Saints Row IV Review
Oh when the Saints...
The Saints Row series is one that’s certainly gone from strength to strength over the years, and is certainly one of the standout franchises this generation of consoles will be remembered for. The series itself has decided to take the path of upping the scale of ridiculousness with each succeeding installment; as a collective, the Third Street Saints have gone from up-and-coming street gang to rulers of Stillwater, from a brief fall-from-grace to pop-culture phenomenon. Now, in Saints Row IV, the loveable purple-clad rogues find themselves in the White House, where a (literally) extraordinary adventure awaits them. With Saints Row IV, Volition have taken another step in throwing all sense of logic and reason out the window. But that’s probably why it’s such a good game.
The first mission is a beautiful lampooning of your typical Call of Duty endgame, complete with slow-mo door breaching and shoehorned quicktime events.
As the boss of the Saints, you are quite literally dropped into a position of presidency after preventing a terrorist attack that would have sparked World War III. The Saints’ reign is interrupted when an alien empire known as the Zin abducts the Saints, as well as thousands of world leaders, intellectuals and celebrities, and destroys the Earth. Having escaped the grasp of overlord Zinyak into his Matrix-like simulation of Steelport, the boss of the Saints must rescue their crew and get revenge for the planet that was so unfairly taken from them.
While the plot itself is nothing spectacular, the scenarios it places you in certainly are. The first mission is a beautiful lampooning of your typical Call of Duty endgame, complete with slow-mo door breaching and shoehorned quicktime events. The story itself continues to surprise throughout its duration; you’ll never know exactly what scenario you’ll be thrusted into next, making the campaign an absolute blast from start to finish. Most of the series’ characters return to much fanfare, and this time Volition have even thrown in some old favourites like Ben King and “Fun” Shaundi for good measure. To top it off, actor Keith David debuts in the series playing as himself, which is just as good as that sounds and then some. Oh, and did I mention the writing is excellent? Because it is. And funny. Very, very funny. Saints Row IV has a great script that makes intelligent use of pop culture references and mixes that with genuinely funny jokes, and there’s plenty of audible belly laughs to be had. The game also frequently mocks itself for its strange scenarios and twisted logic. This is a huge step up from the somewhat juvenile nature of Saints Row: The Third’s humour, and the latest game is a vast improvement because of it.
Saints Row IV, whilst strikingly similar to its predecessor, has undergone some changes in its mechanics to spice up the gameplay. First and foremost are the superpowers, which I was initially skeptical about in the run-up to the game’s release. Thankfully, they don’t feel at all tacked on and play a heavily integral role in how you play the game. Being able to sprint at the speed of sound before taking a giant leap and gliding through a network of skyscrapers is just as fun as it sounds. You’re also able to blast fireballs, freeze and shatter your enemies, perform a powerful ground stomp, and buff your weapons with various elements, all allowing for a delightfully volatile set of toys for you to play with.
There are also plenty of new weapons for you to mess around with, too; there’s the singularity gun which fires black holes, a tentacle bat that sends opponents soaring and an alien abduction ray. Then there’s the wonderful Dubstep Gun, which is exactly what it sounds like. Weapons are also cosmetically customisable, a first for the series; feel free to turn your rocket launcher into a guitar case, your pistols into Han Solo’s blaster, and your SMG into Robocop’s trusty sidearm. With this, Volition have smartly enabled another level of customisation for you to experiment with. Speaking of customisation, there’s also a great deal of new clothing and accessories to outfit your Saint in, a significant step up from The Third’s slightly lacking selection.
Jumping from building to building to collect these goodies feels directly similar to Crackdown, but Saints Row IV is far from a rip-off. It certainly borrows elements from other superhero-themed games, but it is more than happy to put its own spin on the formula, doing its own thing in its own wacky world.
Saints Row IV’s campaign is a blast. Missions are widely varied and the Simulated Steelport setting allows the game to go absolutely crazy with creativity. Not one mission felt dull nor like they were padding out gameplay; everything existed for a reason and served its purpose exceptionally. Many missions even offer throwbacks to previous Saints Row titles. In essence, Saints Row IV is the Avengers equivalent of the series, doling out fan service on an almost constant basis, making the campaign incredibly fun, but above all memorable and creative.
