The Saints Row series has won the hearts of many gamers over years. The series’ first hit the shelves in 2006 for the Xbox 360 and since then has become a best-selling video game franchise, selling over eleven million units as of April 2013. In the past seven years the Saints have evolved into something quite spectacular. Since their humble beginning in Stillwater the Saints have shot, pimped, and franchised their way up the ladder, moving from running Stillwater to becoming a worldwide crime group located in the city of Steelport, then to pop icons and now to President of the United States of America. Fan expectations are high for Saints Row IV, a game in which you play a renowned criminal and the President of the USA (No comment…), it’s a tall order to live up to. So does Saints Row IV hit all the right buttons? Yes, it hits them hard, very hard.
The game starts a little after the events of Saints Row: The Third, the player is hastily thrown into action controlling the Boss of the Saints (as is standard for the Saints Row games) who, along with Shaundi and Pierce is assisting MI-6 agent Asha Odekar and Matt Miller (who players will recognise as the former Deckers leader from Saints Row: The Third). The mission is to infiltrate a Middle Eastern compound in order to find and assassinate Cyrus Temple (again, people familiar with Saints Row: The Third will recognise him as the former lead of STAG) who plans to kill the Saints and destroy Washington D.C with a nuclear missile. The Boss kills Cyrus, but alas before his death he launches the missile heading straight to Washington. Naturally the Boss climbs aboard the missile and begins to disarm the nuke before it reaches Washington, all of this taking place whilst your homies are saying their last emotional goodbyes and Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ is playing. Would you really expect any less from the Saints Row series? No? Good, because there’s more.
Five years after these events the Boss has been elected President of the US as a result of gaining the adoration of the nation after saving Washington. So, you’re the president of the US and the Saints make up the majority as cabinet, you have renamed the White House to the much more classy ‘White Crib’, in addition to making the one and only Keith David your Vice President. All seems rather cushy for the Saints until Asha and Matt inform you that they suspect an alien invasion to happen soon. As they are explaining the situation, the Invasion begins by aliens named Zin’s and their leader Zinyak. Zinyak captures the best and the brightest, including the Boss and the majority of the saints and traps them all inside a digital world, specifically a simulation of Steelport. It is here that the Boss must work with Kinzie to free everyone from the simulation and seek revenge by overthrowing Zinyak.
The majority of the game is set in the simulation of Steelport in which there are not-so-subtle differences that set aside the simulation from the real thing. The city is darker visually, there are unusual alien buildings here and there and road signs and advertisements been replaced with Zin messages and propaganda. For example, road signs often state messages such as ‘OBEY US’ and famous human propaganda had been edited to suit the Zin, for example Rosie the Riveter posters are edited to have Zinyak’s face. Apart from this there is little advancement and difference in terms of the world, Steelport is exactly the same as it is in Saints Row: The Third, which is a little disappointing. Throughout your time spent in simulated Steelport you discover that those trapped there are in fact trapped in simulations based on their own fears courtesy of Zinyak. Shaundi is stuck living with her past self and Pierce is becoming attacked by the Saints own intellectual property and branded products. If you have been playing the Saints Row games since their release you will find the simulated personal hells interesting as it offers insight and a great element of depth to a lot of characters that have followed the Boss throughout the series. I won’t spoil the rest as it makes for hilarious and great story telling, however the plot is fairly predictable which is unusual for such an abstract game (though I don’t think that can be a complaint since a character in the game states ‘Though video games aren’t exactly renowned for their storytelling‘), however the ending is fantastic and hits you in a great way – Saints Row IV is certainly a game worth playing through to the end.
Most of your saintly homies are with you to help you overcome the Zin, some of your old homies from previous games (I won’t spoil it, but you will figure it out before it happens) make an appearance, in addition to some of your old foes due to Zinyak placing them in the simulation after gaining information from someone’s memory. There has always been great fun to be had in Saints Row games from interacting with your homies, all of whom are filled with character and (some) charisma. Interacting with homies in previous games mainly took place within missions/side quests, this still holds true for Saints Row IV, however extra measures have been taken to really help the player understand their homies further if they wish. For example, audio-logs are scattered throughout virtual Steelport for the player to collect if they wish. Each audio-log plays thoughts belonging to your homies (plus a few rivals), revealing more about their past and their thoughts on other members of the Saints. The Boss can also opt to ‘romance’ or seduce other members of the saints which results in some great cuts scenes. Nothing explicit, but certainly humorous and worth trying out (Why wouldn’t you?! Especially Kinzie…ah, Kinzie). All of this extra interaction and information revealed about characters adds a lot of depth to the world of Saints Row. Members of the Saints have always being very aloof and very strong characters, hearing audio-logs of their opinions and pasts certainly grounds them and makes them seem a little more human.
