Saints Row IV is still just as off-the-wall and ‘nutty in all the right places’ as the previous three games in the series, but it adds so much to the formula that it might as well be the beginning of a whole new franchise.
Just to clarify here, anybody who knows me knows that I’m not the biggest ‘sandbox’ guy. For that matter, the silly themes in Saints Row never really appealed either. What I came to realize while playing Saints Row IV though, was that I simply didn’t ‘get it’ before and that’s something that completely changed this time around. Simply put, Saints Row IV is mind-numbing amounts of fun.
The story is actually a really good one and sees the leader of the Saints (a street gang from the fictional city of Steelport) in office as the President of the United States. Just how it is that he gets there is one of the most over the top and gloriously funny things I’ve ever played in a game. These are movie-quality laughs here and, while I won’t go into detail, I will say that any fan of ’90s action movies will adore how SRIV kicks off.
Shortly after the fantastic intro, you’re thrust into the middle of a full-on alien invasion as the wicked Zin and their boss Zinyak engage in a hostile takeover of the planet. The Pres is abducted along with his staff (who are all excellently voiced and written) and a good chunk of the populace. Not contented with simply killing off the main Saint, Zinyak plugs him into an elaborate simulation of a Zin-controlled Steelport in order to break his spirit. Not a great move.
I won’t spoil any more of the story here as it’s actually a terrific time and super-well done. Probably needless to say though, Zinyak gets tons more than he bargained for and copious amounts of violent hilarity ensues both in the sim and outside of it.
I noticed almost immediately that there seems to be a tighter narrative this time around for Saints Row. That’s not to say that you can’t just do whatever you want if that’s what you feel like doing, but the story missions are all pretty fun and move things along nicely and at a crisp pace. To contrast that, the last SR title that I played was Saints Row 2 and I felt like I was never getting anywhere in that one. SRIV does a way better job of making the player feel like they’re a part of the Saints Row universe and seriously engaging in that world at every turn.
Much has been made of the new additions to SR as well and with good reason- they’re absolutely incredible. There have been a ton of superhero games and titles with super-powered characters over the years, but Saints Row IV does a bang-up job with it’s newfound powers and abilities and outdoes all but a few of them.
You can move at super-speed like the Flash, leap tall buildings in a single bound (seriously, when powered all the way up, the jumps are incredible) and even pick up and toss stuff around with telekinesis. More than just tacking on this stuff, developer Volition seemingly went out of their way to make SRIV feel like a superhero (or villain, if you prefer) game. Everything about the powers feels natural within the game world and works effortlessly thanks to the great control scheme.
As for the basics, if you’ve played any of the past Saints’ titles (or most third-person action games) then you’ve already got a great idea of what to expect here with the weapon selection wheel and standard driving and combat mechanics. The trick with Saints Row IV though, is that there’s a ton more that you’re able to do -thanks again to the addition of the super-powers- and it all fits in beautifully. Kudos for that.
Now graphically, Saints Row IV isn’t exactly a tour de force. Don’t get me wrong here- there’s nothing really wrong with the game’s looks, they’re just not face-meltingly incredible by any means. Honestly though, you don’t really expect those kind of looks from an open-world title, so keep that in mind. One thing I will say that really stands out about the look are the monstrous amounts of lighting effects. There’s quite a bit of neon and brightly colored lights all over Steelport and they give the game an almost Tron-like vibe at times that I really like.
Also pretty great are the character models. The Pres has an insane amount of customizability with a terrific character creation feature that you’ll get to spend way to long with (I did) at the beginning and then clothing options galore once the game begins. Providing you have the cache (yep, you read that right), you can buy some pretty awesome (or kooky) stuff to dress your character in. Just as an example, while I normally had my Pres dressed in a somewhat Terminator looking outfit, you can just as easily dress up in clothes all the way from the Presidential suit seen in the beginning to a ballerina ensemble. I actually spent a good deal of time in an outfit that looked suspiciously like a famous bounty-hunter from a certain 6 (soon to be 9) part, sci-fi space saga. So great.
The sound in the game is actually pretty awesome too with both the aforementioned excellent voice work and tune selection. The main character has several voice options (including Nolan North) and all of the surrounding characters, like Keith David (playing himself), are spot-on perfect. Nobody phoned this one in and that’s always nice to see. Oh, and to hop onto my (stolen) bike and hear Stan Bush’s ‘The Touch’ start up is absolute gold. Had to mention that one.
If I could sum up the game that is Saints Row IV in one word, I’d say that word is definitively ‘fun’. It’s been a while since I’ve played a game that’s purely about having a good time with the world that it creates and SRIV scratches that itch very nicely indeed.
The special abilities and all the alien stuff (like flyable UFO’s) add tons to what’s already a packed game historically and the side-quests that have you racing around the city and causing as much mayhem as possible are just as much fun as you remember. Everything that’s been added to the series with Saints Row IV plus everything that the series already did really equals up to a game that’s got something for almost everyone. And if you haven’t played the previous games, this one just might have you rethinking that choice.
Not only does SRIV take a stab at being a jack of all trades, it actually succeeds at being a master of almost all. Don’t miss this one.