Saints Row IV Review
It's become commonplace in the last few years to poke fun and lampoon the video game industry. Games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Deadpool made their mark at the expense of the games that came before it and even supposedly serious games like Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and PayDay 2 have taken their fair share of shots. So what's a series like Saints Row to do when their bread and butter seems like the latest fad? Go Bigger. Go Bolder. Do what no one expects. Ladies and gentlemen, Saints Row has officially jumped the shark - and for Saints Row IV, that's a very, very good thing.
Okay, maybe it's a bit strange to say that a game series that has let you play as a toilet and has featured DLC based on furry culture is just now jumping the shark but Saints Row IV's intergalactic story makes nearly everything that's come before seem tame by comparison. If you played the similarly phenomenal Saints Row the Third, you'll remember that the Saints are no longer just a street gang, they're international stars, complete with their own energy drink and fashion line. Here, they go a step even further and have gone judicial; the leader of the Saints is now the President of the United States.
"...making the city a ton of fun to explore."
It's an interesting twist that the developers have fun playing with, especially early in the game (you're given the time to make one major discovery - do you cure cancer or end world hunger?), but it also seems like it's an idea that isn't given proper time to build since the game rushes to the major event that sparks most of the game's story so quickly. Spoilers aside, not too long into your term, the world is attacked by a hostile alien race and imprisons you into a virtual world meant to signify your doom. The world looks an awful lot like Steelport, but that's okay since the draw distances and world are so vivid and lifelike, making the city a ton of fun to explore.
The core gameplay of Saints Row IV remains untouched from previous games but it's when the idea of superpowers gets introduced that the game really starts to from an identity all its own. Shortly after arriving in the alien created computer simulation, Kinzie, your faithful press secretary begins to crack the world's code and gives you super-hero like abilities. Super jump and super speed, the first two powers you get, are perhaps the most fun as it gives you a new way to explore an open world city. Interestingly enough while playing around with the superpowers I almost forgot I was playing a Saints Row game at all, and found myself remembering how fun the original Crackdown was and how forgettable sequel should have been developed by Volition and Deep Silver. It's funny, there are even orb like objects to collect throughout the world just like Crackdown.
You'll get other powers, like a freeze blast and a super shield along the way, and they're all completely upgradable, so by the time you finish Saints Row IV's massive campaign, you should have a massively powerful character that can bring down space-ships and leap over even the tallest buildings. Even with all of these new gameplay features, Volition and Deep Silver never lose sight of just what brings Saints Row fans back every iteration - being let loose in a world and being encouraged to cause as much mayhem as possible (the game tells you to do this multiple times through the game). One gripe though - and it's a minor one, the city of Steelport doesn't feel as alive as some of the other worlds you're able to explore in similar games and rather than going on around you, it seems like it goes on because of you. Again, the developers have smartly written this into the script and turned one of their biggest flaws into a major win.
"Nearly everything in Saints Row IV is customizable."
Nearly everything in Saints Row IV is customizable. Want a polka-dot skin on your assault riffle? Go for it. Want your station wagon to have rims? It's your choice. The most impressive customization feature is with your character as all features are gender-free, so if you want a 300 LB guy with a mullet wearing a bikini you can, or a woman with facial hair and a man's voice. There's even a voice option for Nolan North, the voice of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series and just about half of all of the other male roles in gaming.
Most charming about Saints Row IV is how it still hasn't let-up from it's unapologetically sophomoric brand of humor. The game does a great job in going there without seemingly like it's trying too hard to go there. Entire sections of the game are built on jokes that just keep building and getting more absurd and you won't be able to help but giggle as you're running down aliens and in the process, furries and people in dominatrix costumes. It's fun to explore the world and just see the in-jokes the development team has placed throughout the world.
If you've only played the first few Saints Row games, the fourth will feel like a completely new and different game. It's shades of Crackdown, Independence Day and of course, the humor that makes Saints Row IV so enjoyable. The engine is starting to show its age and there's a number of strange animations throughout the game but Saints Row IV is fun in the most unapologetic way, and something everyone (or at least everyone with a sense of humor) should experience.
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