A review of a Saints Row game would not be complete without a mention of the infamous ever-fun character customisation. Volition (developers) have certainly tried their best to give players the tools to create the most realistic character or unbelievable creature that their hearts desire. From the standard customisation options such as sex, age, race, skin colour, to the more intricate details such as how far apart one’s eyes are, the depth and width of ones brow, jaw, skull…general face area. Not to mention the vast array of hair style and clothing available, many of which reference popular culture, so there is plenty to sink your teeth into. Even better, no choices you make (bar the voice of your character which naturally alters your characters dialogue) effect story or game play. Be president; romance whoever you want, as whoever you want, just as it should be.
Gameplay is great fun in Saints Row IV and this is due to one large key element of the gameplay – the addition of super powers. You heard! In the simulation the Boss is able to earn super powers, which can be used for both exploration and offence. The two main super powers are super speed and high jumps, which can then be upgraded to running up walls (though you do have a limit bar meaning you can’t just abuse the super powers). Offensive super powers that can assist you in battle range from freezing enemies to telekinesis, pair these powers up with the lovely amount of guns (both man and alien-made) and fights seldom get boring in Saints Row IV. It’s definitely an improvement from Saints Row: The Third. In order to upgrade your super powers, such as the wall-running upgrade I mentioned earlier, the player must explore the Steelport simulation and find data clusters. Data clusters are mainly found on top of roofs rather than hidden in locations on the ground, this was a great idea on Volition’s part as in order to upgrade your super powers you must learn to be good at using them, meaning you get a lot of practice using your super powers before you can upgrade them. Plus the powers are incredibly fun to use in general, it’s nice to take a break from the missions in order to partake in some extreme parkour. The given controls for using super powers are easy enough, however if they aren’t to your liking you can alter the key inputs to whatever suits you.
The super power aspect of the game brings with it both pros and cons. Let’s get the cons out of the way. Firstly, giving the player access to super powers right at the start of the game might not have been the greatest idea, as later in the game the player is often stripped of their powers for one reason or another. This is because having super powers all the time would make the game a lot easier, that much is obvious, however this does mean that fights/missions in which the player has their super powers taken away from them can feel dull in comparison. Secondly, having the ability to run and jump through the city at high speeds makes stealing and using vehicles seem completely redundant, even boring at times. Again there are missions in whom you are forced to use a vehicle which is boring in comparison to running up sky scrapers and super jumping to your target location. It makes sense that some missions need vehicles as your homies do not have super powers but they still need to travel with you, however this doesn’t make it less mediocre. Those are the cons, but they pale in comparison to the pros. It’s important to say at the point that Saints Row IV is not a superhero game, it’s a game that has elements typical to the superhero genre within it, and yet it has got to be one of the best ‘super hero games’ that have been released in the past few years. Super hero games are a weird sub-genre that the industry often struggles with. In recent years we’ve had the Arkham series to refer to when people ask for a good superhero game. Well now when people or developers want to look at how to make a good superhero game we can point them in the direction of both the Arkham series and Saints Row IV. Arkham shows us how to make a comic look good in game form and Saints Row IV is the most fun you will have with super powers. Saints Row IV is free roaming and super powers at their best. The super powers don’t make you overpowered due to the limitations, and because of the large area to explore it means that they are not just a novelty, they are a vehicle for exploration.
Moving on from super powers swiftly to the weapon selection, Saints Row: The Third gave us just a taste of the insane and obscure weapons the Saints have up their sleeves. Saints Row IV is ready to help you hit hard with various offensive melee weapons such as the Tentacle Bat, the Rectifier Probe and of course the classic Dildo Bat. The guns are not particularly obscure but they are indeed creative, after all an alien invasion is the perfect excuse to use and abuse alien technology. Key additions to the Saints weapons inventory include the Inflato-Ray (guess what that does), the Bounce Rifle, the Disintegrator, the Black Hole Launcher and finally the Dubstep Gun, which lives up to its name. The Dupstep Gun, as well as been a fun novelty, is very useful for destroying ships and robots! Efficient and fun.
There is a generous amount of quests available assuring that players get the maximum amount bang for their buck in Saints Row IV. The main story consists of twenty one primary quests (some of which have more than one part), there are also a total of thirty six side-quests and seven loyalty quests (quests which involve you helping a specific homie). The missions are rather varied and don’t become boring which is always a plus. I finished the main story on the easiest setting which took me about ten hours and a half, but with all the extra side-quests and if you want to 100% the game I imagine that would take around thirty hours. For those of you who like a good challenge there is a medium and hard difficulty for you to test your skills and patience. The loyalty missions are particularly fun as it allows players to learn more about their homies and there is a LOT of humour within them, in particular Matt Miller’s and Shaundi’s (spoilers ahead!). Matt Miller’s loyalty mission requires the Boss to fight with Matt and Nyte Blayde in a simulation which Matt originally created for Asha, who rejected the simulation describing it as a ‘Paranormal bromance’. For those unfamiliar with Nyte Blayde, it is a popular comic book and television series based around Nyte Blayde, a vampire hunter. Matt is unapologetically obsessed with the character which results in much mocking from the Boss – ‘It’s an allegory for man’s inhumanity to man.’ ‘It’s a shitty Vampire show.‘ The Boss realises that he/she is assisting Matt in a fanfic he wrote about Nyte Blayde and continues to judge and ridicule his story telling abilities. ‘An attack en route to the main villain. Great story telling Matthew. Bravo.‘
Players are unable to replay missions which a lot of people will understandably be displeased to hear, especially since in order to get all of the achievements players must pick all multiple choices. This means players will either have to play through the game twice or they will have to save the game right before a multiple choice, assuming they know that one is coming up. This is going to be particularly annoying if you either forget to save or you rely on auto-save. After having a snoop around forums to check players opinions of this it is clear that some people found this very frustrating which is understandable. Having to re-play the game just to see what happens (or get an achievement) if you pick a difference choice, especially when it does not really effect gameplay, is very annoying.
