Developer: Volition, High Voltage Software (Ps4 and XBO port)
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on both the PC and the PlayStation 4. There were no noticeable differences between versions. The screenshots and video are from the PlayStation 4 version.
Saints Row has had a wild ride. The first game was a pretty blatant Grand Theft Auto clone that managed to get popular by beating Grand Theft Auto IV to release. Saints Row 2 followed up by being a genuinely good game, and then Saints Row: The Third went and made everything insane. In a good way of course. Saints Row IV now has to follow up that act and it does so by being the Crackdown sequel we never got.
After stopping STAG leader Cyrus Temple from nuking Washington D.C., The Boss finds himself (or herself, thanks to the game’s in depth character creator) elected as the President of the United States. Yet his term is cut short when the alien Zin Empire, led by Zinyak, captures The Boss and the majority of his crew and traps them in a simulation of Steelport. Now its up to them to break out and save Earth, or at least be enough of a nuisance to Zinyak in the process. Saints Row IV’s story felt like an improvement over The Third’s story to me. It manages to keep the tone silly enough that it can fit in a bunch of absurd humor, while managing to be serious enough to make each character interesting. New characters, like MI-6 agent Asha and the robotic CID offer some new and interesting dynamics for the team. Not all the characters from The Third return (I seriously miss Zimos) but those that do also add a ton to the game. Pierce and Kinzie are my personal favorites, and finally seeing the return of King was a great throwback to fans of the original Saints Row.
At first Saints Row IV plays like your typical open world third person shooter, but it isn’t long before it throws superpowers into the mix. While you only start with super speed and jumps, eventually you’ll be throwing balls of ice, using telekinetic to toss cars, sending out shockwaves by stomping the ground, and even creating nuclear explosions. Like I mentioned before it almost makes Saints Row IV feel like a missing entry in the Crackdown series, and that’s not really a bad thing. It’s not perfect, not being able to shoot while jumping felt unnecessarily awkward, but by the end of the game I was more than used to the controls. It was kind of funny to me how long time Saints Row elements like driving were now completely useless as I used super speed to get everywhere, and I imagine it’ll make past Saints Row games difficult to go to. As you use your powers to explore the environment you’ll come across ‘data clusters’. Similar to the agility orbs from Crackdown, you can collect and spend the data clusters to upgrade your powers.
Besides collecting data clusters, you can also participate in both activities and targets around the game world. The activities are much as you remember them from past games. Mayhem requires you to cause enough monetary value in damage in a time period. Sometimes you’ll have a tank or mech suit, sometimes it’s just you and a big gun. Insurance Fraud has you racking up money by throwing yourself in front of cars (to hilarious effect) while Blazin’ has you running races with your super speed. The newest activities take place inside of “rifts” and has you testing your ability to platform and throw objects with precision telekinetic. To my surprise there were no real losers among the activities. Targets were a little different, taking place in the actual game world itself without you having to access anything. These range from killing specific super-powered enemies, wiping out small groups of Zin soldiers, or climbing large towers. Nothing that took more than a few minutes, and enough to make it feel like I was doing something. You can also hack stores using the ever so popular “connect these different pipes from the start to the end” mini game. Hacking stores gives you discounts, but I rather spend my money on character upgrades instead of clothes so it never really felt necessary. There’s enough here that the game lasted me nearly 25 hours, which I found to be a good amount.
Yet the side activities are just that: side activities. The real meat of the game comes from the story missions, and oh was I highly entertained with these. One of the best parts of Saints Row IV is how it always feels like it’s trying to change things up. No mission feels like any other, and each mission has its own unique elements. One mission starts off as a twin stick shooter with a top down view, halfway through becomes a motorcycle race, before finally ending with a text adventure to save a crew member. Another mission is nothing but a 2d sidescrolling beat ’em up. One even included a boss fight against a former Saints Row character, constantly replicating himself so you have to fight more and more, all of it hilariously set to Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain. It’s a pretty well made set of missions and I always found myself excited to see what curve ball the game would throw at me next. There are a few low points, nearly every boss fight is just “hit it with bigger weapons until dead” and the button tapping mini-game for killing the beastly Wardens gets old fast, but overall it’s a very well built campaign that should be the highlight of the game by far.
Saints Row IV can also be played co-op with a buddy. You can go through the entire campaign with a friend, or just wander around and mess with the open world. While there’s no real competitive multiplayer, there are a couple of activities that you can only play when you have a buddy around. Cat & Mouse has one player as the “cat” and he tries to kill the other player who’s the “mouse” who needs to run a race while avoiding the other player. The other mode, called Death Tag, is basically just a deathmatch between the two players. Both modes could probably have been fun with a group of players, but Saints Row IV only limits it to two for some reason. As it stands the co-op is at least fun enough that I don’t miss real competitive that often, but there are times I wish it was around.
Saints Row IV manages to successfully take the Saints Row formula and somehow make it just a little more insane. Yet despite this they also added in a good chunk of content that successfully changes how Saints Row plays and manages to make it a more entertaining game for it. I think this is the best Saints Row has ever been, and at the end of the game I couldn’t wait to see where the Saints are going next.