Saints Row 4 Review
Written : Wednesday, August 14, 2013
By: Richard Walker
Has Saints Row gone too far? Many felt that Saints Row: The Third was a step too far already, but Saints Row IV takes your 'step too far' and raises you one giant leap, and then blasts you out of a cannon into the sun. There's no escaping that Saint's Row IV is completely insane, if somewhat derivative, but beneath all of its over-the-top components, there's a compulsive and incredibly entertaining open-world game that won't challenge your grey matter all that much.
Your hero finds him or herself as the President of the USA, having literally fallen through the roof of the White House (AKA the White Crib) and into the Commander in Chief's chair. After you've decided whether to solve world hunger or “fuck cancer”, wiping out the disease forever (a choice that seemingly has no bearing on the story whatsoever), you'll find your time in the White Crib cut short by an alien invasion care of the Zin Empire, before being imprisoned inside a simulation of Steelport. Here, anything is possible thanks to the hacking skills of Kinzie.
Look at what's happened to Steelport!
Saints Row IV seems like something of a misnomer when you consider that it started life as a the 'Enter the Dominatrix' expansion for Saints Row: The Third, and to some extent it does feel like an extension of the previous game, in particular the Trouble with Clones DLC. Nonetheless, it's nigh-on impossible not to be coaxed in to SRIV's virtual simulation of Steelport, especially once you acquire your first set of super powers. This is where that derivative bit mentioned earlier comes in.
Playing Saints Row IV, you can't help but feel a sense of deja vu, with most of the super powers bringing to mind Crackdown and Prototype, as we've mentioned in past previews. That's not necessarily a bad thing of course, and Volition has done enough to make Saints Row IV feel like an entirely new instalment in the series, even if strictly speaking it's not. Chances are if you didn't like Saints Row: The Third all that much, you probably won't be too crazy about Saints Row IV either, although for fans of the first three games, there are a ton of references to lap up.
Saints Row IV packs in the homages to other video games too, never being afraid to take the piss out of the likes of Mass Effect, Call of Duty and Metal Gear Solid, as well as movies like The Matrix, Predator, Armageddon and erm... Harry Potter (chasing golden CID Command orbs). It's the flashbacks to classic Saints Row sequences that'll delight fans of the series though, visiting each of the Saints' worst nightmares where they find themselves trapped by the nefarious and English-accented (obviously) alien overlord, Emperor Zinyak.
As well as the core story, there's the usual array of side missions to partake in, including the return of Mayhem and some typically mental Genki games, alongside other new additions. Out for Saints Row IV are the escort missions in which you had to drive an angry tiger, and the Avenging Angel helicopter missions are gone. In their place are the new Mech Mayhem missions, some telekinesis missions, super sprint races and super-powered Fight Club missions, which only serve to highlight how clunky the super powers can be in such a relatively confined space. Insurance Fraud is still present and correct though, so we're happy campers.
The Inflato Ray. Worth the asking price alone.
Out in the open-world of Steelport, your powers sort of make sense, and enable you to bound across the entire city expanse in a matter of minutes, running up walls, speeding along the streets, blasting cars, pedestrians and other obstacles out of the way. The trouble is, this renders vehicles practically useless, as super sprinting is a far faster and easier way to get around. You probably won't bother with the planes, helicopters and spaceships either, because gliding and leaping is so much quicker too. Once your powers are maxed out, there's almost nothing you can't do, including running across water and stomping the ground with the force of a nuclear blast.
The result is something that feels more like a Saints Row game only in spirit, with the same off-the-wall, brilliantly potty-mouthed sense of humour as always, and a cast of old and new homies (and even some old enemies) to hang out with. The arsenal of weapons are pure Saints Row insanity, with the bounce rifle, abduction gun, inflato ray, disintegrator, black hole gun and dubstep gun providing hours of destructive mirth-inducing madness. It'd take a stone-faced miser to not at least raise a smirk at SRIV's unapologetic silliness.
