When I look back at some of my fondest gaming memories from this generation, Saints Row 2 stands out. It was a fantastically over-the-top open world game that, after the first game tried, and failed, to be Grand Theft Auto, the series really found its footing with its sophomore attempt. The third game was also amazing, but after finding success with Saints Row 2, the series seemed to lose its confidence. The result was a wildly fun game that felt a bit uneven.
With Saints Row IV, I’m hoping developer Volition has regained their confidence so they can give me a game worth shaking a giant, veiny purple dildo bat at. Let’s find out how they did in my spoiler free review.
I won’t bury the lead. This is, hands down, my favorite installment in the Saints Row series. That’s saying a lot, but it’s a declaration that’s been well earned. All traces of “we want a piece of Grand Theft Auto’s big delicious pie” are gone. This series is officially its own beast, and its a marvelous thing to behold.
For the uninitiated, in Saints Row IV, the 3rd Street Saints, led by you, have taken over the world. Or at least ‘Merica. You’ve taken a seat in the most powerful position in the world, and your first act as president is to battle against an alien invasion. It doesn’t take long for the malevolent Zin army, led by Zinyak (voiced by the wonderful J. B. Blanc), to take the Saints hostage.
Because Zinyak is a total dick, he decides to torture you, the leader of the Saints, in a virtual world of his making. In it, he rules everything as an omnipresent, all-powerful alien god. The world you’ve been trapped in is a computer simulation of the all-too-familiar city of Steelport, in which the last game took place.
It’s worth mentioning that Saints Row IV started life as a stand-alone expansion for Saints Row: The Third, titled Enter The Dominatrix. It may have been the concept for something significantly smaller, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this game lacks content. I dare say this has more content than any of its predecessors. If you decide to tackle the myriad side quests and embrace your obsessive compulsive collector side that many of us gamers have lying dormant within us, this game can take over 30 hours to complete.
Because the world you’re exploring is a simulation, there are some related additions that significantly alter the way the game plays. The first is you now have superpowers. From super sprinting — an ability that can be upgraded to allow for unlimited sprinting, essentially removing the need for a car — super jumping and temporary shields are the passive abilities you’ll acquire. They’re useful, but never as fun as the offensive capabilities you’ll soon possess.
As if the 30+ weapons, each bringing with them multiple customization options and upgrades, wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to shoot fireballs from your hands, freeze and shatter enemies, dive-bomb them from the sky, electrocute them simply by walking past them and stomp the ground, sending a shock wave to give you some breathing room. These powers radically changed the way I approached every combat situation, and that’s a very good thing.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the way the guns feel in the Saints Row series, so having new (and far more exciting) options in my arsenal was a welcome change. I wish the powers would’ve been integrated more into the suite of weapons a little better; for example, letting me fire or reload a gun while jumping really high into the air. I also think the super sprint would benefit greatly from a Prototype style freerunning system, as there were a few times I got stuck on objects in the environment.
Like previous games, you’ll be able to fully upgrade your character with increased health/stamina, dual-wielding, damage resistance and much more. As a whole, the redefined combat in Saints Row IV feels far more satisfying, and perhaps most importantly, it’s infinitely more entertaining.
This game shares one characteristic with Saints Row 2 that I’d rather it didn’t, in that it’s buggy as hell. It’d be a near-perfect action adventure game if it weren’t for the numerous times my audio cut out — at one point I could only hear explosions — the five times it froze on me, and the handful of times my character got stuck in an animation. The animation issue may have been remedied in the day one patch, but the rest are still at large.
Originally, this series aimed to steal part of Grand Theft Auto’s audience. The only fraction of that original plan that should be left is the goal of being as polished as Rockstar’s franchise. Bugs have always been an issue with this series, and unfortunately, they were particularly bad for me.
Despite the above, the majority of the 28 hours I spent in Saints Row IV were largely bug-free.
Another big change that comes with this latest entry is the total overhaul of the currency system. It’s been replaced by Cache, which you accrue as you have in past games by kicking hordes of enemy ass, completing story missions, activities, optional side quests, loyalty missions (more on those later) and hacking stores. Yes, hacking stores. Now, before you can gain access to a store, as well as collect an hourly income from it, you need to hack it via a simple mini-game.
The activities are mostly familiar, though there are a few new additions. Now you can use your newfound abilities to climb towers, collecting data clusters along the way (these can be used to unlock and improve your powers) and destroy Hotspots, which clears an area of aliens. There’s also Virus Injection, which is basically a wave survival mode. These can be especially fun if you call in some friends to help out, though, unfortunately, they’re also very short.
Most of the activities will be familiar to those who have played Saints Row before, only they’ve all been tweaked to fit in with the new world. Mayhem has new modes called UFO Mayhem, Mech Suit Mayhem and Telekinesis Mayhem — it’s Mayhem with UFOs, Mech Suits and Telekinesis, respectively. Professor Genki’s M.O.M. has you running around the map tossing people, cars and glowing Genki heads through floating goals as two guys commentate. It’s weird, but it’s Genki, so I’d expect nothing less.
The Assassination and Fraud activities both return and they’re each way more fun with superpowers. There are also a couple co-op activities, Cat and Mouse and Death Tag, the first is a returning activity and the second is pretty self explanatory.
Between the open world format, over-the-top action, superpowers and item collecting, Saints Row IV treads alarmingly close to Crackdown territory. This isn’t a bad thing, I actually like it quite a bit, especially after how disappointing Crackdown 2 was. That’s not the only game it borrows from though. Mass Effect fans will enjoy the hilarious romance opportunities you can explore with your crew and the game even takes a few jabs at Metal Gear.
If the main story and activities aren’t enough to satiate your appetite, there’s always the side quests. I found them a tad bit disappointing, since they’re mostly comprised of activities. Once you complete enough of them you’ll unlock a weapon, costume, new ability, or something just as fun. Thankfully, the Loyalty missions were far more entertaining. Once you save a crew member from Zinyak, you can take on their unique loyalty mission which upon completion will grant them super powers in the simulation.
If you thought roaming the streets of Steelport with your homies was fun in Saints Row: The Third, just wait until you have three super homies.
Saints Row IV has an impressive amount of variety. Between the plethora of things to do, collect, unlock and combat, this is a game that will keep you busy for a very long time. It never outstays its welcome, and while I didn’t enjoy leaving the simulation just so I could chat with a crew member so I could return to the simulation and start having fun again (seriously, why can’t I call them up on my phone?), it flows smoothly and gracefully from one diversion to the next.
It still isn’t perfect and it’s a little more rough around the edges than I would’ve liked, but if you’re a Saints Row fan or a gamer itching to blow some shit up with a sick Dubstep Gun, this won’t disappoint.
The Final Word: I surfed bare ass naked on a goddamn UFO. ‘Nuff said.