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Virtually Unstoppable - Saints Row IV Review

Virtually Unstoppable — Saints Row IV Review

Yep, it’s Saints Row all right.


Saints Row has a long rep­u­ta­tion of being one of the finest, if bug­gi­est, GTA imi­ta­tors. Beat­ing Rockstar’s titan to the pre­vi­ous next-gen plat­forms with its 360 debut, Saints Row was a bit of a buggy mess that still had great amounts of fun to be had. Its sequel, Saints Row 2, was shipped just months after GTA IV, bring­ing the same flawed but fun game­play to the table, rival­ing its chief com­pe­ti­tion. Finally, in 2011, Voli­tion found they had nailed it with their next at-bat, Saints Row: The Third. After crush­ing most bugs, game-breaking and minor, they had pro­duced and insanely high-polish title that was  a clear cham­pion of the open world genre, pro­vid­ing non-stop laughs and incred­i­bly fun game­play the entire ride. Now Volition’s back with a full game extended out of planned SR3 DLC fea­tur­ing an alien inva­sion and a Matrix knock­off, and they’ve pulled out what few stops were left.

At the out­set, the game­play is highly sim­i­lar to SR3, but within an hour it all gets turned on its head as the player starts devel­op­ing super pow­ers. With their intro­duc­tion the game­play diverges from stan­dard open world fair and quickly turns into incred­i­ble sand­box fun. Half of the pow­ers are devoted to offen­sive abil­i­ties, with the other half for mobil­ity. The lat­ter half prove to be sur­pris­ingly fun, pro­vid­ing a huge por­tion of the game’s enjoy­ment. Run­ning around at super speeds and leap­ing over build­ings to glide to other ones all just feels so sat­is­fy­ing, mostly due to the fact that it’s incred­i­bly pre­cise and allows you to freely move about. You can point to any spot you see and almost always hit exactly where you wanted with min­i­mal effort. The move­ment feels so incred­i­ble that the hours spent run­ning around the city pick­ing up col­lec­tables were a sim­plis­tic and ful­fill­ing joy. This makes it ironic that a game based around the con­cept of grand theft auto will actu­ally see you in cars only when mis­sions require it, lest you ruin your enjoy­ment of bounc­ing around town.




The offen­sive pow­ers are also plenty enjoy­able, and Voli­tion man­ages to make basic pow­ers act very dif­fer­ently by slot­ting in dif­fer­ent “ele­ments” to each one, caus­ing dif­fer­ent effects. The vari­ety is fun enough, although through­out the 20 hours of game­play it’s rare that you’ll end up using more than the first two pow­ers they give you beyond the, “Kill X aliens with power Y” chal­lenges the game throws your way. The pow­ers granted from halfway through the game and onward are sim­ply addi­tional ways to kill peo­ple, though they’re actu­ally far less effec­tive, and nowhere near as fun.

In con­trast to pow­ers, there are a few new weapons added to the game that do lit­tle more than add a nov­elty value to using them. As an exam­ple, there’s a gun that fires con­cen­trated dub­step at your tar­get, as well as a gun that will abduct every­one in a radius around where you fire it. All of these silly addi­tions are humor­ous to use once or twice, but they pale in com­par­i­son to the effec­tive­ness con­ven­tional weapons like pis­tols or SMGs. Those, in turn, are highly inef­fec­tive com­pared to just lob­bing a fire­ball into a group of ene­mies and hav­ing them explode upon death, catch­ing those around them on fire as well.


Don’t call it a robot.


The whole rea­son­ing behind hav­ing super pow­ers and crazy weapons is absolutely insane, and there­fore, it fits the Saints Row brand­ing. After becom­ing the pres­i­dent of the USA, the boss of the Saints is abducted when aliens attack the Earth. After impris­on­ing the major­ity of Earth’s pop­u­la­tion in their ships, they set up a Matrix-esque sim­u­la­tion where every­one is trapped in their own per­sonal hell. When one of the Saints who’s adept with com­put­ers decides to hack the sim­u­la­tions, super pow­ers are doled out and the aliens start to lose their grip on Earth’s pop­u­la­tion. If the plot sounds fast and loose, that’s because it is. How does desta­bi­liz­ing the sim­u­la­tions actu­ally defeat the alien men­ace? Just because. That’s the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for almost every­thing in the game and if you’re going to ques­tion it, you might not want to play a Saints Row game at all.

