The Saints Row series has evolved significantly over the years. What started out as a pretty clear cut Grand Theft Auto clone has really moved into its own skin. The biggest gaps have been between the second and third games in the series, with Volition betting heavily on humor and ridiculousness while staying true to the open-world formula. If Saints Row: The Third was a big bet on the creativity at the studio, Saints Row 4 is doubling down on this lunacy.
Volition has had a rocky ride over the last few years. While Saints Row: The Third saw critical success, the game’s publisher, THQ, became insolvent. The studio was sold to the highest bidder, and these financial problems probably changed the life of Saints Row 3 considerably. It’s definitely worth noting that there was a big chunk of DLC for The Third that never arrived because of the financial problems at THQ. A standalone expansion was set to extend the life of Saints Row: The Third, and then cancelled. Shortly thereafter we learned that we would indeed be getting a fourth Saints Row game. It led many to believe that this DLC was going to be made into a full game. Cash grab alarms starting ringing loudly.
In some ways, it’s true. Saints Row 4 has a lot of the qualities that people complain about in half-cocked sequels. It certainly doesn’t look very different than Saints Row: The Third. It doesn’t feel very different than Saints Row: The Third in the way it controls in its shooting and driving sequences. It’s got a lot of the same familiar qualities and features, especially if you played a lot of the last game. It’s got the same self aware humor, one-liners, and pop culture references that The Third had. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and more Saints Row: The Third is a good thing, right? That would be true, but it doesn’t take long to realize that aside from the aesthetic and overtones, this is a remarkably different game than its predecessor.
The Saints Row story has progressed yet again with Saints Row 4. The Saints have come up, hitting another all-time high for a group that started out as gangbangers back in 2006. This time, you’re the president of the United States, and the Saints are your cabinet. If it sounds a bit audacious, it’s only getting started. In the game’s opening moments Earth is attacked by Aliens, and this brand new story begins. Dildo bats alone aren’t going to be able to push back this alien threat. Saints Row 4 offers a whole new way to play the game, giving the player superhuman powers, and it’s the most noticeable change to the game overall. Think Saints Row 3, Crackdown combined with inFamous, then throw in a few fifths of your liquor of choice, and you’ve got Saints Row 4. It’s an impressive open-world power trip that still doesn’t take it self too seriously, offers a wide variety of gameplay activities on the main and side questlines, and provides for some pretty interesting sandbox and cooperative play modes.
Saints Row 4 is an impressive open-world power trip that still doesn’t take itself too seriously
All the good stuff from Saints Row: The Third returns in 4. There’s just another layer of madness on top of it all. Giving you superpowers and the ability to just go ape-shit on anyone and anything in the game world is very rewarding. And if the sandbox elements aren’t your thing, the main-storyline is attractive as well. While it won’t be revered for excellence in this department, it’s passable, comical, and varied. Having the events of Saints Row: 4 unfold before you is a much more rewarding experience, so we’ll look to avoid spoilers here. But expect the same type of delivery as was found in Saints Row: The Third. If anything, it feels like Volition have given themselves even more creative freedom in designing both the storyline and missions therein. Making fun of and aping popular games, Saints Row: 4’s main story takes on a number of different types of missions. Like I said, very similar to the first one. Story missions, side adventures, and different challenges strewn across the massive map, it’s all familiar, and it all fuses together quite well. Perhaps even better than Saints Row: The Third. It’s definitely more outlandish in the story it’s trying to tell, and that’s a feat in itself.
I’m not going to spoil how it happens, but the greater part of Saints Row: 4 takes place in a virtual matrix-like world. The world sets the stage for all of these strange new powers that you have. This is where Saints Row 4 feels so much different than its predecessors. In Saints Row 4 you’re slowly becoming more and more powerful, with almost god-like powers in the game world. No, screw the almost stuff. You have god-like powers. You can sprint faster than most vehicles, you can bound buildings. You can shoot fire and ice from your fingertips. You can use telekinesis to lift objects and hurl them at your enemies (or innocent bystanders if you so choose). You can stomp the ground with earthshaking force, or kick somebody and send them hurling through the air. I said it was a power trip and it is, but it’s also counterbalanced. Since you are in a matrix-like world, your alien overlords can see your every move. Trigger their response, and that’s when things get really crazy. Aliens will come in droves to take you out, and it won’t stop until you hunt down a command drone unit. It’s kind of like a wanted level of sorts, but instead of running from the police, you’re running from aliens and terminator style robots, trying to hunt you down.
