Mo’ powers, mo’ problems?
Saints Row The Third is one of my favorite games of this generation. I wasn’t a big fan of the focus on minigames, but it was ludicrous, funny and very entertaining to play. As much as I tried to keep my expectations low for Saints Row IV, I found myself incredibly excited. So, what did I think of it?
Name: Saints Row IV
Developer: Volition Inc.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: 20 August (US), 23 August (EU)
After defeating both The Syndicate and STAG in Saints Row The Third, The Saints street gang have moved up from the penthouse to the White House and The Boss, the main character, has become the President of the United States. There’s not a lot of time for President-y stuff, though, as the malevolent alien Zinyak, leader of the Zin empire, invades Washington, captures The Saints and places them in different simulated nightmare worlds. The Boss manages to break out of their world (a peaceful 50’s sitcom) and now has to rescue his fellow Saints and kick some Zin buttocks.
The story may not be particularly deep or complex, but the characters are fun and there are plenty of memorable moments of ridiculous awesomeness. Highlights include using a giant turret installed in the White House to shoot down aliens, playing Matt Miller’s virtual NyteBlayde fan fiction, disarming a nuke to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” piloting a spaceship to Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” flying through Zinyak’s ship in power armor to the tune of Stan Bush’s “The Touch” (yes, there are Transformers: The Movie references) and delivering a German suplex to the evil overlord himself. These moments perfectly encapsulate what I like about the later Saints Row games – they embrace ludicrousness with open, widely stretched arms.
Unlike The Third, Saints Row IV doesn’t shy away from the fact that The Boss is actually kind of a scary person; a murderous sociopath that now rules an entire country. However, the game still manages to be funny, and IV is definitely the most comedic Saints Row game yet. It’s filled with jokes about, references to and parodies of games and movies. When you’re not in the simulation you can explore your spaceship and interact with your crew, which seems like a big riff on Mass Effect, especially since you can romance every crew member by simply pressing a button. And yes, I mean every crew member, even the flying robot C.I.D. and Keith motherflipping’ David (and yes, They Live plays a part in his character arc).
Volition have always been skilled at picking great licensed songs to put in their games, and Saints Row IV is no exception. Alongside the songs I mentioned before, there’s more than enough cheesy 80’s pop like “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats and “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul, rock like “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy and “Song 2″ by Blur, and lots of wonderful classical music. Oh yeah, and there’s a lot of dubstep and rap for all of you whippersnappers who like that sort of things. Since you won’t be spending a lot of time in vehicles (we’ll get to why in a moment), you now have access to the radio at all times, which is a small but appreciated change.
By far the biggest addition to the series is the inclusion of superpowers. Through the magic of hacking, programming and… computers, I guess, The Boss can now utilise superpowers, such as running at extremely high speeds and jumping greater heights and distances. As the game progresses new powers are unlocked, such as fire and ice blasts, telekinesis, wall-running, gliding, the ability to create shields and a mighty stomp that sends enemies flying.
These can be upgraded with clusters, small packets of data that can be found and collected all over Steelport. Sprinting through the streets, jumping over buildings and gliding around in the air is a very fun way to get around, and it makes traveling to missions (which is normally quite dull in sandbox games) one of the most entertaining aspects of Saints Row IV. During several parts of the game I neglected playing missions in favor of running around and finding clusters, simply because I had so much fun messing around the city. It also lead to me completely neglect vehicles. Oops.
The superpowers definitely spice up the combat, which could be somewhat boring at times in The Third. Running towards a group of enemies, leaping hundreds of feet into the air, landing in the middle of all of them, freezing them all with an ice blast and then using the shotgun to blow them to pieces while listening to some Blur is extremely fun.
On paper, the superpowers make the combat very easy, but in reality the game is surprisingly challenging at points. Enemies spawn frequently and in big numbers, weapons are weak at the start, and there’s no longer regenerating health, so The Boss has to run around and pick up health from downed enemies. This feels like a pretty fair way to make sure the player isn’t overpowered (though you can still feel like a total badass), but in a few instances it becomes very annoying. Outside of the simulation enemies don’t drop health and it doesn’t regenerate, so there’s no real way to heal yourself. This becomes irritating whenever you have to fight in the real world.
