The Saints Row franchise has never really been known for its subtlety. From pimp canes and samurai swords, to dildo bats and mollusk launchers, the Saints Row series has introduced us to ever increasing cast of bat-shit-crazy weapons, characters and story-lines. In this regard, Saints Row IV doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it rather makes the previous games look sombre by comparison. This is full on, no holds barred, over the top action right from the get go. If you like that kind of stuff, this game’s for you. If you care about the story line of this latest Saints Row, then….Spoiler alert.
Review: Saints Row
I hadn’t even been playing the game for 15 minutes before I’d climbed a nuclear missile in mid-flight, saved the world, become the president of the United States, solved world hunger (or cured cancer, you get to choose), punched a political opponent in the gonads (or the face, you get to choose), defended the White House from an alien invasion, gone toe-to-toe with the alien leader, witnessed the Earth being destroyed, and then entered a matrix-style virtual recreation of my (now destroyed) home. I mean, for an opener, you’d have to say it’s pretty much up there.
And that introduces you to the concept behind the game, too. Earth has been destroyed by an alien invasion and you have been trapped in a virtual reality by said aliens. In order to defeat them, you have to ‘hack’ the program from the inside. What does hacking involve? Well, shooting things, basically. You do occasionally have to suspend your disbelief (and by ‘occasionally’ I mean ‘all the time’) but it’s the only way it could have been done, really. Seeing as you’re now the president, it wouldn’t make sense for you to go killing police in the real world, would it? But it this context, it kinda makes sense. Kinda.
My only gripe I have with it, is that it somehow ‘cheapens’ everything. Running over civilians, killing policemen, causing havoc – it all feels even more meaningless than before. Nothing you do has any real consequence as you know it’s all a computer program. Those people you kill are not going to be mourned. Now look, I know this wasn’t the way with the other Saints Row games either but still … the fact that the game itself acknowledges that nothing is real – it does take something away.
That said, there is one major upside to being placed in a virtual reality. You become Neo. And that’s pretty cool. Very early on you are given the ability to jump over buildings and run really, really, really, quickly – swatting everything out of the way as you do. You are also given elemental powers such as the ability to freeze your enemies or set them on fire. As you level up, your powers become steadily more powerful giving the game a decidedly Crackdown feel. You have an interesting arsenal at your disposal too – obviously you have the standard shotgun/assault rifle/pistol weapons, all of which can be upgraded, but you also have access to weapons such as the Bounce Rifle, the Inflato-Ray, and the Black Hole Launcher.
With all these powers and weapons, combat is fairly easy and you’re never seriously challenged. The AI is pretty non-existent although sometimes the sheer number of enemies may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. Should that happen, however, you can always call in one of your crew members to help you out. Most of the time though, it’s up to you to find funny and inventive ways to kill your enemies and the range of novelty weapons on offer certainly helps with that. Personally, I find hand to hand combat most satisfying. And by hand to hand combat, I mean using my super-speed to run up to enemies before tapping the right trigger – unleashing some crazy over the top wrestling move which results in a particularly satisfying kill.
I have to say that though there are plenty of side quests, Saints Row IV’s novelty appeal does wear a little thin. The side missions, despite there being a lot of them, are pretty much all variations of races, obstacle courses, and wave defense mini games. On top of that, once the novelty of over the top combat had worn off, I found myself trying to blast through it as quickly as possible.
That said, there is a huge amount of customization on offer, should the mood take you. You can purchase clothes from shops, customize vehicles (although I don’t know why you’d bother, the handling is terrible and you can run faster than you can drive), and paint pretty pink flowers on your SMG. At the beginning of the game you are given all the tools to create any character you want. You can even tweak your characters voice, so, should you be so inclined, you can create a 20 stone beast of a man, with scars and tattoos, and have him talking like a 13 year old girl. Which is pretty funny. For 5 minutes.
I think that is the main problem with Saints Row IV. Yes, it’s crazy, it’s explosive and, at points, the writing is laugh out loud funny. And yet, it’s only really fun in short bursts. Saints Row IV starts at a reckless pace and never really slows down. For all this, when the novelty of beating an alien to death with a dildo shaped bat wears off, it does get tiresome. You see, because it’s all high-octane stuff, there is no break in pace. There’s nothing to compare it to. Just one crazy event after the other and it all rolls into one. I don’t think the setting helps really, either. It’s constantly dark, there’s no day and night cycle, and the scenery is instantly forgettable. For a game that is so inventive in others ways, this is a really unimaginative depiction of an alien invasion. Couple that with a muddy, low res visuals, and you have a game world that you don’t really want to explore. It’s all about getting to the next fight.
Oh and hey, look, a Saints Row review with no mention of GTA. You don’t see those everyday.
– Starts fast and doesn’t slow down
– Brilliant array of imaginative weapons
– Funny script.
– Gets tedious at times
– Car handling is terrible
– Boring world design