It’s all woven to the overall storyline quite well. You’ll need to do your fair share of exploration in the city to track down data clusters, the currency to upgrade your super powers and make you stronger. Which is in a completely seperate progression tree than your standard upgrades. These are earned by doing just about anything. Going on a killing spree, those you leave in your wake will drop cache, and that can be spent on a number of different upgrades, items, and customization in the in-world stores. You’ll find your fair share of activity just in jaunting from main mission to main mission, but there’s plenty to explore when you venture off of the beaten path. In traditional Saints Row fashion, and definitely likened to Saints Row: The Third, there are plenty of side missions to do, loyalty missions to complete, and just odd-ball adventures that have very little to do with the main storyline. You’re continually earning Cache for all these events, and long story short, there’s no shortage of content here. You could spend 100 hours completing all the missions, earning all the unlockables, and still be ready to go back in to cause more mayhem. Furthermore, the game just begs to be experimented with. As sandbox games always have done, it gives you ample opportunity to wreak havok on the poor virtual inhabitants of this city, without doing very much else if you don’t want to. Though the added layer of god-like abilities make it one of the best sandboxes that has ever been made.
The game still feels rough around the edges at times, but is absolutely a blast to play
These new abilities are absolutely fun to use, but they also feel a little rough around the edges. Implementing this new way to play into what appears to be the same game engine was probably no small feat, and there are the occasional hiccups in gameplay, as well as some frustrating aspects of travelling by way of your new found powers. The same sort of problems that were often found in Saints Row: The Third are found in Saints Row 4. You’ll have glitches that pop up randomly, though they seemed to be more noticeable when using your devastating new powers. Enemies would clip through the game’s floor, AI got stuck behind objects, you know, the kind of pandemonium that feels pretty much right at home in Saints Row at this point. You almost don’t even bat an eye when there’s car sticking out of the concrete and shaking vigorously…you’re not quite sure if you did that on purpose, or not. What is noticeably rough around the edges is the travel with your ability to leap and run. When you can run faster than a car, why drive? And it just seems like there are always small hurdles in your way, ledges or small walls that break up the freedom that you should be experiencing.
Where there is almost no issue whatsoever is in the game’s many different weapons. Third person shooting is still the primary mechanic in Saints Row 4, and Volition offers up a massive buffet of weapons to use. You’ll almost immediately have access to a large array of different types of weaponry. Both of human and alien origin, these weapons range from your basic pistols, machine guns and shotguns, to crazy alien technology that’s as deadly as it is fun to watch on screen. The combat sequences are almost always a dance between cooldowns of superpowers, reloads, and emptying round after round into your targets. Shooting and combat feels largely the same, if not identical to Saints Row: The Third. So, it’s solid.
Whored Mode is officially gone. But there is a two-player cooperative aspect of the game, one that’s similar to what was found in Saints Row 2 & 3. The superpower aspect does put an interesting twist on things, and players can fight against each other if you want to turn friendly fire on. And while it’s no subsitute for some competitive multiplayer, you’ll have ample opportunity to fight against friends in a massive playground. For those that want to work together, there are a lot of cooperative missions and activities to complete. While its definitely not the star of the show, and offers little more than what was offered previously, the new gameplay features that carry over make it worth checking out.
Like Saints Row: The Third, Saints Row 4 isn’t going to end up being for everyone. This is not serious business. The tongue-in-cheek humor and often so-bad-its-good dialogue are definitely an acquired taste. What’s not an acquired taste is the absolute joys that can be had just ransacking this playground with all the new tools in Saints Row 4. No matter how much you’ve held it against Volition and Saints Row for at one time being little more than a GTA clone, much like the Saints themselves, they’ve evolved into so much more.
Saints Row 4
- Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
- Published By: Deep Silver
- Developed By: Volition
- Genre: Open World
- US Release Date: August 20th, 2013
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
- Quote: "This is not serious business. The tongue-in-cheek humor and often so-bad-its-good dialogue are definitely an acquired taste. What's not an acquired taste is the absolute joys that can be had just ransacking this playground with all the new tools in Saints Row 4."