I can hardly believe it’s been nearly two years since Saints Row: The Third. Running around Steelport causing immeasurable carnage, cursing like my life depended on it and waving giant purple dildos around was just rather typical of the thoroughly enjoyable threequel. Now though, under the arm of a new publisher, developers Volition Inc. aim to take Saints Row IV to another level.
Whilst The Third was bombastic in its approach, Saints Row IV take a more interstellar route… literally. Set five years after the closing events of its predecessor, the Saints, along with protagonist “the Boss”, aim to fend off an alien invasion that has imprisoned the remains of humankind. It’s as nonsensical as it sounds (even more so when you throw in the small notion that the Boss has been elected President of the United States after a heroic and marvelous opening mission), but it throws traditional videogame conventions out of the window as a result; and boy, it’s a good thing too.
Free from the shackles of a presumption of being a low-budget Grand Theft Auto clone, the Saints Row series has carved itself a niche as an open-world action game with few rules and a needle-eyed focus on enjoyment; something which is constantly highlighted throughout the myriad of differing missions types.
Want to cause as much destruction as you can using a gun that creates mini-black holes? Sure thing. How about pollute a scarily serene traditional American town with dubstep? Or dip into a 2D side-scrolling beat-em up akin to the classic Streets of Rage? Both possible. Becoming (read: not piloting) a tank, fighting off a Godzilla sized soda can, and even partaking in a text-based adventure game are all staples of this utterly ridiculous franchise.
Whilst this was always possible for game developers, it was never really acceptable given the fracture it would create in the virtual reality that has been constructed. Saints Row IV cleverly gets around this by placing you in a computer simulation for the majority of the game that has its code altered and changed throughout, resulting in the many differing gameplay mechanics.
An attention to detail is lacking in Saints Row IV, but when you’re moving through it at blistering speed or leaping over skyscrapers there’s little time to evaluate the poor AI – though it doesn’t excuse it. A not-so-thriving world is the side dish to the joyous main course which grants you the use of superpowers. Having had your programmer wonder Kinzie manipulate the simulations code you can run a super speed, jump through the skies, move objects with your mind or freeze or ignite your foes amongst a selection of powers.
It opens up the world as you’re no longer restricted by slow movement or monotonous gunplay and creates vast new combat opportunities. Enemies begin to throw suppression grenades which prohibits your powers later in the game ensuring that you have to add a bit of intelligence to your fights. When you’re thrown into missions where said abilities are revoked it feels frustratingly slow though as a result though – like Superman being given a lump of Kryptonite to hold for safe keeping. No one really wants to be given fantastic powers only to have them taken away from you because the story structure dictates it. Especially as it showcases a perhaps underwhelming core game when the flashy aspects are taken away.
As outrageous as some of the missions are, they manage to – only just mind – tread the line of variety and identity. You speed around in a vehicle of mayhem, kicking through the gears before skidding to the edge of disjointed diversity but, as it teeters over the cliff face, the weight shifts to the back and saves the title once again. If it weren’t for the underlying plot progression, which is as inconsequential as you’d have expected, the mishmash of tasteless humour, witty repertoire and polarising styles, Saints Row IV exudes the vibes of several separate content packs fused into a single title.
Not that this means that there’s any lack of quality – or quantity for that matter with ample amounts of core story content and even more side quests to achieve; it is hugely entertaining and it could be argued that it’s one of the most important meta-titles we’ve seen. There are more references to other videogame titles (and plenty of movies also) than ever before and it acts as a fantastic cult game as a result. The Matrix, Streets of Rage, Metal Gear Solid, Top Gun and much more are hinted at, referenced to or clearly mentioned.
There a many memorable scenes, facilitated by some terrific choices in the soundtrack, but there are, on the PlayStation 3 version at least, plenty of graphical issues. Models occasionally disappear, clipping is rife and there’s a distinct lack of polish on the visuals. Animations are often stiff, the physics engine kicks itself now and again, textures are low-res and despite being able to traverse the world at previously unimaginable speeds there’s never a sense of grandeur from the level design. Thankfully, the art style is worthy of compliment as it continues the strong brand identity that the purple Saints have forged.
Saints Row IV may lack the technical prowess that is expected of titles so late in the generation but it makes up for that with bags and bags of fun. Anything outside of your customised character is just garnish to the juicy steak of enjoyment in front of you. There’s a lack of clinical execution with regards to the missions and Steelport, which when combined with the visual inconsistencies are somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, Saints Row IV is tremendously satisfying and a joy to play.