Saints Row is a crazy game, it’s really that simple. It may have started out more akin to that of its gang-banging older brother Grand Theft Auto, but some time ago the tam at Volition took the moral high ground (or low ground if you prefer) and dropped the serious undertones in favour of comedy and efforts to make Saints Row the king of the Sandbox. With each new installment you could do more and more until now, in Saints Row IV, where literally the sky is the limit and even that goes pretty high up.
During its initial production, moving from standalone DLC to a full retail sequel, Saints Row IV and Volition were caught up in the aftermath of THQ’s massive collapse, which left Saints Row’s future up in the air for quite some time. Thankfully Deep Silver were able to take the reins, meaning Saints Row IV was back in business but with such a turbulent production period, did this affect the end product at all? Well luckily I had the chance to sit down with the game and get some hands on with the Saints.
Held in the rather stunning Saddlers Hall in Central London, I was greeted by some rather serious looking bodyguards as I made my way into…the White House?!
Making my way around the building, littered with enough guns to fill the Fourth Street Saints armory and everything coated liberally with that lovely purple we all know so well, the only thing that eased my tension around the President’s bodyguards were the President’s police force, comprised of a team of beautiful ladies all packing scary batons and yes, more guns.
Escorted to my purple clad play-station It was time to dig in and get to grips with what could be one of the most overlooked hits this year (the curse of a release date so close to next-gen consoles).
Saints Row IV kicks off exactly five years after the events of Saints Row 3 (SPOILER: if you had chosen the save Shaundi ending) and throws you into a covert operation to chase down Cyrus. Looking and playing like a Metal Gear Solid title that never was, I was sleuthing around an undercover terrorist base looking for my target while discovering a huge cache of explosives. Immediately I noticed how the controls feel a lot more solid this time around, I was a huge fan of previous games but I always felt that the controls needed that little tweak. Thankfully Volition knew this also.
This didn’t feel like any Saints Row game I’d ever played before though, such a serious tone. Where’s the humour? There are even slow motion door breaches! What have Volition done?
I must admit I was enjoying the action but fearing for what direction IV looked like it was heading, that was a least until I caught up with Cyrus and after a shot to the head, discovered he had launched a nuke. As the leader of the Fourth Street Saints, It was up to me to save the world.
I was launched onto the hurtling missile and forced to climb to the top in order to stop it, all to the tune of Aerosmith’s ‘I Dont Wanna Miss A Thing’. Some of my comrades shared their love for me risking it all, while others seemed less fussed “Well..I’ve just met you…you’ve been ok I suppose”, that was all I needed to spur me on until I finally found the control panel and tore the missile a new one.
With victory, I jumped off the rocket and fell to Earth only to land in the President’s chair at the White House before that familiar hip-hop soundtrack kicked in and I was informed that I’d not only won the adoration of America, but I’d won the Presidency too! In a fit of excitement I did what I was told and pressed that button. “press A for thermonuclear war!” Go me!.
That’s right, the classic Saints Row humour and absurdity burst straight back onto the screen, with my first order of business to choose between curing cancer or world hunger (as well as ‘punching a dick in the head’) The Presidency was to be short-lived however as the roof came crashing down thanks to some ugly aliens known as the Zin Empire who abducted near enough everyone in sight! It was time to arm up!
I won’t take you into too much detail beyond here, best not to ruin all the surprises in store, but rest assured the action comes thick and fast and with a much more robust control system, you’ll love it!
Once the dust had settled, you’ll be told that you’re living a simulation which is no bad thing, after all it’s what will afford you the glorious luxury of super powers. You heard right, not only are you the President of the United States, but you’ll be able to fly, leap tall buildings or run up the side of them, run at the speed of sound, engulf yourself in flame and even use the power of telekinesis to grab your foes (or pedestrians) and send them hurtling into the sun or even the nearest car bonnet simply to watch them bounce off again!
You’ll have to work hard in order to upgrade your abilities to that level, through the collection of ‘code fragments’ but once you’re fully equipped, Steelport becomes more than just home to the Saints. It becomes a huge playground, leaving you free to do whatever you wish. There are some more simplistic gameplay perks which are awarded because of the simulated world, for example, that radio you love so much? Step out of your sweet ride and it’ll keep on playing. Sounds like an odd choice but you’ll have a blast beating down swarms of alien scum, all to the gentle hum of some acoustic balladry or the banging beats of the latest Wub Wub hit!
Vehicles feel the benefit also, as you can save any of them simply by pressing down on the D-pad allowing you to have another one brought straight to you in seconds, via some alien-tech wizardry.
Missions leave you with plenty of choice, ranging from a whole host of co-op experiences, to story missions as well as the normal plethora of races, collectables, towers/nodes to capture from the aliens clutches and lots of places to spend your hard-earned cash. The races offer a double delight as not only can you street race but you can also in fact run on foot, with your ability to break the sound barrier, comes the challenge to beat the clock in a race around the city bounding from building to building.
Prof. Genki makes a delightful return with some brand new M.O.M or Mind Over Murder games which throw you into one of the craziest side challenges I’ve ever seen. Using telekinesis launch the correct item (People, Cars or Genki heads) through the correct floating ring all while trying to stay alive as hordes of children’s entertainers hunt you down! This was immense amounts of fun, with carnage everywhere as some rather relaxed football pundits discuss your successes and failures through some gravely tones.
All this action is great, and superpowers more so, but without a decent set of killing tools what use is there? Well luckily that’s also well and truly sorted as weapons range from the classics such as Shotguns and Rifles to the completely ridiculous such as the Black Hole gun (yes, it shoots amazing black holes, drawing in everything in their way), the Laser Sword which every good Jedi should carry to the completely ridiculous Dubstep Gun, which shoots waves of explosive destruction all in time with one of the biggest Wub Wub hits the Saints have ever created.
I enjoyed my time with Saints Row IV thoroughly, childish fun is what the boy inside me craves and Saints Row delivers that for sure, but one gripe became more and more evident as I played on and that is the lack of graphical prowess in the graphics engine. Visually it seems that Saints Row is beginning to show its age, with some less than impressive lip synching and textures that could do with a little more polish.
It’s always a little odd to judge a game on purely looks, as interactive media should be judged moreso on the fun you’ll have. Yes the graphics aren’t top shelf anymore, but with an amazing cast of voice actors delivering some excellent dialogue along with a rich soundtrack and huge amounts of fun to be had, Saints Row IV is definitely worth a go! Get it!