One thing that’s worth a mention about the game that isn’t so obvious when playing it due to the constant action is the choice of music. The soundtrack to Saints Row IV is packed with classic after classic – Aerosmith, Biz Markie, Cyprus Hill, Haddaway and strangely enough Paula Abdul which makes for a great sing along with Pierce later in the game. The choice of music for the game has been well executed. The majority of tracks are filled with style (okay, maybe not Saftey Dance), attitude and an abundance of energy, the perfect mix for a game like Saints Row IV.
One of the most appealing aspects of Saints Row games has always been the satire, the references, the homages, and just generally poking fun at other video games. It must be said though that sometimes Saints Row IV really misses the mark in regards to parodying other games. One particular example that sticks out is a Metal Gear Solid level in which the player must hide in boxes and sneak up on enemies to kill them. This is fun, there’s no doubt about that, but if this part of the game was meant to be a parody then it doesn’t work. There are lines such as ‘Yeah baby! This Snake is a hundred percent solid!‘ that suggest it’s supposed to parody, but it doesn’t, it just copies. It’s a reference or a very light hearted homage rather than a parody. Still, if you’re familiar with Metal Gear Solid it’s enough to put a smile on your face. There is something for everybody in Saints Row IV, references reach much further than just video games, popular culture in general is laced throughout the game. For example there are Matrix, Godzilla and Tron inspired events and areas as well as throwbacks to genres like text-based adventure games and old-school beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage. The Streets of Rage section of Saints Row IV, naturally called Saints of Rage, was definitely one of the nicest surprises the game has to offer. Fans of the Saints and retro beat ‘em ups such as Streets of Rage, X-Men, even TMNT: Turtles in Time will get a kick out of it. There is plenty of humour to be found within the throwback and references too. The text-based adventure game is absurd, here is a quote – ‘‘Your mom’s a slave.’ The dominatrix bursts into tears. ‘Why are you so mean?” – But it would be great fun even if it stood alone as a mini-game. Outside of games, films, and so on, as was the case in Saints Row: The Third and Burt Reynolds, Saints Row IV contains its own selection of real people in the game, namely Keith David and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper.
On the surface Saints Row IV is an action packed game with a very simple plot used as a vehicle for complete and utter madness, and above all, fun. However, once you get under the surface of it it’s a little difficult to not look at the interesting social commentary this game offers at times. The Saints have evolved from street gangs to pop icons, to president of the USA, and it takes its toll on your homies at times. For example, in Pierce’s personal hell simulation he is attacked by the Saints own intellectual proper/branded products, in the form of a giant Saints Flow monster no less. Pierce has always been the front man or poster boy for the Saints and it comes back to bite him, perhaps this is some kind of comment on paparazzi, or about Capitalism. After all, this part of the game shows a Godzilla sized monster destroying you and ripping apart buildings. What did the original Godzilla attack on Tokyo exemplify? Nuclear attacks on Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is all just speculation of course and I won’t delve into it further, after all you came here for a review not an in-depth analysis. This is just food for thought and something to consider when playing the game. If you play it and think I am talking rubbish, come back and leave a comment.
So, how do you conclude a game like Saints Row IV? Who knows, there are so many levels to it – it’s mad, it’s fun, it’s freedom, it’s a great example of how to execute super powers in a game. It’s a crude soup full of sex jokes, swearing, dildo bats, gang violence, just general violence, with a side of great gameplay, action, and an interesting twist at the end leaving you somewhat perplexed, amused and curious for more. Yet with this apparently humorous and not-serious game there is a great element of depth to it, in Saints Row IV players are given the opportunity to understand and get to know their homies more be they past or present. There is a little something for everyone in this game. There will be a certain moment or two where you will crack a smile or even laugh out loud due to the genuinely funny dialogue (the writers and voice actors did an amazing job). Saints Row IV is currently available for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC so no matter what your preference Volition are here to satisfy the Saint in all of us, go and do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It is no doubt one of the best games of the year so far.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.