Also On: PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Deep Silver
Rating: 18 (PEGI) / M (ESRB)
If somebody had said a few months ago that Saints Row IV would be a generic shooter, a Metal Gear Solid Clone, a Godzilla Ripoff, a risque text adventure, a Streets of Rage clone and the best damn superhero game ever made, all at the same time, I would have asked them to share the rather potent drugs they’d been taking and then have them sectioned because obviously they’d be stark raving mad, right? Wrong. Here’s what I think of the rather schizophrenic Saints Row IV.
Simply Irresistible. This is the song used at a point that made me think it was a bad idea for the president to have a second sex change, moving back to being a well toned businessman looking bloke with the voice of an angry Ray Winstone, instead of sticking to being a young, attractive, firm-breasted redhead who dresses up like Lara Croft.
This is as true to Saints Row as can be, while still managing to take everything to a whole new level of bonkers and making it all seem reasonable. Gone are the days of Saints Row doing the ludicrous or obscene just to get attention from GTA. The very same ludicrous and obscene aspects are both what make this both the craziest and sanest choice on offer. How? It relishes in diversity.
The premise is as simple as can be. The Saints, following on from the events of ‘The Third’ are working for the government. A terrorist has a nuke and is planning to use it. Your job is to go in there as a crack squad, take out the terrorists and stop him using the nuke. This is unnerving to say the least, held just long enough to make you worry only to then have the nuke be launched, you climb up the side of the moving nuke and punch through some key electronics, because punching is the way. Congratulations on saving the world men, by the way, you are now the president of the USA.
Another day in the life of the President. You have a press conference coming up so on your way you get to meet your cabinet. It’s your crew with the inclusion of Keith David. A few minor questions are given to you as you slowly wander through the stripper-filled party that is the White House. Will you cure cancer or end world hunger? Will you punch a dick in the face or just punch a dick? Then it’s time for your press conference to be interrupted by the total destruction of earth by an alien race known as the Zin.
Surely then, that’s it? Earth, with Stilwater and Steelport as a result of them being on Earth, are destroyed. Of course not, it’s Matrix time. You’re thrown into a 60s hammy TV show, to break out because that shit is rubbish. It’s Steelport time, only now with a lot of loose code and superpowers.
It’s a beautiful way to reuse the self-same city and assets and make it feel completely reasonable. This is a penny-pinching trick that so many would love to be able to get away with, but none can. Until now. Sure, the world is the same and it all looks the same, with a pallet swap and some pure and simple mind-bending moves, some of which would have passed as bugs in the older entries.
What makes it completely different, even though it’s the same, is the inclusion of superpowers. You have super speed, the ability to jump over buildings, super strength, telekinesis and so much more. The inclusion of all of these powers with the utter freedom to use them in an open world that is both large in scale and huge in options leads to every other alternative with superpowers paling.
Do you want the freedom of movement, the speed and jumping from Prototype? How about the myriad of collectables, as well as super strength to pummel anything and everything, found in Crackdown? Why not throw in the use of blasts, shields and protective fields, including an electricity based one that Cole MacGrath may be missing. This combination of superpowers and the ability to use them continuously, combined with the world you use them in makes Saints Row IV insanely fun to play.
Of course it can’t simply be running around an open city, picking up collectibles and murdering countless innocents. A framework has to be put in place and that is the core story missions and the many side ones to boot. The side missions come in the theme of either helping your gang, rescued during a story mission, obtain super powers like yours. The other side quests are simply a character telling you to do one of the many activities found in faux Steelport but stringing them together as a means of either opposing Zinyak, helping write a book or even just for the sake of causing carnage.
It’s not like the selection of activities is small and restricted to the quests. You don’t have to do them as a request of a character, I often found myself having done them already due to my explorative nature which meant it was a simple case of chatting to the person repeatedly, them thinking I did the activity just for them. The problem with the activities is that some are prohibitively difficult, especially since there is bound to at least be one or two you don’t like, either the telekinesis wrecking balls or the sort-of-Audiosurf running game.
Even then, with it only being one or two you end up disliking, there are so many others that will charm the pants right off of you and keep you with a stupid fixed grin on your face. Even without the activities you’ll probably keep that grin through sheer mindless fun gained from storming down a road, cars and pedestrians flying off due to the force generated by your run, as you then leap up so high you’ve cleared a thirty storey building to then aim down on the other side, coming down with such force it creates an explosion similar to that of a tiny nuclear weapon, destroying everything around it.
Beyond the enjoyment gained through playing the game as a sandbox, there is a lot to be gained simply through the set-pieces as well as simply watching and listening, either in game or in cut-scenes. The set pieces were admirable to say the least. Not only were they good enough to play through, without being prohibitive, they aped everything so well. A MGS game where the sociopath in the box decides to murder every single guard, the same guards that have a conversation with their wife stating that their job is to simply watch the same place or walk the same route, waiting for something strange to happen.
Conversations and lines like this are spread throughout, adding a wealth of well timed and perfectly delivered humour. Sure, some of it may be hit and miss for some people but unless there was something that passed right over my head and I didn’t notice it was trying to be funny, everything got me. What enhances the conversations is the excellent detail put into the animations, giving perfect body movements to suit a conversation.
A move of the hand, roll of the eyes, everything is done perfect. What makes it all the more impressive is that Saints Row IV isn’t a marvel to look at. The visuals are the same colourful, but not exquisitely detailed, visuals from before. This isn’t to say they are bad, not in the slightest. It’s a refreshing change to see this sort yet again, the almost ostentatious, instead of the dulled tones of other games. Something wonderfully touched upon by the game.
Of course since you’re in a digital world you can listen to music at all times. Unlike this pathetic change of topic, the music is again masterful. The track list has anything and everything you could want. Radio stations hosted by personalities akin to those in earlier GTA games, even one radio station hosted by Zinyak himself.
Music is commandeered by the game a few times as well. Either you’re listening to Aerosmiths ‘(Don’t Wanna) Miss a Thing’ as you glide away from the nuclear weapon you’ve punched to death, Thin Lizzys ‘Boys are Back in Town’ as you murder a load of Dr Genki’s mascots. The best moment is when Pierce decides it’s his time to take the radio and you’re singing along to Paula Abduls ‘Opposites attract’ on one trip to blow up some trucks, only to then have him put on Biz Markies ‘Just a Friend’ which Zinyak decides he likes and will sing along to in possibly the best way ever.
From beginning to end, Saints Row IV is pure, unbridled, fun. Fun to play, fun to watch, fun to simply experience. If I were to quit games at this very second I dare say it would have been an extremely happy last month with Saints Row now topping my best games of 2013 mental list, waiting for something to even attempt to compare to it, something I genuinely hope will come along, if only to further show what games are capable of.
Until then, I leave you with yet another moment that should sell you on Saints Row IV. It has Rowdy Roddy Piper beating the crap out of Keith David in the same alley, using the same lines as he did in They live. With that, my friends, I bid you adieu. Remember, our benevolent overlord Zinyak is watching.