The Saints Row series has no doubt seen its share of insanity, but Volition went whole hog less than two years ago, crafting a product that was the definition of over-the-top. Looking to one-up themselves now, the fourth installment features a whole slew of parodies and comical behaviors. Whether it’s running around in the nude and pile driving an alien into dust, or jumping one hundred feet in the air and flying across the world, Saints Row IV is giving what their fans want: a crazier and even wilder experience that has no equal.
If you’re familiar with the mechanics that were present in Saints Row: The Third, you should have a decent grasp on what to expect here, except superpowers are now introduced. The gunplay remains largely the same including the variety of weaponry that can now be playfully customized into various objects, such as a guitar case rocket launcher. The new creative weapons, for example the Dubstep Gun or the Black Hole Launcher, are an absolute delight, introducing even more chaos in the already frantically comical Saints Row universe. Mowing down hundreds baddies and even performing exaggerated wrestling moves on them is overwhelmingly satisfying, but it’s only when supernatural abilities come into play that the game really shines.
Running up the side of a building and then hurling yourself at a group of enemies only to set off a nuclear explosion is somehow the most gratifying feeling possible. There’s a surprisingly large selection of superhuman powers at your disposal that ranges from using telekinesis to convert any object into a ball of lightning, to setting yourself a blaze so anyone you pass is burnt to a crisp. Each one is upgradeable by collecting clusters of data around the world, something that’s taken straight out of Crackdown, and you’ll feel like a complete badass when maxing everything out.
With these superhuman abilities, though, cars feel almost completely useless. When you can scale up a building and fly across the entire map within seconds, setting a route on a GSP feels somewhat archaic. I believe I entered a vehicle in the exaggerated motion maybe fifteen times throughout the campaign, and most of that was at the beginning when the abilities aren’t accessible, and later during loyalty missions where homies don’t have their own powers. It does compensate with some good side quests, namely races that are actually fun to partake in, and while you will quickly forget there are cars in the first place, it’s a shame the fantastic driving mechanics have been placed in the backseat.
The story and scenarios are what you’ve come to expect from the Saints Row series: over-the-top. The entire game itself is a parody on a number of properties, most notably Mass Effect and The Matrix. After saving Washington, DC from a devastating nuclear attack, the leader of the Saints is promoted to commander-in-chief of the United States, but during his term, Earth is attacked by a world-conquering alien named Zinyak. Zinyak is absolutely menacing and you can feel his imposing stature whenever you see him screen. He’s the perfect antagonist who is complimented with brilliant voice acting that helps assert his position, so it’s a shame that they don’t do more with him. He does lend his taunting commentary during various missions, but you only really see him at the beginning and the end of the campaign.
The rest of the adventure is filled with familiar faces, with the exception of Asha Odekar, a MI6 agent, CID, an artificial intelligence placed in a floating drone, and Keith David, who needs no introduction. Because the president is in the universe’s most realistic video game, it gives Volition a good excuse to bring back older characters that span all the way to the first Saints Row game. The story itself is pretty self-explanatory: break out of the simulation and save the world. Of course it’s never that simple as each Saints member has been put in their own version of hell, which are all creatively crafted. This sets up some of the best and most memorable story moments in any game as it takes aspects from older properties and parodies them to an incredible degree. I don’t even want to spoil any of the concepts as it’s best to experience them firsthand without knowing what you’re getting into.
Saints Row IV has a very similar structure to past games, having side quests unlock all over the map and core story missions available whenever you want to take a break from going on a rampage or racing against the clock. There’s a lot of content packed into the fourth game with a campaign that spans upwards of twenty hours to complete everything. The best part is that, outside the fantastic core missions, most of the mini-games aren’t trivial or repetitive tasks. Tired of causing mayhem with a tank? Try a mech suit, or use your telekinesis to wreck the world. Even the hacking mini-game is a thought provoking puzzle, gradually getting more difficult the more locations that are freed. Older activities such as Insurance Fraud and Mayhem will still be key side adventures, but something like Professor Genki’s show has been updated to use the supernatural powers to its advantage. These just feel more fun than what we got in the past.
Finally, the visuals are a peculiar aspect. Playing this on a PC, you won’t be foaming at the mouth over how amazing the game looks, but you will come to appreciate the various special effects. Because you’re inside of a simulation for the majority of the game, there will be effects such as a mosaic filter that will randomly popup on cars and buildings, reminding where you are. There will also be rift portals placed around the city, warping the bodies of anyone near them. Much of the game looks like it’s broken, but in reality, it’s actually intended to be like that; an artistically brilliant concept.
It’s been a while since a game has captured my interest such as this, introducing monumental new gameplay mechanics for the series and exceptionally comical scenarios. You’ll still be capping anyone who gets in your way, be it aliens or gang members, but now you can do so with supernatural abilities. Even if you don’t have someone to play co-op with, this is an absolutely captivating experience from start to finish. Whether it’s taking on hordes of endless alien invaders or driving around with your homies, Saints Row IV is just pure, unadulterated fun.
Version Reviewed: PC