This actu­ally leads to some inter­est­ing sit­u­a­tions where the aliens seize con­trol of the sim­u­la­tion or you’re actu­ally doing mis­sions out­side of it where you don’t have any of your super pow­ers or ridicu­lous weaponry, and instead have to rely on game­play much more in line with pre­vi­ous titles. They’re actu­ally very refresh­ing because after a cer­tain point of being bro­kenly over­pow­ered, it’s pleas­ant to get slammed back down with seg­ments where the best you can do is try to line up headshots.


That’s one big pro­mo­tional tie-in…


If there’s any detri­ment to the fact that you’re so over­pow­ered it’s that the game is jok­ingly easy. I com­pleted 98% of the game with­out a sin­gle death, and the only four mis­sion fail­ures I received were due to a glitch where one of the side activ­i­ties was com­pletely bro­ken. The ene­mies pose no threat, even the tough­est ones that the aliens throw at you. Even if you do find your­self low on health, there’s an ele­ment for your telekine­sis power that will sim­ply let you pick up some­one and drain their health, almost com­pletely heal­ing you. The fact that the dif­fi­culty is laugh­able isn’t really a bad thing per say, but it cer­tainly means if you’re look­ing for any sort of chal­lenge you may be disappointed.

The main mis­sions are the obvi­ous gems of the game, each tak­ing you through res­cu­ing one of your crew mem­bers from their own night­mare sim­u­la­tions, with addi­tional loy­alty mis­sions fol­low­ing after­wards to grant them their own super pow­ers. The side mis­sions are won­der­fully writ­ten and really add immense depth to already beloved char­ac­ters. This is aided with dozens of throw­backs to the older Saints Row titles. If name-dropping the Sons of Samedi and Vet­eran Child, as well as the Vice Kings or Maero doesn’t mean much to you, than it’s a safe bet the game won’t fully sat­isfy you. It’s because of these rea­sons that it’s almost impos­si­ble to rec­om­mend play­ing Saints Row IV prior to play­ing Saints Row: The Third, and if you even went so far back as to run through Saints Row 2 you would cement your req­ui­site knowl­edge for all the in-jokes the game will throw at you. There’s just barely enough con­text given to each call­back that it makes sense in the con­text of the mis­sion, but never in con­text of the entire series. Saints Row IV is cer­tainly a giant piece of fan ser­vice to long time play­ers of the series.


At absolutely no point was this optional.


This is also appar­ent in the activ­i­ties you can do out­side of the main mis­sions. Old favorites are back like may­hem and insur­ance fraud, but most of them get a new twist to them. Insur­ance fraud in the pre­vi­ous titles con­sisted of rag­dolling your char­ac­ter into cars to rack up points, and in this one it’s the same except you can now throw your­self sev­eral city blocks in one dive. It makes the activ­ity triv­ially easy, but it’s mostly so that play­ers who once played by the rules can just sit there and laugh in awe at how incred­i­bly, won­der­fully bro­ken it has become. Assas­si­na­tion mis­sions are now tar­get­ing char­ac­ters like the default Saints Row 2 player char­ac­ter, and may­hems now take full advan­tage of new super pow­ers.  These old activ­i­ties are aug­mented by a few new ones, includ­ing semi–Assassin’s Creed style climb­ing chal­lenges, and new abtract vir­tual world chal­lenges, such as plat­form jump­ing or a mini-game that is essen­tially the Bat­tle­toads turbo tun­nel for sev­eral min­utes. Unfor­tu­nately that’s about as fun as it sounds, and the other new activ­i­ties in cyber­space are about the same.

As far as the game’s pre­sen­ta­tion goes, it’s highly sim­i­lar to SR3. It looks nearly the same (aided by the almost com­pletely recy­cled use of the city of Steel­port), if a lit­tle bit more pol­ished and fancy in tech­ni­cal mer­its. The real shine comes through in how Voli­tion abuse the fact that you’re in a vir­tual world. Tex­tures on build­ings swim and shim­mer every so often. Cars and peo­ple some­times become extremely low res­o­lu­tion and blocky, only to quickly melt into their higher res­o­lu­tion selves. Pedes­tri­ans around town some­times bug out, some hav­ing eyes twice the size of their head, some hav­ing hor­ri­bly deformed meshes, and oth­ers sim­ply walk­ing upside down. The game wears its new clothes unbe­liev­ably well, and it just feels right when you’re being attacked by a miss­ing model or a wire­frame char­ac­ter. The team that did Deckers.die in the past title were clearly on point for Saints Row IV’s abstract vir­tual worlds, and while they do look fairly nifty, they’re not really as inter­est­ing or won­der­ful as the few odd appear­ances there were in Saints Row: The Third.