There’s a lot of side quests in Saints Row IV, and they’ve been heavily overhauled from the previous game. Most side quests, aside from the Loyalty missions, are not linear – instead, they’re a handful of tasks and objectives that you can choose to do in any order you want. These tasks often consist of stealing vehicles, assassinating targets, taking out enemy strongholds and playing various minigames. This quickly becomes repetitive as you do the same thing over and over again, only in different parts of the city. Some of the side quests are stretched out to silly lengths in what seems like an attempt to artificially pad out the game, and since some upgrades, weapons and costumes are only obtainable through completing side quests and challenges you have to slog through them to be fully equipped.
Minigames are once again aggressively shoved into the player’s face, and while I do prefer them over the minigames in The Third (Mayhem is more fun when you’re in a mech and Fraud mixes well with superpowers), I still wish that the game didn’t force you to play lots of them, be it in the main missions or side quests.
The only side quests that I felt were worth playing were the Loyalty missions. These are short, fairly linear missions that you go on with your crew mates, and by completing them they’re granted superpowers so they can be more effective against Zinyak. These missions feel more in line with the main quests, and they’re just straight up fun. Taking on Murder Time Fun Time with Johnny Gat, singing “Opposites Attract” in the car with Pierce and trying out crazy alien drugs with two different versions of Shaundi (don’t ask) is not only entertaining, but also makes the friendship between The Boss and his fellow Saints even more believable.
Customisation is a huge part of Saints Row IV. There are lots of new outfits and articles of clothing, vehicles can once again be stored and modified, and you can now alter the appearance of your weapons. The RPG can look like a guitar case, the SMG can resemble Robocop’s handgun, Mal’s revolver from Firefly is now available as a heavy pistol and the the Burst Gun can resemble the pulse rifle from Aliens or even a water gun. These are but a few of the weapon skins available, and while they don’t impact the gunplay in any way, they’re a neat little addition.
Not only are there new weapon skins, there are also entirely new weapons, and the upgrade system has been reworked from the ground up. The Saints arsenal has now been expanded to include weapons like the Dubstep Gun, which shoots weaponised dubstep music at opponents and makes surrounding NPCs dance, and the Singularity Gun, which fires a small black hole where ever it’s aimed.
Instead of leveling up weapons as one did in The Third, smaller amounts of money can now be put into Damage, Reload Speed, Clip Size, Accuracy, Speed and a Special Ability. I like this change, since it allows you to focus on upgrading whichever aspect of the weapons that you feel are most necessary to upgrade.
While the gameplay is fun and the soundtrack is incredible, the game looks rather rough, and glitches and bugs pop up quite a bit. The game only ever froze up completely once, but there’s lots of audio issues, and some events don’t trigger at the right time. None of this actively took away from my enjoyment of the game though, and bugs are to be expected from a sandbox game.
Overall, Saints Row IV is in some parts tedious, and in others the most fun I’ve had in a game for a long time. Sometimes, I was gnashing my teeth and wishing for an annoying side quest to end, but others I was cheering and laughing at the outrageous story, humorous dialogue and brilliant moments. Some of the gameplay changes enhance the experience in whole new ways, but some things I just wish they’d leave well alone. That being said, both my initial and final thought as I played it was, “I’m playing a damn good game,” and when I wasn’t playing all I wanted to do was get back to it. I think that says a lot about the game’s quality.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go listen to more pop music from the 80’s.
(I take- two steps forward
I take- two steps back
We come together
Cuz opposites attract
And you know- it ain’t fiction
Just a natural fact
We come together
Cuz opposites attract…)
What did you think of Saints Row IV? Do you think it improved on the foundation of Saints Row The Third? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @SomeSwedishGuy.
Saints Row IV is better than its predecessor at some points, worse at some points. It's damn good, and definetly worth a try.