Saints Row IV is better than Saints Row the Third. It is not an expansion pack or DLC, it’s very much a full game, even bigger than its predecessor. I need these to be the first two things you need to know, and read. For many, this will be all you need. For others, the rest of this review is for you.
The story goes like this: After the Saints assume the Cabinet, the White House has been turned into the White Crib, and you’ve done a terrible job as President. Just as you’re at an all-time low, aliens known as the Zin Empire begin their invasion with Earth, starting in Steelport. After losing a fight with the leader, Zinyak – you’re sucked into a twisted, Zin-controlled simulation of Steelport much like The Matrix, and must reclaim your homies and regain their loyalty à la Mass Effect 2.
Saints Row IV is hardly a serious game, which may be assumed given the association in the last paragraph. It is an absurd, neon-infused, acid trip of adolescent humor and one-liners, purple dildo bats, dubstep guns, pixelated nudity, and aliens. The gameplay is virtually identical, but is analogous to Crackdown or Infamous than that of Grand Theft Auto, which has been the series’ biggest comparison.
Surprisingly, the game didn’t “click” with me until several hours in, after the first Act. The missions up until then are simply too slow and restrictive for a fourth entry in a series. A good way of tutorializing, but could have been done at a faster pace. I think everyone’s moment will be different, once you find yours – the rest of the game is an engaging power fantasy.
Virtual Steelport gave Deep Silver Volition the freedom to do more than Saints Row the Third could ever dream of. As “The Boss”, you’ve imbued super powers because Kinzie hacked the simulation and found ways to use the simulation against Zinyak. Though, you’ll often find him intervening, reminding you he is a threat, in case you forgot.
Not only are you able to upgrade your character (from scratch, no importing from SR3), but you can invest in improving your super powers. There are eight slots in total, the main ones being super sprint and super jump. Both of which radically change how you play the game. Cars and other four-wheeled vehicles quickly become obsolete as a mode of transportation. For greater distances, VTOL’s are still the way to go to get where you need to be fast. It’s an empowering feeling as you race across the city; leaping tall buildings in a single bound, using telekinesis to throw objects, or freeze blasting enemies. There’s never a moment where any one power feels “OP”.
Gone are the need for a garage, a crib, and owning property. Zinyak don’t have time for that. You can now save cars to the simulation itself, and call upon them for instant delivery. After doing loyalty missions later on, your Saints Homies become super-powered wrecking balls as well. And their assistance improves greatly as they can take more of a pounding. Or instead you can call on Roddy Piper for a tag team of epic proportions.
Shops return, allowing you to visit a Plastic Surgeon to redesign your character at any time, buy new clothes at the new Planet Zin, or new weapons at your local, neighborhood Friendly Fire. Weapons have been expanded to allow for weapon skins which change the look and sound of your guns. For instance, the Dubstep Gun changes the songs it plays based on the skin that’s equipped. Don’t want a Dubstep Gun? That’s fine. You can equip a gun that summons black holes for tragic destruction and quick cleanup via space vacuum. For the pistol whippers, how about using Mal’s pistol from Firefly? Or Deckard’s pistol from Blade Runner? Perhaps a blunderbuss is more your style? As the weapons are just aesthetics, you never have to choose function over form. Weapon choice is all the rage, and you’ll have plenty of ways to dish it out against the Zin.
Money is still required to purchase guns, ammo, and regular upgrades. This cash is in the form of “cache” that’s earned from completing objectives, missions, diversions, and picking up from fallen foes. As before, you have a money delivery system where you earn cache as you play by transferring it from the menu when it fills up. Easy money.
There are literally thousands of collectibles in the form of clusters. Easily visible, but some of them require specific power-types to smash and blast them loose to pick-up. The clusters are beneficial to you as they are a currency to spend on upgrading each of your eight super powers.
You’ll be playing traditional missions which involve killing hordes of aliens. Most of them taking place in the simulation, but you will be going into the real-world a few times. Different simulations play on many cultural and historical references: a 16-bit sidescroller beat ‘em up, Metal Gear Solid, Predator, Ghostbusters I and II, Atari tank games, Leave It To Beaver, and even text adventures. You don’t want to miss a thing. The foundation of this game is on references, and the joke’s hardly fall flat, providing a well-rounded experience.
Diversions or Activities are littered around the world, and there are actually more of them in Saints Row IV than in the previous game. I know this, because I added them up. Some of them returned as is like Insurance Fraud and Mayhem. The rest are new and take advantage of your new-found super powers: Virus Injection, UFO Mayhem, and Mind Over Murder (featuring Professor Genki).
The curtain has been pulled back by Deep Silver’s recent trailers, and Johnny Gat does return to the Saints, and the series of missions and explanation are done so amazingly well, there are many surprises for long-time fans of the series that only Saints Row IV can accomplish. For as many setbacks, cliches, references, and overall absurdity you endure, you can’t fault it as it doesn’t become overwhelming or too hard to comprehend. Everything is overt and transparent for the player to enjoy.
With releases only happening on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, there’s nothing “next-gen” about this title. It looks quite similar to the last game, with some improvements. That said, the PC version will be the most visually outstanding version with Anti-Aliasing, Anistropic Filtering, Post Processing, Ambient Occlusion, and so on. Textures are often muddy up close, but the overall framerate was high even when the action picked up tempo. The look is bleak, with the virtual version of Steelport always running at night. A post-game option is available to try out different lighting and time of day settings.
The music is driven and excels with dubstep. Certain missions use the radio to a spectacular degree. If you remember how well the Sublime “What I Got” sing-a-long moment worked in Saints Row the Third, without spoiling them here, know that Paula Abdul, Biz Markie, and Stan Bush are used within the story, and should excite you greatly.
All voice actors for the customized characters return, including a new entry, “Nolan North”, voiced by Nolan himself. You can further adjust the voice by controlling the pitch for a helium Nolan North or a deep, bassy, british man. Civilian chatter is funny, as is the banter among your homies during missions and cutscenes. Keith David returns in dual-roles of playing Julius, and himself. Other celebrities appear like Riff Raff, Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews picking up the role of Benjamin King to the late Michael Clarke Duncan, and Michael Dorn.
Multiplayer in the form of Whored Mode thankfully is not included. But Online and LAN Co-Op is. You can play through the Campaign with one other friend or stranger, and take on Activities together, with two new diversions created: Death Tag and Cat & Mouse. Death Tag and Cat & Mouse serving the “PVP” portion of the game, for at least some competitive element.
Saints Row IV is like an eternal nightclub, filled with dubstep, flashing bright lights, sexual innuendos, harassment and fighting with floppy, embarrassing bats. It’s key to remember that Deep Silver Volition have made a videogame, and you should treat it as such. This has simply been the most fun I’ve had playing a game all summer. The enjoyment found here is incomparable.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by PR for review purposes