The game looks good, no mat­ter which vir­tual world you’re in.


The fact that most of the pre­vi­ous city was reused for this time around means that the level design team had a lot of time to make new places to go, most of which are var­ied and inter­est­ing. The first time out in the real world on the alien ship is fun, but sub­se­quent jour­neys out there are less and less excit­ing and more tedium, up until the final one. How­ever, the main mis­sions and loy­alty mis­sions take you to a vari­ety of fun new places. A brief return to Still­wa­ter from the first two games or a trip to the 1950’s are a few of the stand­out cases.

Ever since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City licensed a whole bunch of amaz­ing 80’s tunes, licensed sound­tracks have just been what open world games do. Saints Row: The Third had a wealth of tunes fill­ing its vir­tual air­waves, and just lis­ten­ing to the radio in that game was a joy. It’s unfor­tu­nate to say the same doesn’t hold true in Saints Row IV. While you can lis­ten to the radio at any time, no longer requir­ing you to be in the cars you’ll spend ten min­utes total in, there aren’t as many songs as there were in the pre­vi­ous install­ment, nor are the radio sta­tions as var­ied. It seems that most of the key songs in this game were licensed for use dur­ing mis­sions, and the rest was just picked off of lists for what a radio sta­tion in that genre would play. Its use of songs in mis­sions is impec­ca­ble though, and to echo the sen­ti­ments of other gam­ing jour­nal­ists, this game made me actu­ally enjoy Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, a song I had pre­vi­ously reviled for years.


Most of this ‘con­sole’ sequence is ref­er­ences. It’s great.


Unfor­tu­nately, we didn’t have copies on any plat­form except the PC, so we can­not say with any first­hand cer­tainty of con­sole per­for­mance, but our peer sites have had noth­ing but neg­a­tiv­ity for the con­sole ver­sions of Saints Row IV. It has report­edly low, choppy fram­er­ate, and gen­er­ally runs much poorer than the PC ver­sion. This can cause issues with things requir­ing pre­ci­sion, such as move­ment or com­bat, and the game allegedly hitches when autosav­ing or just at ran­dom inter­vals. What we can attest to is that the PC ver­sion runs incred­i­bly well, even on hard­ware a few years old. In short, if you were able to run Saints Row: The Third with­out issue, you won’t have any prob­lems here. There were some minor tech­ni­cal issues encoun­tered, includ­ing reli­able CTD’s after a few hours of play. Also noted were issues with the game’s script­ing or game­play after a few hours, such as a telekine­sis dri­ven event no longer allow­ing the player to pick up objects required to com­plete it, and mis­sion or activ­ity trig­gers no longer work­ing. In the minor bug cat­e­gory, every load would start by play­ing the last audio log picked up, and in a recent patch weapon selec­tion was bro­ken, com­pletely dis­al­low­ing access to cer­tain spe­cial weapons.

All in all, Saints Row IV is a love song. It’s sung from Voli­tion to both its series, and to the play­ers who have stuck around since the very first ini­ti­a­tion beat­down. There are incred­i­ble amounts of jokes that any­one pick­ing up this game as their first for the series will miss, but that’s most likely to be expected if you’re play­ing a sequel. It seems as if Voli­tion sim­ply sat down after mak­ing Saints Row: The Third and said, “You know, that was pretty great, but now let’s just go wild and make it as func­tion­ally bro­ken as pos­si­ble.” To that end, you get exactly what you’d expect: A game that’s insane amounts of fun because it’s sim­ply insane. It’s full of inten­tional bugs, sharp and witty writ­ing, and more heart than just about any other game on the mar­ket. Saints Row IV is a game cre­ated specif­i­cally for cer­tain peo­ple, and if you hap­pen to be one of those peo­ple, it’s an ode to you. It’s not with­out its flaws, and it feels like cer­tain parts weren’t quite baked long enough, but it’s still a beau­ti­ful melody that will ring sweet in any vet­eran fan’s ears long after the last notes stop.

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