After the release of Saints Row the Third in 2011, I couldn’t fathom the notion that the series could get any more over-the-top and zany. Zombie attacks, Burt Reynolds as the Mayor of the city… Just downright bizarre stuff man. Rather than steer the series back to its… well, some-what grounded in reality foundation, Volition has decided to full-out embrace the crazy and take the series to heights it has never experienced before, both literally and figuratively speaking.
After saving the world from a terrorist attack, you find yourself as the President of the United States. Not a bad way to progress in life for a street gang leader. You’re tasked with a lot of heavy duty decisions off the bat. Do you end cancer permanently, or stop world hunger? Do you decide to punch one of your aides in the face or hit him where the sun doesn’t shine? All thought provoking stuff I’m sure the POTUS handles on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this isn’t a coming-of-age, Cinderella story. You find yourself immediately immersed in a battle with invading aliens, headed by their leader Zinyak. Apparently he kinda hates the Saints for whatever reason, and decides to mess up the cozy life you’ve built for yourself. Instead of out-right killing you, he places you in a virtual simulation of Steelport, the city we conquered in the third game. Rather than facing off against territorial luchadores and evil corporations, you have to contend with fighting a vast horde of alien minions and surviving your own personal hell.
This all sounds like crazy stuff right? I haven’t even got into the crazy my friends. You see, with the help of one of your hacker associates, you’re able to obtain super powers that make you rival even the most powerful of super-heroes. I’m talking Superman-esque stuff. You can leap tall buildings in single bounds, run at astonishing speeds, control things with your mind, etc. Every super power cliché is nearly accounted for. And within one hour, Saints Row transforms everything you’ve learned about the series. Just when you think you have the answers, they change the questions, and the results are mostly good.
While the system of the game has been drastically altered with this gimmick, the core tenets this series was built upon are retained. You can still use guns, you can still drive cars, there’s a slew of activities for you to master, you can level up your character after gaining enough respect (I guess even aliens acknowledge street cred), and there’s a whole cast of characters to rescue and complete side missions for. Everything feels so familiar, yet so different. The action is rampant and satisfying, with the ability to take out your foes in a multitude of ways. Did I mention there’s a Dubstep Gun that causes your enemies to jam out while they perish? This game throws everything but the kitchen sink at you to play around with, and it’s all good, hilarious fun.
As you level up, you accumulate more cash, which opens up the ability to upgrade your character, buy upgrades for your weapons, or swag yourself with the finest threads. I personally went with the Rowdy Roddy Piper attire. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking out hordes of aliens dressed as the “Hot Rod” while Haddaway’s “What is Love” blares out my TV. Nothing. Progressing through the game, you’ll find clusters of data to collect (there’s several hundred of them scattered throughout the map) that allow you to upgrade your super powers. Jump even higher, run even faster, glide through the sky with no limitations, it’s all attainable through hard work and dedication.
Another positive is the lewd but, often times, very smart humour interspersed throughout. This game throws a variety of pop culture references your ways, isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, and spoofs on several genres in gaming and movies. I won’t spoil some of the hilarious moments and hilarious banter between you and your crew, but I’ll say that there’s a lot of fan service for gamers of different genres, young and old.
Unfortunately, there were a few issues I had with this game, some more discernible than others. With such a vast accumulation of super-powers at your disposal, some of the old tactics of playing the game feel archaic and nonsensical. I have no motivation whatsoever to get into a car when I can literally jump my way to my end goal. Why fire guns when I can shoot fire from my hands with barely any repercussions? It seems Volition thrust these super powers onto us, but didn’t do enough to alter the game to make it feel truly unique, and thus, it feels more of an expansion pack than a full out game. The missions are hit-or-miss, with little to no variety between “sidequests”, which are basically checklists of activities for us to finish. I couldn’t help but groan when I had to clear out my 40th alien occupied base. The action is repetitive, with the saving grace being the variety of weaponry and powers we have to take them out.
The virtual Steelport leaves a lot to be desired in terms of imagination. It feels directly ripped from Saints Row III, with little alterations or changes made other than Zinyak statues and funny sight gags scattered around. Zinyak, being the jerk that he is, doesn’t provide us the benefit of a day/night cycle, and thus, the city is in a constant state of gloom and doom, which results in every area looking very much the same, which in turn hampers the experience a tad.
My most pressing gripe is the amount of glitches I encountered during my playthrough. Whether it be my character falling through the map, or having AI controlled allies refuse to trigger actions to make missions progress, I found myself having to restart my 360 numerous times. These glitches are fairly annoying, and I would understand it somewhat if it occurred if things were frenetic, but I’ve had game sessions freeze on me when I was just gliding along the map with not a care in the world. This is stuff that needs to get patched up as soon as possible, as it was quite annoying.
Overall, I enjoyed my time wit Saints Row IV. At the end of the day, looking past the negatives, it is a very fun experience. I don’t log 22 hours into games I don’t like, and I had great fun playing it. You’ll find yourself addicted to powering up your character and testing out the variety of weapons and superpowers at your disposal. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a fun experience that’s worth giving a shot, especially if you’re a fan of the past games. I recommend it.