I have a confession to make: I never played the first Saints Row game. At the time I figured it was just another Grand Theft Auto clone, & I’ve never particularly liked the gangster lifestyle (unless it was something like the old-school Mafia stuff). I only really got interested in the second game when they let you play as a female. Since then, I’ve found a lot of enjoyment for the franchise. So what about Saints Row IV, which is supposed to be the final chapter in this increasingly absurd saga?
SR4 follows after the Save Shaundi ending in the last game & begins with the Saints finishing the fight with Cyrus Temple (the leader of STAG from the last game) who for some reason is working with Middle Eastern terrorists. After the boss disarms a nuclear warhead & saves the country, they use their new status as hero to take over the White House & become President. During the term, Earth is invaded by a race of aliens called the Zin, led by Zinyak. Rather than destroying the world, Zinyak collects those he deems worthy (including the President & several members of their cabinet) & places them in simulations to attempt to break their wills. It’s up to the boss to manipulate the simulation world to break Zinyak’s power & ultimately save humanity.
Although a lot of the gameplay aspects are the same is the previous games, SR4 does add some new elements. The biggest addition is the super powers. As you progress through the story, complete challenges & collect code clusters, you’ll unlock different super powers that help you create chaos in the sim. There are eight powers in total (Super Speed, Super Jump, Death from Above, Blast, Telekinesis, Stomp, Buff & Force Field). All of them can be upgraded & the active powers have three different elements to choose from. The upgrade system is back for both characters & weapons. Another change is the ability to save any car you get in to your virtual garage & call it up from either your phone or an access point. You’ll also get side missions from your homies which will take you through the various activities throughout the world.
Narrative: It might not make sense if you haven’t tried the game yourself, but I felt that the story this time around was both crazier & more grounded than in SR3. Of course it’s over the top, what with aliens invading, virtual worlds, time travel & super powers. But it seems to fit better. In SR3, it felt like the craziness was just there to be crazy. In an otherwise realistic world, it felt like it was just there for the sake of it. But when you’re dealing with alien technology & virtual worlds, you can justify a lot more. I think the great writing really helped. The pacing of the story & the dialogue, I felt, was very well done & on par with SR2. The banter between characters & their unique personalities really shined this time around. As you progress through the main story, you’ll free your homies through unique stages & eventually get a loyalty mission from them, which is always enjoyable. The game includes a lot of references to other games, movies, etc. I say “references” because I didn’t feel like they were true parodies. Aside from a few places where they were clearly making fun of other aspects in games, it came across more as an homage. Sort of like you’d get a laugh from it if you recognized where it came from, but if not you’d just enjoy the variety. A good example is with the ability to “romance” your crew. Clearly poking fun at Mass Effect, you can successfully flirt with your crew after completing all of their missions & get a little cutscene. Some of them are outright hilarious, but it just further demonstrates their personalities. Unfortunately, romancing them doesn’t change anything in the game. You don’t get any special interactions with them & it’s never mentioned again. You can even romance everyone if you want. So overall I found the story aspects very enjoyable & well done, but never taking itself too seriously. Score: 5
Mechanics: While everything works in the game, I felt that the super powers did unbalance it a bit, depending on how you choose to improve them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a lot of fun to use. All of the abilities work differently & the element variety gives you freedom in how you want to handle encounters. You can freeze enemies, suck health from them to restore yours or just run around at super speed & knock them over. I also liked that each power as its own cooldown timer, so you should never be at a loss for powers. However, I don’t know if I leveled up powers up too fast or what, but I found they made a lot of the activities really easy. For example, on the mayhem activities I could get a gold medal on each without breaking a sweat with the Tornado upgrade to Super Speed. Because it creates a tornado as you run that throws around anything destructible, I just ran around like a lunatic, tearing stuff up & getting points for it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I don’t want to spend forever on an activity, but it can make some hilariously easy. And speaking of activities, there’s a nice mix of old & new stuff. Another feature I like is that while most of the missions take you through the different activities, you can complete them on your own. This gives both freedom & a bit more structure than in the previous games. Also, the game offers good incentives for completing missions & challenges through giving you new weapons, powers & skins once you complete them. The game world is also full of interesting collectables, like sound bits that provide more insight into characters. Unfortunately, at least for the 360 version, there were a lot of bugs & glitches. I had several instances of game freezes, my character appearing without clothes when I enter the sim, & audio clips playing when I loaded the game. Thankfully the game autosaves very frequently, so these bugs were never major, but they were frequent annoyances. So overall, the gameplay is good but some bugs & balance issues keep it from being better. Score: 4
Aesthetics: Visually there isn’t much difference between SR4 & SR3. In fact, a lot of assets have been reused, from customization options to clothing & car choices. The virtual world is modeled after Steelport, which is a bit of a shame. I would’ve liked to see maybe a combination of Steelport & Stilwater. That being said, I did like how the visuals take advantage of the whole simulation thing. It’s in the small details. The building textures warp. People walking near rifts glitch out. There are all sorts of Big Brother-esque signs posted by Zinyak. It’s a nice touch. You can now listen to music at any time, which is good given that you probably won’t be using cars much. The music during missions is pretty good, but I was disappointed by the radio music selections. There were no good rock songs. I ended up listening mostly to electronica & a handful of older pop songs over & over. As usual, the voice acting is good. There are some new voices for the boss, including the chance to be Nolan North. So overall, pretty average on both fronts. Score: 3
Replay Value: Pretty high. I completed all the missions & got gold on all of the activities plus found all the collectables in around 30 hours, which I’d say is a decent length. But I think most people will play this game a few times just because it’s so fun & to replay their favorite parts of the game. Score: 4
Overall Score: 4
Final Words: While some people may be upset that Saints Row 4 doesn’t return to its roots for the finale, I still found it to be a fun & enjoyable game. Although very different, I put it on par with Saints Row 2. Just some minor bugs, balance issues & lack of unique assets hold it back. If you’re looking for an open-world game that offers something a little less on the gritty-realism scale, I think this is a great game to get.
Title: Saints Row IV
Console: 360, PS3 & PC
Rating: M Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: August 20, 2013