Saints Row IV has been my main gaming obsession for the past two weeks. It's what I think about when I'm working, and it's what I think about when I'm playing other games. This open world romp with an emphasis on hilarity and superpowers has absolutely dominated my time recently, and the biggest compliment I can pay it is that I actually had to take a break in order to draft its review.
If you don't remember, the Saints Row franchise was temporarily in jeopardy when THQ, its one-time owner, entered bankruptcy and shut down. All of THQ's existing games were to go up for sale, and Saints Row's future, while hopefully fine, was up for grabs.
Deep Silver stepped in. That's the company behind the likes of Dead Island. Luckily for Volition and the Saints Row fanbase, this publisher had no intention to curtail the absurdity and fun being created within Saints Row IV. The game reeks of self-awareness, and it's clear that its brand new owner let that happen.
Saints Row IV is about to go on sale. Is it worth you time and money during this crowded gaming season? Let's find out.
What Happened to "Saints Row?
Amidst the marketing and drum up to Saints Row IV, there's been a small counterwave within the series' fanbase. While Volition trends towards over-the-top gaming and pure absurdity, there are those that wish the franchise would stick closer to the ground. Saints Row IV turns players into the president, engages an alien invasion and introduces a full scope of superpowers (something that Volition played with during Saints Row the Third's DLC efforts). For some gamers, this is way too over the line.
Except it's not.
Sure, some gamers are frustrated with the fact that Saints Row has gone more Prototype and less Grand Theft Auto. Those folks will be let down by what the fourth game in the franchise offers up.
I'd argue, though, that the gradual change is the best thing Volition could have done for the series. Before Saints Row the Third, this franchise was more or less viewed as yet another open world crime game. It was a knock-off and a pretender, regardless of its quality.
Now? Saints Row stands out. It's a purple coated power trip with amazing jokes, awesome set pieces and a course set for the land of fun. Saints Row needed to evolve, it needed to change. Saints Row IV is the result of that need, and, despite those who dislike that, it's a slam dunk.
Where Fun is All That Matters
Sometime between curing cancer and dancing on stage after being pumped with sexual energy, Saints Row IV expressed itself as a game with a single purpose: fun.
From top to bottom, Volition succeeds. Without giving away any of the (surprisingly solid) elements of plot, you earn the ability to jump high, sprint fast and glide. You'll also get powers that allow you to mentally hurl, combust, freeze and control objects, enemies and citizens. That silliness is constantly fun, and you'll earn and upgrade new abilities for your entire stay with the game.
That fun also translates to the game's weapons. Yes, the infamous dildo bat is present and accounted for. But, Volition also created new guns that will both destroy on the battlefield and bring a smile to your face whenever you use them. I loved some of the weapons so much that I created a quick video for this review. Enjoy it!
Why is it daytime? Beat the game and find out.
Which brings me to my first complaint: the visuals. Saints Row IV looks fine. It's not graphically stunning, but its aesthetic works. However, time never changes in the city. The dark and moody purple you see in the screenshots all over this review is exactly what your city looks like throughout almost the entire time you play the game. That darkness gets stale, fast. I understand that Volition wanted a specific aesthetic throughout the game, but I really wanted a day and night cycle to add some variety to my 15 hours of play.
That said, the lack of variety in appearances was more than made up for in characters, music and, mostly, mission objectives. The missions in the storyline are widely varied. There's also some loyalty stuff that you'll do later in the game that's great, too. But, the side missions? They're mostly rinse and repeat. Over and over and over. In a game so varied, even the tiniest reuse of material goes noticed, and its annoying.
But, oh man, the music. With the ability to sprint, leap and glide all over the city, cars sort of become an afterthought. You'll use them with your homies, but you won't really steal one for transport. As such, Volition put the in-game radio in your weapon wheel. You can listen to stations whenever you want, and it's awesome.
The soundtrack is stellar, yes, but the commentary and station controlled by Zinyak, the alien leader who invades at the beginning, is amazing. Do yourself a favor and listen to it all.
Not Sacrificing a Good Game
With all of this time spent making jokes, silly weapons and ridiculous missions, it would be understandable if Volition went a little loose with the game's actual mechanics. That, thankfully, is not the case.
Below the layer of crazy is a well-oiled, tight game that actually progresses and feels good at all times. The controls are solid, the shooting is responsive enough and each and every mechanic, mini-game and weapon begs use and upgrading.
That upgrading, like I mentioned above, occurs from start to finish. So, there's actually a justifiable reason to complete side quests and roam the city looking for hidden items. Experience points and money translate into physical rewards, whether that means silly hats or power upgrades.
You'll want to explore all of Saints Row IV because it's such a good game. The jokes only go so far, and Volition made sure to complete the picture with a campaign and mechanics set that match.
Saints Row IV is incredible not only because it's funny, but because it's a genuinely good game with an insane amount of stuff to discover and play with.
DISCLAIMER: We received a code to review Saints Row IV from the publisher well before its release. We played the game on PC and completed its campaign before starting this review. We've logged more than 15 hours into the experience to-date. We were also told that if we didn't "get the phrases 'donkey beer' and 'satan's ladder' into" our reviews, we'd be "magenta listed." We assume this counts… right?
When all is said and done, I fell in love with Saints Row IV in a really big way. I enjoyed Saints Row the Third, and I figured this game would be nothing more than a fun distraction from an otherwise crowded and stellar fall season.
Instead, I got a game that actually begs to be played. Saints Row IV is incredible not only because it's funny, but because it's a genuinely good game with an insane amount of stuff to discover and play with.
Deep Silver was smart to put this one out at the end of the summer. Buy it, and you'll be set until the crazy heavy hitters release this fall. Saints Row IV is an absolute blast.
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