It’s fair to say that the Saints Row story is a tale of a franchise copycat that went on to create it’s own identity. From its obvious GTA roots of open world, sand box comedic violence, Saints Row has grown an identity that separates itself so far enough in another direction that you’d be hard pushed to challenge its originality in a lot of areas.
Saints Row The Third was a massive leap for Volition in terms of the franchises direction and it’s over the top antics set itself up to stand tall during a lean GTA period. Cementing itself as a force to be reckoned with,and although not really a challenger to Rockstar behemoth’s Saints Row The Third proved its AAA potential to storm the charts and make a tank load of cash which was too late to help THQ turn its fortune around.
So with Deep Silver picking up Volition and the Saints Row franchise, talk has turned to this title, Saints Row IV and a title that is steeped in controversy as well as being completely bat shit crazy. Saints Row IV has taken the franchise by the bollocks and giving them a really big squeeze amping everything up to 11. Third Street Saints taking up residency in the White House as your character sits in the Presidential seat, Alien invaders, an alternate vision of Steelport and super powers all play a huge part in game and although some may feel that this is crazy taken to a new level and perhaps a step too far I can assure you that the narrative melds all of the above together perfectly. It may be far fetched but that’s where Saints Row has earned its stripes and plays to its strengths perfectly even though it’s now using features from another title, Crackdown 2 and we’ll come back to that later.
From the opening sequence Saints Row IV pulls both triggers rattling off line after line of well crafted dialogue, splicing cut scenes with brief gameplay moments in an hour or so of complete crazy that introduces you to the new world. There’s a lot going on but people who played Saints Row The Third will find instant familiarity in the cut scenes and how you get to Steelport although the way the story is told is remarkably different.
Volition’s recreation of Steelport in the 50′s as well as dropping you into a virtual reality Steelport, where you’ll spend most of the game, offer fresh perspectives of a familiar playground translated into virtual dystopias where a lot of new features and function are available as well as a few things also being taken away to cater for this functionality.
In the first hour or two of playing Saints Row IV I was worried that this will be a futuristic rip of Saints Row The Third but once the story progresses and super powers are introduced the playground in which you’ve spent a whole lot of time in before suddenly becomes a whole lot bigger and more interactive. Super Powers are gained by collecting data clusters which you can use to upgrade or add a power to or if you will orbs from Crackdown (see where this is going?). Super Jumping, Speed Running, Telekinesis as well as elemental powers to name a few all create new ways to approach the virtual city your locked into taking to Steelport vertically as well as horizontally, opening up the playground in a completely different way.
One of the new additions to the activity roster is a challenging climb to the top of a tower – similar to Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoints or Far Cry 3’s radio towers. While one might not immediately associate a game like Saints Row, the new powers of super-speed and (almost) flight make it a less jarring addition than you might expect. Jumping and wall-running your way to the top of these structures is not only satisfying and fun, but also helps you take over more of the city and upgrade your superpowers so you can jump higher, run faster, and nut-punch aliens further into space.
Customisation and map control again play a massive part in Saints Row IV but with big differences in how you approach them. Bring in virtual you, that’s not a problem, upgrade and customise your weapon, face, clothing, voice, looks … not a problem either but customising your crib this time around? I’m afraid that’s not gonna happen because in this simulation your cribs are no more. Instead you have to teleport back to a spaceship to access your stuff. Weapons will also have a familiarity to them and as well as having the usual arsenal there are the alien counterparts to also consider, each having a unique character and feel to them, some serious, some hilarious and all fully customisable.
As there are no gangs to go up against this time around apart from the aliens controlling the simulation, gaining access to safehouses, shops and the like are now done via a mini game where you hack into each property rather than pay for it. A simple puzzle against the clock will enable you to unlock more territory and with it more cache (get it!). In fact mini games, territory control that gives a nod to Crackdown 2 by tasking you with taking out the generator to get to the main power station and side quests all have a familiar feel to them although utilised in a completely different way and on occasion a lot harder to complete. Genki makes a return with his new gameshow where you use telekineses to throw cars and objects through rings to score points. Favourites like Mayhem also have a sci fi twist put on them as you earn cash and experience by sitting in the cockpit of a UFOs and Mechs to do your damage.
The fact that Saints Row IV takes place almost entirely within a computer simulation allows players to take advantage of some shortcuts that will undoubtedly make their lives easier – the most notable of which is the ability to instantly save any vehicle you’re in for later use. Instead of sneaking into a military base, hijacking a tank, and racking up millions in property damage while you transport it back to your hideout; you can now hop in the driver’s seat and “upload” the vehicle to your virtual garage, then “download” it later to wherever you happen to be on the map. It’s a handy feature that will truly allow players to get the most out of their time in Steelport 2.0. Similar to the ability to download cars, the fact that your character exists within a computer program means that the radio stations that play in your car doesn’t have to stay in your car. It actually harkens back to a mechanic found in the original Saints Row, where you had an MP3 player that let the music keep playing after you’d exited your vehicle which is a big brucey bonus.
While entries in the series included collectible items, there is a much greater (and necessary) focus on it in Saints Row IV. Instead of finding stashes of drugs or laundered money in exchange for quick cash, collectibles now range from data clusters that will upgrade your superpowers to BioShock-esque audio logs that give you a deeper look into the universe that Volition has created within the game. With over 1,200 items to find, players can expect to spend as much time collecting items as they will killing aliens.
Although I haven’t had much time with the co-op there seems to be no end to do again, from specific co-op missions found within simulated Steelport to free roaming and just going plain crazy, there’s plenty to do which will engage you for and a friend for a very long time.
Overall, Saints Row IV feels right on the money. Yes, it feels the same in many ways, yes it borrows ideas from a few games and yes, there are frame rate drops when things get too crazy but you know what? It’s all good, all fun and everything that makes Saints Row stand tall. The voice acting is superb, the narrative is nuts but works, the nods to different games and familiarity to Saints Row The Third are so well written into the game that Saints Row IV gives it a freshness that you just can’t complain about.
Say yes to crazy? Absofuckinglutely!
Saints Row IV can be pre ordered from our prefer retail partner www.thatgameshop.com where you’ll receive a signed copy by the voice of Pierce Washington, Mr Arif S Kinchen.
If you want to hear what Arif had to say about the game you can see our interview with him here.
Be sure to also check our youtube channel for a Let’s Play series of Saints Row IV.