stop it one bit from being ridiculously fun and overflowing with variety and energy. If simply kicking back, turning off your brain completely and having crazy fun is what you love, this is probably one of the finest games you could pick up this year. It’s definitely one of the most entertaining that’s for sure. I know I’ve offered a fair bit of criticism, but most of it falls away once you realise how fun this game is and how awesome it can be. The Saints are still going strong, and show no signs of slowing down or running out of steam.