Aside from the main campaign you are of course free to tear up the Simulation as you please. As you traverse the highrises and hidden crevices you can collect glowing clusters that can be spent on upgrading your superpowers. Jumping from building to building to collect these goodies feels directly similar to Crackdown, but Saints Row IV is far from a rip-off. It certainly borrows elements from other superhero-themed games, but it is more than happy to put its own spin on the formula, doing its own thing in its own wacky world. You now have the ability to play the game’s radio stations whilst travelling on foot now, too. This is a much welcomed addition, and goes a surprisingly long way in elevating the fun factor. Whether you’re super sprinting through the streets to Doctor P’s “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” leaping over apartment blocks to Stan Bush’s “The Touch,” or engaging a superpower-fueled rampage to Blur’s classic “Song 2,” the soundtrack enforces the amount of power you wield. Not to mention the soundtrack overall is a perfect selection for the theme of the game. Volition themselves don’t disappoint with their own original score, which kicks in during various missions and certain activities.
Activities also make a return, but are unfortunately somewhat hit-and-miss this time around. There’s the always excellent Mayhem, which now includes superpower and mech suit variants. However, the Mayhem challenges do feel a bit more limited than usual, often tasking you to use exclusively one weapon or power. It’s fun, but the lack of variety here decreases your destructive options. Professor Genki makes his return in Mind Over Murder, a fun activity where you have to use Telekinesis to toss pedestrians, vehicles and the like. It lends a nice Psi Ops feel to the proceedings; being able to toss people into the far distance with your mind should not be as fun as it is here.
There are many activities that are a tad forgettable. Insurance Fraud returns but feels a little out of context given the nature of your superpowers, and isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. Several activities task you with entering the Rift, essentially a break in the Simulation. These superpowered-based challenges wouldn’t look out of place in an early PS2 game given their cyber-metallic vibe, and while it’s indeed a cool look that compliments the Simulation nicely, most of these rift challenges are themed around one superpower and can often be mind-numbingly frustrating. The Rift Telekinesis challenge in particular had me tearing my hair out. I could maybe forgive some of the more dull activities if they were optional, and to a degree they are. However, if you want to unlock extra powers, weapons and costumes you’ll have to complete them via sidequests presented to you by your homies. Working through said sidequests can grow tedious, as they’re essentially a shopping list of things to do around the Simulation, all of which must be completed to unlock the proposed reward. While I’m convinced Volition did a bit of a rush job organising these sidequests, there is the occasional diamond in the rough in the form of Super Power Fight Club, which pits your character against waves of enemies before facing a superpowered version of a gang leader from the Saints’ past. It’s a fun and satisfying mode that’s head and shoulders above the rest of the game’s side activities.
For some, Saints Row IV will be the perfect superhero game. But sadly, there are a number of problems that prevent it from being an overall perfect game. For one, it’s clear that this was originally meant as an expansion to The Third, with the map essentially being Steelport, street for street, with a few sci-fi additions and neon glows here and there. The game also has moments of identity crisis; vehicles and vehicle customisation, for instance, are still here, but the nature of your superpowers render them entirely useless. Outside of vehicle retrieval side objectives, there is absolutely no need to climb into a car, as Super Sprint is so much more useful and fun. To counteract this, some of the vehicles you retrieve and unlock are genuinely cool, but they’re still redundant. I’d even forgotten that planes and helicopters existed in the game until a mission required me to pilot one. Speaking of missions, I did run across the occasional glitch of a critical item or objective glitching out, forcing me to reload to the last checkpoint.
All this said, however, these problems do little to undermine the overall Saints Row IV experience. The superpowers are a fantastic addition to the series, and the lengthy campaign coupled with the sheer wealth of content make Saints Row IV the best game in the series yet, and one of the best sandbox games of this generation. Fans of the series who were disappointed by The Third will find that this latest entry more than makes up for it’s predecessor’s shortcomings, as there is a lot to love about this love letter to nerd culture and the gaming scene in general. Saints Row IV comes highly recommended.
A review copy of Saints Row IV was provided courtesy of Deep Silver. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 3.
Use The Fourth
Saints Row IV is a fantastic sandbox game which has an excellent campaign, tons of content, a great soundtrack and an incredibly funny script. While it certainly has its problems, they do little to undermine the overall experience of being a Super Saint, so it should definitely be checked out by anyone who has an appreciation for gaming on any level.