Reviews

Review: Saints Row IV (360)

Saints Row IV does the impossible task of giving the people a US President that everyone can get behind.

Saints Row IV
Score: 9/10
Release Date: 8/20/2013 (USA)
Platform: 360, PS3, PC
Developed by Volition
Published by Deep Silver

After completing Saints Row the Third, one can only ask “Where on Earth can they go from here?” Saints Row originally started as a competitive, alternative choice to Grand Theft Auto; the series has since morphed into a different LSD-driven animal, hell-bent on carving its own path of immaturity through the “gangster” sandbox genre. The third chapter of the series had players fighting against luchadores, hackers, zombies, even strippers and dominatrices; Saints Row IV features enemies on a much more “galactic” level, with the introduction of aliens.

Five years after the leader of the 3rd Street Saints heroically diffuses a warhead, he/she is thrust into the oval office as the President of the United States. The “White Crib” is attacked by the Zen, an alien race that promises salvation for Earth’s most adequate citizens. In their failed retaliation, the Saints are captured by the Zen, and must escape their personal nightmarish prisons within a digital recreation of Steelport. As the player progresses through the story, he/she will venture into the minds of the trapped Saints in order to free each of them from the Steelport simulation; each “Homie” has their own unique simulation that bizarrely reflects one of their darkest fears: Pierce for example, worries about the responsibilities of being the face of the 3rd Street Saints brand; in his simulation, he’s attacked by anthropomorphic cans of the Saints’ energy drink “Saints Flow”. Other virtual prisons pay homage to previous Saints Row games with the inclusion of old characters and gangs, such as the Vice Kings and the Saints Row 2 version of Shaundi. These personalized simulations keep the story fresh, and provide a unique way of delivering character development, rather than having a standard two-minute monologue of history. Homies also have their own set of individual quests once they have been freed from the simulation. Saints Row the Third forced players into completing Activities and Homie-specific missions masked as plot missions due to having only one active quest log; missions in Saints Row IV are broken up into Main and Side Quests, so the player can either grind strictly the story, or experience all of what the Steelport simulation has to offer at their own pace.

Saints Row has evolved into a series that lacks any regard for the rules of logic; this approach works wonders for the variety of gameplay scattered across Saints Row IV. The most obvious addition to the series comes in the form of super-powers. The player has an arsenal of abilities new to the series such as a super-jump and super-sprint, elemental energy blasts, an earth-shattering stomp, and telekinesis; when fully upgraded, the player is an almost unstoppable force. Later upgrades, which can be purchased by collecting “Clusters” hidden around the city, include the ability to sprint up the sides of buildings and glide through the city, and come crashing back to the streets with a supersonic punch.

To combat all of these new abilities, Saints Row IV is noticeably more challenging than its predecessors. Enemies now possess force-fields and super-powers of their own, which require some lateral thinking to thwart; some enemies need to be frozen and shattered, while others need to have objects thrown at them using telekinesis. Where Saints Row the Third had Brutes, Saints Row IV has the Warden, a hulking Zen unit with telekinesis, a shock-wave attack, and even a force-field later on in the game. These prove to be a very difficult enemy to tackle, but often yield an ability-upgrade upon defeat. The super-powers are admittedly fun to use, but they steal the spotlight from other assets- missing and present- from the game. While the player can still steal vehicles of all sorts, and the process of adding them to the garage has been simplified, there are only a few instances where using a vehicle is absolutely necessary; cars are at the mercy of the streets and obstacles, but once the sprinting ability is fully upgraded, the player runs faster than most cars, and will even knock them out of the way on contact, and can sprint up and over buildings, making it a much more efficient way of transport. The radio that was once limited to vehicles can now be accessed from the weapon selection menu, which only decreases the desire to drive around in virtual Steelport; why drive a vehicle, when the player can jump from rooftop to rooftop, listening to their favorite radio station? Nothing is more satisfying than doing a dive-punch out of the sky into some Zen grunts, while Doctor P blares in the background. Grenades have taken the backseat and are not present for Saints Row IV, as all of the offensive powers are dedicated to those weapon-slots.

Saints Row IV features the most varied catalog of weapons in the series; player can equip themselves with the likes of a rifle that shoots black holes, a gun that shoots lasers which bounce between targets, an energy-sword, and the infamous Dubstep Gun. If these alien-tech weapons are too extreme, the player also has the choice of the standard pistol, SMG, rifle and rocket launcher…which can be customized to look like rubber-band shooters, guitar cases and a blunderbuss.

Clothing stores and other properties can still be acquired to gain control over Steelport, but rather than purchase them with “cache”, the player needs to complete a timed hacking mini-game before it becomes property of the Saints. Gang Operations from Saints Row the Third have been replaced by Zen Hotspots; by defeating all of the Zen at a Hotspot, the player will earn more cache and expand their control over Steelport. Several new variations of activities have been added, such as the “Mech” version of Mayhem, and Race, the super-powered version of Trail Blazing from SR3. Super Power Fight Club and Professor Genki’s M.O.M (Mind Over Murder) are completely new to the series; Fight Club is a battle-royale with other super-powered enemies and a boss character, while Genki’s M.O.M. has players using telekinesis to launch people, cars and Genki-heads through predetermined hoops. All activities now have tiers of completion (Bronze, Silver, Gold) that are based on how fast the player completes the activity, or on how high a score is achieved.

Graphically, Saints Row IV isn’t much of an improvement over Saints Row the Third. However, the new, twisted version of Steelport is enough to justify this as a completely different game, and not just a re-skin of its predecessor. The Zen’s vision of Steelport is far from perfect, as it’s been twisted and redesigned with their own architecture: Former Saints cribs and locations have been reduced to floating debris; Zen outlook towers float among the skyscrapers of downtown; all of the buildings pulse with “reloaded” textures in the simulation. Virtual Steelport houses several “Rifts” in its program; character models and vehicles that come within a certain range of these areas begin to “glitch”, giving them erratic behavior as their structure warps into bizarre shapes:

Image courtesy of NewGameNetwork.com

Image courtesy of NewGameNetwork.com

Most of the radio stations have returned from SR3, with the exceptions of “Adult Swim” and “The Blood”. While a large portion of the music is now electronic and dubstep, Saints Row IV offers a wide selection of music to listen to across the offered radio stations, including 80’s/90’s rock, dubstep, reggae and even classical. A dynamic, ambient track can also be chosen for music, as it changes tempo and intensity depending on the player’s actions; “Mixtape” is also another radio station alternative, as players can choose their favorite songs across all stations to add into a personalized set-list.

Saints Row IV is an entertaining adventure that veers completely off the norm: It’s the super-hero game no one asked for, but everyone should play; it’s a laughably stupid quest to take down an alien empire from inside a virtual world; actor Keith David portrays the Vice President; it’s the best Saints Row game of the series. Besides, what other games feature a sociopathic, loud-mouthed, super-powered (and sometimes naked) President of the United States?

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