Saints Row IV - Review
Superpowers, guns, being president of the United States, having Keith David as your homie; if there's when thing that Saints Row IV understands it's that feeling powerful is at the heart of the open-world sandbox game, and developers Volition exploit this idea to the fullest.
Following on from the comical antics of Saints Row: The Third, this latest instalment sharpens that scattered humour into a full-on parody of video games, not to mention making fun of The Matrix while it's at it. The game's ridiculous alien invasion plot, as Earth is attacked by an army of Zin led by their charismatic leader, Zinyak, who traps the Saints in a virtual-reality world has freed the developers to literally come up with anything they wanted and then let the player loose to wreak havoc.
While the earlier games were more or less Grand Theft Auto clones, Saints Row IV manages to also "borrow" from several other sources, most notably Prototype. The addition of super powers, which includes the ability to freeze enemies as well as zip around the virtual world like The Flash, allows for much easier level traversal. This is a good thing too, since the driving mechanics are awful, cars manoeuvre terribly and making it around multiple corners without crashing is an achievement. Fortunately, Volition seem to have understood this though and don't force you into a vehicle for most of the main campaign.
Alongside the main story is the usually bevy of side missions, not to mention races, combat challenges, and various mini-games that encourage you to try out your array of special powers. Furthermore, hacking shops and destroying alien inhabited zones will slowly remove their control from the map and will become Saint-occupied territory. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before but the amount of content available avoids things from becoming too stale. Amongst the various activities there are a few bad eggs however, such as having to cause millions of dollars worth of damage by throwing giant balls with your telekinesis ability, which gets old really fast.
The most disappointing missions are those doled out by your crew. Rather than being original quests they simply involve performing a set number of challenges and feel like a result of quantity over quality on behalf of the developers. It's a shame too, because the Mass Effect-style loyalty missions that you can undertake with each member of your team allows for some more comedy, which, ultimately, is what makes Saints Row IV enjoyable.
The game's script and voice acting is surprisingly sharp as well. There's something bordering on the surreal with some of game's encounters, such as when you're tasked with rescuing a member of your gang from an army of "Saints Flow" drink cans, or when you're temporarily transformed into a toilet armed with a gun. It's not all top-notch writing material but the constant jokes poking fun at video game clichés, or an entire level parodying Metal Gear Solid, can't help but raise a smile.
Customization is also high on Volition agenda. As always you're free to make your character look however you wish using the surprisingly powerful creation tools, enabling you to fulfil that secret desire you've always had to play as a super powered obese eighty year old voiced by Nolan North. Cars, guns, and members of your gang can also be tweaked and altered to your heart's content, ensuring that your obese eighty year old can go into battle with an army of gimps at his side if you so choose.
Of course, with so much stuff going on, something had to give and that's the actual missions themselves. Objectives can be divided up into "go there" or "blow stuff up". About two thirds of the way through the main campaign things seems to devolve into constant "defend X for three minutes scenarios" which contradict the game's emphasis on freedom. Saints Row IV is best when you're able to do what you want jumping around flinging volleys of lightning at people and blowing up cars with a barrage of gunfire, when it funnels you into a small corner of the map and tasks you with restraining yourself, the result isn't all that pretty, and the game's messy design becomes more apparent.
Similarly, the game suffers from a lack of enemies, the game's mini-boss is repeated no less than four times in the game, (more if you complete certain side quests), and can be taken down with the same tactics each time. For all the creativity and customization Volition provide the player it's disappointing some of that couldn't also have been lavished on the game's adversaries.
Saints Row IV, is both shallow and at the same time incredibly broad. Purely as a sandbox, few games come close to beating it. Despite being rough around the edges, it arguably beats Grand Theft Auto V in this regard, with its willingness to simply let you mess around with its world in so many ways. This fourth instalment leaves the series in a very different place than when it started out, but, with humour now its top priority, Volition have certainly carved out their own little niche going into the next generation.
Saints Row IV was released, in the UK, on August 23rd for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.