The Saints Row series started off as a grounded, gang-based, open world adventure. Players had to work their way up the ranks of the Third Street Saints. Saints Row 2 exploded on to our consoles with a much more slapstick and outrageous approach to gang warfare. This is where the franchise would start its journey into the realm of totally insane, but fun, open world carnage. Saints Row The Third, again kicked it up a notch. Dildo bats, VTOL’s and crazy costumes filled the game world. Gang warfare was still a major part of the game, it was just buried under the pimp jackets and psychotic gameshows. After finishing Saints Row The Third, where do you go from there? What could Volition come up with next? Saints Row IV is what we got, another glorious open world action adventure, but this time with super powers!
The game opens with the Saints in the Whitehouse, and yes – you are the President. The Saints have gone from gang-bangers, to media moguls, right up to the most powerful office in the world – and you’re in charge. Unfortunately, your time as President is short lived. Within the first few minutes, aliens attack and kidnap most of the Saints crew, Keith David included. The bombastic opening has you shooting through the Whitehouse while beams of light suck up your homies. Once outside, you see the full effect of the alien invasion. Now we get to shoot UFOs out of the sky with a huge cannon on the Whitehouse lawn. This is also our first meeting with the big baddie.
Alien warlord Zinyak, is a well spoken and articulate villain, he has some fantastic dialogue. Zinyak is an incredibly well put together character. His love of English Literature and banter with the player is a real highlight. It’s a great introduction for a game.
Once in the open game world, things become even more crazy and ridiculous. You’re in a virtual version of Steelport. The aliens have trapped the entire planet in a Matrix like simulation and you, like Neo, are ‘the One’. Super sprint and the ability to leap massive distances are your first super powers. These abilities change the dynamics of the game almost completely. Cars and bikes are no longer the preferred mode of transport, well they could be, but they’re simply not as fun as throwing yourself around the map at super speed.
The Saint’s Row series has always had some of the most interesting and fun missions and the virtual Steelport has turned the dial to ‘absolutely bonkers’ levels. The main missions have you fighting each of your crew’s nightmare scenario. These are some of the most bizarre and hilarious missions in the game. With out spoiling anything , you’ll meet some old friends, well you’ll kill some old friends, fight a skyscraper sized monster and delve into some brilliantly referenced classic movie scenes.
The side missions are a varied mix of twists on previous game’s side missions and some based on the screwed up simulation. Insurance fraud with broken physics is a memorable, hilarious highlight. In previous Saints titles, the player was bounced around between cars and street lamps. With Saints Row IV, the player is catapulted across the city, arms flailing around, you can literally bounce yourself around the entire map. It’s brilliant fun.
Other activities have you manning a huge set of power armour (sorry robot), ‘Mayhem’ missions have you using your new offensive powers. These include shooting balls of fire or ice at hordes of cartoon animals or strippers and a ground stomp that, once fully leveled up, will send anybody in your vicinity flying into the sky. Road races are now done on foot thanks to your Flash-like speed. The range of your super powers is ever expanding so you’re always playing with something new. Each mission and activity also gives you a useful upgrade or new weapon. Making them more worth while than most open world side missions.
With all these new powers you maybe think that Volition have neglected the standard weaponry. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. We have the usual set of pistols, machine guns, assault rifles and rocket launchers. These all do what you would expect. Each of these weapons can be upgraded like in previous games but this time you can change the look and feel of each gun. Most of the weapons have some movie or sci-fi variation. The rapid fire pistol can be made to look like a certain space cowboy’s side arm, shotguns can be turned into steampunk variants and you can pack a guitar case bazooka.
The gunplay hasn’t changed much since Saints Row the Third but it’s competent and gets the job done. Where the guns get really interesting is when you get access to some of the alien technology. The ‘Blackhole cannon’ shoots blobs of gravity defying death, while the ‘Dub-step gun’, well, that’s quite simply brilliant. Pull the trigger and watch as everything in sight, including cars, starts to pop and lock to death. With the super powers, awesome standard guns and the alien tech weapons, the hardest decision is what to use – and that’s hardly a bad thing.
Graphically, not much has changed, that’s not to say the game look bad, far from it. Darting through the city at stupid speeds, multiple explosions and screen filling enemies cause little slow down and everything looks good. The city is almost always in darkness allowing for some atmospheric neon lighting effects. Explosions and the effects of your super powers look great, especially when it all happens a once.
There’s some amazing choices of songs throughout the campaign missions. These range from early 90’s dance classics to 70’s rock and roll -but they fit the mood of each of their respective missions. Character dialogue is more of the typical Saints banter. The conversations are tongue in cheek, overly aggressive or down right stupid. We even get Nolan North as a voice option, though he’s aware that’s he’s a character which adds some comical ‘fourth wall’ breaking.
Homies and gang abilities are still present, but you’ll have little need for them with your new powers. The same can be said for the car customisation. It’s great that they have put it in, but I only ever used the vehicles when I was required to. When you can run faster than any car in the game, why would you drive?
Volition have filled the game world with a wealth of content and seem to have taken the series in a new direction and it’s a good direction. The script is the best yet for a Saints game. Especially Zinyak and your encounters with him. The humour has taken a much smarter and more sci-fi based approach, which fits well with the new adventures of the Saints. As a wealth of open world games take an all-too-serious and realistic approach, it’s a breath of fresh air. With DLC set to expand and enhance the game world, I can’t wait to see what they’ll introduce next!
Saints Row IV will be released on Xbox 360 and PS3 on August 23rd, 2013.