Saints Row is one of those franchises that will always be compared to the other games in the open world, sandbox, violence/crime-driven genre. And while the comparisons are fair, there is one thing that always keeps Saints Row apart from those other “grand” franchises: the humor.
Saint Row IV continues the streak here by creating a gameplay experience that is equal parts sandbox, superhero, and spoof. Sure, it still has the gunfights, the stealing and racing of cars, over-the-top gang violence, and prostitutes, but now it adds superpowers, aliens, and the Presidency of the United States of America.
The game opens with a mission that bridges the events from the end of Saints Row The Third. The Boss and the Saints have one final assault against Cyrus Temple and STAG. The end of the prologue mission sets the tone for the rest of IV, as the Boss sacrifices his/her life to stop a nuclear missile fired at Washington D.C., set to the tune of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.” Except, the Boss is able to stop the missile, and in so doing, is elected President for saving America.
Now, five years later, The Boss and his/her cabinet, made up of Saints, Vice Kings, even the FBI, are running the nation out of “The White Crib.” During a press conference, our nation’s cabinet is kidnapped during an alien attack by the mysterious Zinyak and the Zin, and The Boss is brainwashed into thinking that he/she is living a nice, comfortable life in Steelport, circa the 1950s. But The Boss realizes that things are amiss, and he/she is able to break free from the program and take the fight to Zinyak.
While this sets the story for Saints Row IV, a new wrinkle is added, as the Boss is able to hack into the Steelport program and with the help of hacker extraordinaire, Kinzi Kinsington, is able to develop in-program superpowers.
Saints Row IV pushes the comedic envelope at every chance it gets. I have laughed out loud more times in my extensive playtime playing this game than any other game this year. Most of the humor comes from the spectacular writing. The jokes are rapid fire and smart, and if they go over the players head, don’t worry, there are plenty more coming.
It starts with the character creator for the Boss character. The player can choose male or female, both sexes with myriad choices for faces, body types, and clothing styles. It’s an extensive character builder, more than a game like this should have, in my opinion. Kudos to Volition for throwing us all a bone here. And there are six voices, three for each sex, and then there is a choice for Nolan North. As with the popular Internet meme about getting the chance to be Batman, if you ever get the chance be Nolan North, YOU BE NOLAN NORTH. The dances, the taunts, the clothes and hairstyles, it’s all off-the-wall hilarious and makes for a fun experience–and the game hasn’t even started yet!
The gameplay hasn’t changed much in the franchise, and Volition has no need to tinker with what we know already works. The superpowers, which include jumping/flying, super speed, and ranged power attacks, etc., can all be upgraded until the Boss is a honest-to-god superhero, and he/she will need to be to take the battle to Zinyak, the alien overlord who has enslaved all of earth.
Saints Row IV retains all of the little things that has made the franchise a success, and adds to it. It looks gorgeous–though the Steelport program takes place entirely at night–and the lack of daylight scenes/locales does get old after a while. Even during the few scenes where the Boss is able to escape the program (think The Matrix), the “real world” is full of dark, Sci-fi-fused levels, keeping the players eyes craving bright sunlight. At least it did for me.
The music in-game also works to keep the joke going. There are over 109 songs, spread out over seven radio stations, and certain scenes have songs built into the soundtrack, as in the aforementioned Aerosmith song. And let me say, you have not played a video game until you’ve piloted a space ship, going over 500 mph, trying to escape your alien captors, all to the sounds of Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” As Nolan North says as he pilots the ship, “This is my jam!”
The rest of the voice cast is impressive, as it is a who’s who of video game voice acting. Film and TV actors also lend their voices, including Terry Crews, Keith David (playing himself as Vice President), Neil Patrick Harris and even wrestlers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Rob Van Dam have minor roles.
If Saints Row IV has a downside, it’s in the overpowering of the Boss. With access to crazy weapons and cars, giving this character superpowers seems to be a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to take down the enemy with my ice beams or heat vision and super-strength, but at times, it feels like I’m playing InFamous or Prototype, and it kind of takes the identity away from Saints Row. The humor is a great save throw for a game that could easily be tossed into a “cheap knockoff” bin, but the humor alone cannot sustain the entire franchise. And with developer Volition and publisher Deep Silver already at work on the fifth entry in the series, I can’t help but wonder what’s left?
There is also a whole bunch of DLC content released and coming, including costume packs, weapons, cars, and even missions. The replay value is very high.
Saints Row IV is one of the funniest, most insane games I’ve ever played, and I still boot it up whenever I feel I need a chuckle. With that other “grand” game out there celebrating violence and crime and corruption, it’s nice to have a game like Saints Row IV that spoofs the genre and adds to it, even as it does so at its own peril.
With fantastic writing, voice acting, and a tight, clean play control interface, Saints Row IV demands to be seen, heard, and above all else, played–especially by fans of this genre.
Saints Row IV was played Xbox 360 for this review and provided by Deep Silver for this review. It was released on August 20, 2013 and also available for PlayStation 3 and PC.