And that's really Saints Row IV's saving grace. The series might have gone too far, going way beyond what made some fans fall for the franchise in the first place, but there's something effortlessly charming about the game, coaxing you in and rolling out the welcome mat with its suite of ridiculous super powers and weaponry, and a story that's actually quite well written and humorous, if a little overtly coarse at times. Hey, it's all part of the charm.
The new mech. Another tool in your arsenal against the Zin.
Collectibles play a huge role in Saints Row IV too, with over 1200 data clusters to gather as currency for upgrading your powers, as well as audio logs and text adventures to track down. It's almost like Crackdown's orbs all over again. And like Crackdown, there are some gargantuan sky-high towers to scale, and even a few platforming bits to tackle, though they're not nearly as frustrating.
Naturally, it's more fun to do all of this in co-op with a buddy, as you can share the workload in collecting the data clusters, and try and top one another's combos in the various optional activities, as well as competing in co-op only Cat & Mouse and competitive Death Tag matches. There's certainly no shortage of things to see and do in virtual Steelport, and there are more than a few surprises like visits to the 1950s, a bit of retro side-scrolling beat 'em up action, fun cameos (we won't spoil these) and a few throwback moments for die-hard Saints fans to enjoy. It really is the perfect love letter to the Saints Row faithful.
All of this content should help in clocking up the obligatory 'Fourth and Forty - play for 40 hours' achievement (that's an extra ten hours on top of SR: The Third's 'Third and Thirty' cheevo), while completists will be rewarded for doing all of the loyalty missions (a la Mass Effect 2) with a 'good' ending and a whole bunch of other related achievements. Good luck trying to romance Keith David though. All in all, there's a lot of overlap and recycling of old goals for certain achievements in Saints Row IV's list, but overall this is a fun list to complete, if a bit short on creativity yet again.
So, has Saints Row IV gone too far? Yes. Kind of. But in the best possible sense. You can't really accuse Volition's latest effort of lacking variety, and its puckish, freewheeling energy is hard to ignore, even if the game is guilty of revelling in its own excess perhaps a little too much. It's like Elvis Presley's Las Vegas comeback, all fat and covered in rhinestones, but still able to belt out the classics with gusto. Saints Row IV is a pure guilty pleasure; bloated, over-the-top and stupid, yet still utterly impossible to resist.
The voice acting is excellent across the board, despite repetitious one-liners, and the soundtrack is another fantastic and eclectic one. Excellent.
Only a very slight refinement over Saints Row: The Third, the frame-rate remains stable even when things get incredibly chaotic. Everything moves at a fair old pace, yet the draw distance keeps up with the frantic action impeccably. Occasionally dodgy lip-syncing and the odd annoying glitch (we encountered several) let the side down.
Saints Row IV is all about the insane weapons and super powers, so the fact that these elements all work perfectly and feel cohesive is a big tick in the plus column. The fact that having powers effectively renders vehicles obsolete, unless the mission demands a vehicle is a shame.
A generously proportioned and varied campaign is accompanied by a bountiful selection of additional activities and side quests, including stores to hack (Pipe Mania style), flashpoints to clear, hot spots to power down and a shitload of crap to collect, means you're seldom short of things to do. It's all fun to play too, which is the icing on the cake.
A fun list, but one that's bereft of invention, with a lot of reheated achievements from the last game. They serve their purpose perfectly fine and encourage you to visit every one of Steelport's virtual nooks and crannies, while forging relationships with your homies (with romantic lines like 'wanna fuck?', for example) aboard your ship.
Welcome back to Steelport. Saints Row IV's world might be a virtual simulation, but there's nothing fake about the level of fun on offer here. The only downside is a nagging sense of diminishing returns, and a very real sense that the next Saints Row game should probably look at going back to its roots. Forget the absurdity of it all however (as the game itself frequently reminds you), and Saints Row IV proves to be a pure blast of videogaming escapism.