Standing atop an impossibly tall alien tower, surveying the model village of Steelport below me, my heroic ascent was suddenly soundtracked by EMF’s You’re Unbelievable, which randomly cropped up in the playlist rotation. Power fantasy fulfilled, I came to the conclusion that Saints Row IV is a great game.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone acquainted with the series, but Saints Row IV is another instalment of pure fun, and one which has fully escaped the shackles of ‘crass GTA-clone’ that has dogged previous entries. In fact, Saints Row is now in direct competition with superpower sandbox titles such as Crackdown and Infamous. The fact that it leap-frogs the latter game on its first attempt is quite remarkable.
So what’s changed since The Third? Well, while The Saints are now in charge of the White House, the earth has been destroyed by an alien race called the Zin, and the last vestiges of humanity are imprisoned in a computer simulation, which, as in The Matrix, allows you to bend the program to your will, granting you superpowers. All of this happens in the first handful of missions. That either sounds hilarious or moronic, but provides you with a decent metric as to how seriously Saints Row IV takes itself.
Story-wise, it’s hardly Sophocles, and it merely serves as an excuse to give you a giant playground that you can bend to your will. It is this aspect that developer Volition has really focussed on, giving you a superbly fun set of tools with which to carve your own path of destruction. In short order, you’ll have the abilities to leap over skyscrapers, run faster than any vehicle, and send people flying towards the sunset with the flick of a wrist. If that wasn’t enough, you are also equipped with an arsenal that would make even Clint Eastwood call for tighter gun controls. With an Inflato Ray, Abduction Gun, Black Hole Launcher, and the wonderful Dubstep Gun (which kills people with the power of syncopated percussion), it’s difficult to pick a favourite. However, my personal choice was a delightful contraption known as ‘Merica, which seemed to shoot bullets, fireworks and knives all at once.
Regardless to say, this game is quite literally a power trip from start to finish, with the main story missions doing nothing to quell the constant ramp of obliteration. You’ll pilot tanks, UFOs and mech suits, and blow up more things than a balloon artist in a supernova.
So how does the game engine cope with such wanton destruction? Unlike the PS3 version, Re-Elected does a decent job of keeping the framerate as quick as you’d hope for. There are a few annoying issues with textures – which are often disguised as glitchy areas of the simulation – and draw distances take a hit once you climb higher in altitude, but Re-Elected does generally look and perform better than its last-gen counterpart. It’s a shame that there are occasional console-freezing crashes, but these are rather rare and only cropped up twice during 20+ hours of gameplay. That’s two more than the ideal number, but at least the game does a decent job of autosaving your progress.
In terms of content, the base game contains enough side missions to sexually arouse a Ubisoft executive. As you progress through the story, you’ll free more of your friends and former Saints from the simulation, who will provide lists of loyalty missions. Yes, Saints Row IV takes a leaf out of the Mass Effect book, only to shove that leaf up deep into a dark orifice and fart the Mass Effect theme music. You have a spaceship full of compatriots who you can “romance” (which usually consists of rough, humiliating sex), and who will unlock some the game’s more interesting weapons and abilities if you complete their tasks. While these missions can be a tiny bit repetitive if you opt to finish them all, most provide an excellent excuse to stay in Saints Row’s depraved world a little longer. With Re-Elected, you are also privy to previous DLC packs such as Enter The Dominatrix and How The Saints Saved Christmas. While both of these are not comprehensive packages in their own right, they serve this edition of the game as nice bonuses that are well worth investigating.
So there’s plenty to see and do, but Saints Row IV also succeeds in entertaining the player in most areas. With the vast array of powers and guns at your fingertips, it could be argued that they do tend to cheapen the difficulty of the game somewhat, but that seems to be trade-off for making you feel awesome. Everything here is designed to enhance the fun, from the tongue-in-cheek, fourth-wall-breaking humour, to the exceptionally fun soundtrack (tune in to The Mix, and thank me later), and really, that’s all that matters. Fun is the key, and Saints Row IV lets you off the leash to enjoy yourself how you see fit. Most of the game is customisable to your tastes, from clothing and gender (you can get a sex change if you fancy playing as the opposite gender for a while), to new elements for your powers, and you’ll soon build up a character and a toolset that you enjoy using the most.
Saints Row doesn’t judge you on your choices, and its only mantra is to just have fun and be awesome. It’s a simple premise that many other games seem to forget as they strive for artistic endeavour and serious world-building narratives – which is fine, but shouldn’t be a requirement. Thank God we have the Saints to remind us of what fun is from time to time.