The original Saints Row may be criticized for launching ahead of GTA IV to capitalize on such anticipation – and it worked, it was a good, enjoyable experience. We’ll leave those comparisons there, as history looks set to repeat itself – only this time – this is a very different Saints Row. As it has proven its worth with further iterations, with co-op play introduced, and a focus on fun over story, Saints Row IV ups-the-ante that bit more. The series has long poked fun at other forms of entertainment, whether it be popular games, films etc. – though the whole basis of Saints Row IV takes such tongue-in-cheek humour, and more vitally – nostalgia, and applies it so deceptively well that it’s just shockingly good fun.
Saints Row games have long proven to be entertaining affairs, although their story-telling aspects always failed to grab my attention in past games – however, Saints Row IV’s opening moments and the first solid hour of gameplay – it had me hooked from start to finish. For the first time in a Saints Row game I was actually interested to see where the story went next, what nostalgia trip it would take me down; would it continue to have me grinning from ear-to-ear, or wiping away tears of laughter.
The story is – while expectedly still very much silly, more importantly it’s actually demanding of your attention, and by no means an afterthought. The story-telling and gameplay very much works well together, which was something I was not anticipating from this fourth outing.
The basic plot has you filling the shoes as President of the United States, with your familiar Third Street Saints posse still in tow; and it all quickly turns sour, or I should say, rather interesting – as aliens invade, and their leader, Zinyak, soon makes an impression as a deadly force to be reckoned with.
There are plenty of references early-on that I think are best left unspoiled that relate to both the story-telling and much more eloquently how both nostalgia and classic gameplay go hand-in-hand to re-create some memorable moments from gaming’s past – and I’ll just leave it at that, last minute thing to add; you also now have super-powers!
Much of Saints Row’s tried and tested gameplay mechanics remain, it’s just now supercharged – it feels like a mash-up of both CrackDown (especially in regards to addictive collectible hunting) and inFamous rolled into one, that’s as far as both traversal and super-powers are concerned. After some time invested, and new powers acquired, you come to the realisation that you can actually run faster than all the vehicles in the game; running is not only the fastest way to travel, but it’s also much more hassle-free than actual driving. Sprinting, leaping and gliding to your destination soon becomes second nature as you leave a tornado in your wake that blasts any and all objects out of the way.
The game simply supplies you with solid gameplay mechanics, and with great gameplay mechanics comes great responsibility; wafting around Dr Manhattan’s glowing giant dildo-dick never did anyone any favours, after all. Fortunately, not everything will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth, super-charged powers aside, the familiar, and frankly long-time superior gameplay mechanics of both shooting and grapple attacks are still very much present in Saints Row IV, with the all-new super-powers being un-intrusive and selectable via. the D-pad, while fire-arms, dildos and the like still familiarly can be switched with the appropriate face button.
Besides main story quests, there’s of course plenty to keep you busy, from the CrackDown inspired collectibles, to secondary Homie missions that are as every bit as entertaining as the main story missions themselves. There’s also familiar tasks present from other open-world games, such as climbing, or rather super-jumping and sprinting up the alien Zin Empire towers to claim them as your own, to the obligatory Store hacking, that is as every bit as pointless as hacking was in the original BioShock – it’s probably just there to irritate and bug, like that of one of the most iconic games of this generation.
One of Saints Row’s strongest aspects over the years, co-op play, a long-standing feature for this open-world gangster game that made it stand out from the competitive crowd. It’s unsurprisingly back for Saints Row IV, and naturally the story-mode proves entertaining, and as you might expect, co-op play compliments these antics well. Homies can also often be called upon to provide back-up; with these A.I. partners having your back this is something that offline gamers will certainly appreciate more so.
Saints IV is visually a strong performer, with a lot of action on-screen it never breaks down into clunky frames, it’s always super-responsive and provides a lot of scope and visual delights throughout, from gliding through Steelport, to super-sprinting through the streets and lifting the objects as you go, to battling large amounts of Zin enemies on-screen. The game holds-up well for the most part, and with the speed and amount going on I expected problems early-on, though sadly they are present, though few and far between – game lock-ups do at times rear their ugly head.
Saints Row IV’s biggest problem is that it’s so addictive, the missions themselves so hilarious, so much so that many of them are certainly worth re-playing. The problem is that there’s very little replay value after completion, you can Quick Match, or jump into a friend’s game to enjoy some of the missions and antics again, but ultimately what’s so frustrating is that there’s an actual menu of Completed Missions, but no way to instigate replaying them. A simple button press would have been welcomed to replay a beat mission, whether to score a better time, kill more enemies, or just to replay it with a co-op buddy to see who can score the most kills – rather disappointingly that’s not currently possible.
Calling Saints Row IV the best game in the series would be an injustice – it’s not only the best game in the series – but it’s quite frankly the most fun I have had playing video-games in years. This fickle thing we call gaming has well and truly come into its own in recent years, with deep, and at times dark story-telling going hand-in-hand with immersive and convincing gameplay mechanics – and of course there’s a lot of shit in between – but somewhere along this shady line Saints Row IV powers through, and surely will remind many of us why we fell in love with gaming to begin with. Saints Row IV is just mass amounts of fun, where many games can be tedious, some can be thrilling – even borderline emotional, but it’s rare that a game in 2013 can simply be – fun.
8.5/10 – Review by Wayne Julian.