Release Date: August 23rd, 2013
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (PC version reviewed)
Saints Row IV is a sandbox game by Volition that has had a fractured development. It was originally meant as DLC for Saints Row: The Third under the name of “Enter the Dominatrix”, but was later expanded to be a full game. Then THQ went bankrupt and the development team and IP were bought by Deep Silver. The end result is a game that’s lacking in content, but is otherwise fun to play.
Saints Row IV starts off with a few satirical missions. You begin with a CoD parody mission, followed by a mission where aliens attack the White House, followed by a simulation of a stereotypical 1950’s sitcom. The writing in these parts is actually quite clever, mocking both rival games and poking fun at itself. The White House section has a number of completely useless moral choices in stark contrast with the actual moral choices of the previous game and then we have the 1950’s sitcom level, which is extremely clean and inoffensive to the point where the main character can’t even swear.
After this set of initial missions you’re dumped into the virtual simulation of Steelport. Aside from some cosmetic changes such as all the stop signs and road signs being changed to say “Obey” and other minor changes such as statues of the alien leader being placed everywhere (all of which are destroyable), the game map is unchanged from the map in SR3. Furthermore, the first set of missions consists solely of doing minigames. This part is the worst section of the game, and is especially jarring since the initial missions were so much more enjoyable.
Luckily, this ends quickly and not long after, you’ll be unlocking new powers and weapons that make the game much more enjoyable. Super speed and super jump, the first two powers you get, let you move around like a super hero, and some of the offensive powers you get include freeze blasts, telekinesis, mind control and more. The game doesn’t really make you earn these powers; they just let you run amok with them, and each power has a specific niche where they’re useful, so you’ll find yourself switching between them quite a bit. My only gripe with this system is that the game is simply too easy with them in play. You can do all sorts of horrible things to your enemies, but the best they can do is shoot you while you run circles around them. The super speed and jump make cars useless since you’ll be able to outrun them anyways, and with a few basic upgrades you’ll have unlimited sprint and the ability to run up walls and glide. I honestly never used a single car outside of a few missions that forced one on you.
The regular weapons are also extremely powerful and easy to upgrade. You can upgrade your SMGs to shoot lightning, the shotgun to shoot at the rate of an assault rifle, etc. There’s also a lot of cosmetic customization such as new paint jobs and even different weapon models and sound effects for each gun. Some of the super guns are just ridiculous, though. The dubstep gun shoots bullets in time with the beat and never needs any recharging nor runs out of bullets. The ‘Merica gun shoots bullets and rockets while patriotic music is playing. I didn’t use these guns often, but they were very humorous.
The music selection is top notch. There are many great tracks on the radio (which now plays even when you aren’t in a car), and some missions have some memorable sound cues such as “The Boys are Back in Town” playing during a mission with Johnny Gat or “Insane in the Brain” playing during a mission where you’re high and killing some hippies.
The story is basically a huge love letter to long-time fans of the series. As most of the game takes place in a simulation, Volition had free range to add in any characters regardless of context or if they were even still alive. Characters from all the previous games make a return, such as Tanya and the Vice Kings from Saints Row, Veteran Child and hippie Shaundi from Saints Row 2, Matt Miller and the Syndicate from Saints Row: The Third, etc. There are numerous in-jokes as well; one section has you smoke drugs out of a lightbulb which is reminiscent of the first Sons of Samedi mission in Saints Row 2, and the main character even has to fight the default player character from Saints Row. You can even find audio logs of many characters, including dead ones from previous games, and call them up as homies after you’ve finished the missions that involve them. The game isn’t just a bunch of goofy jokes and ridiculous events either; the game is much more balanced and has a few scenes that are serious and actually quite emotional, such as Shaundi crying over Gat’s death.
The aliens have kidnapped many of your friends, so throughout the game you’ll be trying to free them. Each person is living in their own version of hell, and you’ll be transported to each one to rescue them. Each location is a twisted version of a scene from a past game. Shaundi is trapped on the airplane Gat died on during SR3 (or was presumed to die on), Benjamin King is trapped in the church from SR1 surrounded by Vice Kings, Asha has a Splinter Cell/ Metal Gear parody level where she fights an evil version of the player character (well, more evil) and Gat is stuck in a 2d brawler where he faces off against enemies from both SR1 and SR2. Each level is unique and some even use art assets that aren’t seen anywhere else. I’m only unhappy about the fact that the levels aren’t replayable in any way since these story missions are easily the best part of the game.
The majority of the side missions are underwhelming as they’re not really full missions but just a random set of minigames to finish. Luckily, all the minigames you need to do as part of a side-mission are all minigames that exist in the main world, so if you happened to finish it already you don’t need to do it again. Instead of padding, it feels more like a new way to reward the player since you’ll earn new weapons, upgrades and clothing by doing them and each one usually has a humorous line of dialogue to go along with it. Each character also has a “loyalty” mission which is basically a unique mission that occurs in the game world and somehow ties to that character. For Shaundi, you help her and her SR2 incarnation to take down Veteran Child, Gat just wants to go on a violent killing spree while catching up on the events that occurred between SR3 and SR4, and Matt Miller brings you along for his self-insert Nyteblade fanfiction. These missions are fun, humorous and necessary to unlock the secret ending.
Sadly the last missions are the most boring and aggravating of the bunch. Most of your time is going to be spent defending an object from infinitely respawning enemies for 10 minutes and it gets very repetitive. In two of them, one being the very last mission, you need to knock out some shield generators via a QTE. This normally isn’t a problem, but the QTE will fail and need to be restarted if you’re hit by an enemy, and enemies are constantly respawning. Sometimes the QTE will just fail randomly even if there are no enemies nearby. Missions that should have taken a few minutes lasted more than 40 because of this. It’s especially problematic for the last mission as it’s the final boss fight against the alien leader, and instead of fighting him I’m fighting waves of generic enemies. It’s a real disappointment, but the final set of cutscenes more than make up for it.
The PC version is well optimized and the controls feel natural. There are numerous glitches, but I can’t tell which ones are on purpose and which ones aren’t as the game takes place during a simulation and sometimes the game will purposely glitch out such as making all the vehicles upside down or invisible. At the least I can say all the glitches were relatively benign and amusing.
Saints Row IV is the most over the top game I’ve ever played. There’s plenty of clever writing and a lot of fun to be had, even with the ultimately unsatisfying weapons and powers at your command. My only main gripe is the lack of content. The story missions don’t take too long to complete and all that’s left are the activities. With a number of side missions finished and all the story and loyalty missions finished, the game took about 15 hours to complete. The stats screen lists me at 54%, but all that’s left to do then is complete minigames and find the collectibles.
Otherwise, it’s a fun game and I’m looking forward to what Volition will come up with now that they’re under a publisher that’s financially stable.