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Saints Row 4 Review: Let Them Come Marching In
Saints Row: The Third was very controversial when it came out due to the tonal shift from the first two games. Originally the Saints Row series had humor in it, but it wasn’t wrong to compare it to Grand Theft Auto. It had loyal fans, but ultimately it was just one of the many GTA like games that flooded the market. While die-hard fans were unhappy about the lighthearted nature of Saints Row: The Third, the comedic value and lack of realism made the game stand out as its own entity. Somehow Saints Row 4 has not only embraced the comedy of its predecessor, but has also abandoned what little grip it had left on reality. Saints Row 4 improves on the silliness by actually having witty writing and very clever jokes and Sci-Fi references. In a world where the grittier the game, the better, sometimes it’s fun just to use your character as a human pinball.
I’ll freely admit that I really enjoyed Saints Row: The Third despite the drastic departure in tone from the previous installments. So I was among those who was actually looking forward to what Volition had in store for us. And no matter how silly it seems to be in the beginning Saints Row 4 is a creative, fun, and addicting game.
Let’s talk about the biggest addition to the game, the super powers. Saints Row 4 has made some great changes to the gameplay with these new abilities, along with the alien weaponry and, of course, the joke weapons like the Dubstep gun. But the highlight remains the eight superpowers that you collect as you go along -four active, four passive- that can be used in either combat or travel. The powers can only be unlocked during leveling up, winning boss battles, and completing quests, but you can upgrade them by finding data clusters that will be scattered across the simulated world that our heroes are trapped in.
Looking more in depth at the superpowers, they really upgrade almost every aspect of the game. When you think about just exploring the world, there’s no better way to go about it than with Super Sprint and Super Jump. Once you learn how to really use this new travel system, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no need to use one of the cars, which is a shame because the car customization system has been vastly improved. If you liked it in Saints Row: The Third, then you’ll love it in Saints Row 4, but I for one stopped using them about two hours into my playthrough in favor of the super powers.
The combat system takes an interesting turn with the new superpowers as well. I already mentioned the new weapons, but to really get a feel for how fun the gameplay is, you’ll have to use them in combination with your new abilities. Using things like Fire/Ice Blast, “Death From Above”, and Telekenisis makes you feel akin to a Greek God. Even if things can get a bit repetitive when it comes to enemy encounters, the sheer combination of things you can do combined with some of the sillier weapons makes wreaking havoc fun.
The plot for Saints Row 4 is pretty shallow, but that in the end, that is the joke. Chock full of not only gaming references like Call of Duty but Sci-Fi references such as Aliens, Saints Row 4 is incredibly self aware and witty. The premise is pretty simple: you are the President of the United States, and along with a large portion of Earth’s population, you have been kidnapped by the invading force of the Zin Empire. The overly educated (Khan-like, and for some reason British) Emperor Zinyak has personally deposited you into a simulation of Steelport and vows to break you. It’s not Shakespeare, no matter how many quotes Zinyak likes to make, but it serves its purpose in creating a world where the weapons and the superpowers can actually exist.
Unfortunately, that also means that the mission structure is pretty repetitive. Go to this location and rescue “insert Saint here” to add to your crew. After you rescue your crew and Keith David then you’re off to finally bring down Zinyak. And then there’s the sexism, sex, drugs, one-liners, Saints Flow jokes, nut shots, and did I mention the witty banter. In this case, the dialogue is above and beyond Saints Row: The Third, but still keeps some of the bits that were enjoyable in that game. I won’t ruin it for you, but there is singing and it is amazing.
That doesn’t mean that rescuing the Saints is boring. It’s the exact opposite, actually. Each Saint is trapped in a virtual nightmare, and it’s up to you to break them free, which can make for some pretty diverse locations that are specifically made for whatever character you’re out to save. Pierce, for example, is trapped in a simulation where a Godzilla-sized Saints Flow can is trying to kill him. Benjamin King is in a virtual simulation of Stillwater where you’re attacked by the Vice Kings. But the best part is when Volition finally deals with the Shaundi issue and again, not only is it clever, but it’s hilarious. It makes the missions fresh and the flashbacks to the older games in the series is very much appreciated.
This doesn’t mean that Saints Row 4 is flawless. It does have some minor issue,s the most troubling being the repetitiveness. Yes, it’s a huge open world. Yes, there are many side quests, but just like in Saints Row: The Third, after a while it’s really just doing the same quests over and over again. There’s a lot of things you can do in the virtual city like hacking stores to buy what you want on the cheap, mini-games to play (Professor Genki makes a comeback, as does insurance fraud and mayhem), and flashpoints to conquer (enemy controlled zones). And for the first couple of times that you do them, they’re interesting and fun, but after the fourth or fifth time it can get tedious and feel more like busy work.
All the sidequests are optional, but they have some great rewards like weapons upgrades, new abilities, and homies, so it might be worth your while to complete them.
Saints Row 4 has it’s flaws, including the usual glitches during gameplay. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a great little ride. It doesn’t revolutionize the gaming world like Grand Theft Auto V wants to, and it’s not trying to break your heart like The Last of Us. Instead, Saints Row 4 is fun for fun’s sake. And in a gaming world where the grittier, the better, isn’t nice to just get to punch people in the nuts cause you feel like it?
(Saints Row 4 was reviewed after 25 hours of gameplay on the PC and is also available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. This copy was purchased by the reviewer.)