This month, Josh Briggs reviews the latest instalment of the wacky and wonderful Saints Row series, and this time it’s presidential.
Saints Row, a series well known for spiralling further into craziness with each release keeps up that reputation with its latest release. Saints Row IV is by far the craziest game you will ever be blessed enough to play, and long after finishing it you will probably still find yourself going back to cause virtual chaos in your spare moments.
Starting not long after Saints Row: The Third left off, the player is then projected forward 5 years and lands themself as President of the ‘United Saints of America’ and after a West Wing style introduction to some of the main characters it starts to slip quickly down that spiral of crazy when one of the ‘White Cribs’ press releases is interrupted by an alien attack. Yes, aliens; this is what Volition went with as the ‘big bad’.
Soon you’re whisked away to a simulation world created as your player’s own personal nightmare, and over the course of the game you learn to break it, which of course means that you get superpowers. About an hour and a half in you gain the ability to sprint faster than cars and start jumping up buildings, and over the course of the next several hours the game introduces powers like telekinesis and ground pounding. You’d think this would make it too easy in a world that’s meant to be a fairly accurate recreation of Steelport, but the city has been revitalised with abundant alien technology and locked down by alien security.
Volition proudly boasts that there are more enemy types in Saints Row IV than there are in its prequel. Now you can run up skyscrapers whilst being chased by aliens on hover-bikes and what looks a little bit like Predator jumping from roof to roof behind you. The notoriety system has changed too, with the maximum level bringing you up against a mini-boss who can give you a run for your money on your superpowers. Post-game, it can be a bit of a pain – but if you’re playing on one of the harder difficulties then it is generally a challenge to stay alive for long enough without upgrading either yourself or your guns near to their limit.
Challenges and side-quests now aren’t just for glory, but offer exclusive upgrades to your character – from outfits to being able to sprint on water or unlock alternate effects for your superpowers, including shrinking the people around you and arc lightning. Collectibles for this game are also much improved, including clusters of data to improve your superpowers, statues of Emperor Zinyak to destroy and audio clips detailing the backstory of the main characters.
Customisation, along with the level of crazy, has reached new limits in this game; there’s an improved selection to customisation options with your body, your cars and your clothing, but what’s new is the weapon customisation features in this game. Instead of the basic upgrade system of Saints Row: The Third, you can pour money into damage, accuracy, reload speed, and other relevant stats (it varies a little for each set of weapons) as well as one singular, expensive, upgrade that gives each weapon a unique edge over the others – from incendiary ammo to ‘explosive wubs’. Not only that, but you can change the appearance of every weapon you have, be that changing the paint job on it or changing the appearance of the gun entirely.
The music of the game is superb, and this time with more famous songs being played through missions – including Aerosmith and THAT Haddaway song, you know the one if you’ve heard it. The radio stations have more tracks this time, and with more DJ presence than last time; sadly it’s at the cost of ‘The Blood’ – Steelport’s heavy metal station, which made a great soundtrack for causing tank-based carnage. The leader of the aliens, Emperor Zinyak, can be found introducing the pieces of classical music and making readings from Shakespeare and Jane Austen; I think trying to make the protagonist ‘civilised’ as he would put it. Regardless of his intentions, it’s still pretty amusing, and because it’s a simulation you can listen to the radio wherever you are – even on foot.
It’s hard to give a detailed review of the story without ruining one of a multitude of hilarious moments, so just trust us that it’ll keep you on your toes and laughing at every other moment. It’s very much a last hurrah with every intention of going out with a bang and a giggle, and to that end it brings back villains, heroes and references from previous games with great effect. Even if you haven’t played any of the Saints Row games before this one, the times where it harks back to its predecessors are still thoroughly enjoyable, but it does provide some feel-good nostalgia for those who’ve played previous titles in the series. The story plays out in a series of missions and side-missions set out in a list that quickly grows but doesn’t rush you to do anything. Besides the huge range of side-activities there’s also a bunch of ‘loyalty missions’ – one for each of your homies, which add an extra level of depth to your relationship with each one of them. Plus, more feel-good singing with Pierce Washington.
All in all, Saints Row IV is a labour of love; an insane love, but a labour of love nonetheless. There is no doubt that you will play this for hours on end, and still enjoy every hour as much as the first. It’s a game for anyone who enjoyed the series and anyone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.