Gang leader becomes president and fights aliens in virtual world.
Most people will have had one of those friends at school who thought of themselves as the class joker, and many of us will have, in our adult life, come across this joker again to find that they have not only become incredibly serious, but also perhaps a little boring. The Saints Row games are kind of the opposite. The first outing prided itself on being a serious GTA clone, telling a tale of gangs and violence. Then, with each subsequent offering, the Saints Row games became sillier. The latest entry in the series, Saints Row IV, has managed to completely outdo all those that came before in its stupidity as it tries its best to be the greatest class clown ever. Do with laugh with the class clown, or at them, and should we be feeling sorry for Saints Row IV as it strives for the wrong sort of attention?
So, what began as a fairly straightforward open world gangster game now has the main character cast as the president of the United States of America. As if this wasn’t a silly enough jump to make, there is also an alien invasion and the new president and the rest of the gang have been dumped into a virtual reality version of the games open world city, Steelport. Of course, no Matirx-style virtual world would be of any interest unless super powers were involved, so let’s throw some of them in as well, super speed and energy blasts for example. Does it sound crazy enough for you?
Some of this may well sound familiar. The truth is that much of this over the top content was to be included in a DLC offering for Saints Row: The Third under the guise of the Enter The Domintrix add-on. But the guys at Volition must have laughed themselves so silly over the crazy goings on that they were imagining, that they decided to make it a stand alone game instead. While Saints Row IV obviously goes further than the DLC ever would, it doesn’t quite manage to feel like a sequel, and this is in part due to the game using the same engine and thus packing the same visual quality, which now looks even worse in light of recent, better looking games.
However, behind all of this silliness is a solid Saints Row experience which includes an open world to explore, enemies to destroy, colourful allies to team up with or save, and a sense that the game is not taking itself seriously. This is perhaps the saving grace amongst all of the stupid humour, the game knows when it is being silly and laughs at itself. Beyond the obvious Matrix parody, Saints Row IV manages to make reference, either directly or through gameplay, to multiple other videogames, from Mass Effect to inFamous. The jokes are not always as funny as the game thinks they are, but it packs in enough humour that the chuckles are not too far apart, and the full belly laughs come often enough to take your mind off how daft everything really is.
But enough of the stupidity, the gameplay is just as important. Being that the game is just an expansion on Saints Row: The Third, it may not surprise to discover that the gameplay is very similar. The obvious difference comes from the superpowers that the player is given early in the game. While they may start out with a dash of super speed and super jumping, other powers are soon added to the roster, and the powers can be upgraded by collecting the data clusters that can be found throughout the city. The powers are awesome to play around with and being able to zip across the city in no time is an absolute treat.
But the superpowers come with a downside in that they take away much of what made Saints Row: The Third so good. Enjoyably cruising around the city in one of the many vehicles becomes pointless when it is far quicker to use a superpower. And enemies don’t pose quite so much of a threat when superpowers are involved. When you take into account the selection of unusual, mostly uprgradable weapons (including the much hyped Dubstep Gun), there are so many ways to inflict pain on enemies that the player may find themselves overwhelmed. Th combat is massively varied, if not always well executed, in Saints Row IV. That being said, there are times within the game when the player is deliberately limited in their approach, and the lack of variety during these moments is glaring.
The missions also offer a good level of variety, with side missions and mini-games being available beyond the story missions. Trying to follow the story itself, in all of its craziness, is an exercise in futility, but the game keeps throwing different ideas at the player to keep them interested. And mini-games, involving such as a text adventure and another mental TV show with Professor Genki, show the same level of variety. The side missions, which involve things like upgrading your team, can be a bit repetitive, but the trick is to bounce from different types of missions to different types of missions so things don’t have the chance to get boring.
Which is perhaps one of the core problems with Saints Row IV, the game feels like it is designed for someone suffering with ADHD. More so than almost any other open-world game, Saints Row IV actually benefits from the player having a short attention span. The mechanics of the game, and even the individual missions, are actually very average, but the over the top craziness combined with a need to flit from one mission to the next at an alarming rate does a good job of hiding this, unless the player tries to think too much.
Saints Row IV is an average shooter that has been raised to a highly entertaining romp by an abundance of silliness. The story is absurd, the in-jokes are often groan-worthy, the superpowers are epic and the weapons are just daft. This is not a game for the deep-thinking, plot hole-spotting player. It’s not a game for the serious shooter fan. But for anyone looking to have some mental fun in an open world with very little by way of limits, Saints Row IV will happily fill their time.
Saints Row IV is not quite as good as the last entry in the series, but takes the craziness to a whole new level. It may be the class clown of open world shooters, but the amount of fun to be found in Saints Row IV is no joke.