There’s always been something about the Saints Row games that prevented them from greatness, in my mind. Although the second and third games are fun enough open world romps, they were always missing that special something that made them “must plays,” or “instant recommendations.”
That is, until Saints Row IV came around — because as we all know, super powers make everything better.
This time around, you’re the President of the United States. Oh, and the leader of The Saints — the ruling party in power. You also have super powers. And Keith David (the actual actor playing himself) is your right hand man. This basically happens in the first 30 minutes of the game, and it doesn’t let up from there — it’s just as good as it sounds.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s your job to fight off the evil Zin Empire and its formidable leader Zinyak, who are worthy of a beatdown of epic proportions. You’ll do this by way of a virtual simulation of Steelport, which is where you gain your Matrix-like super powers, amidst occasionally going back to the real world to deal with — well — real world problems.
While I was wary of the over-the-top nature of the game before I actually played it, I’m pleased to say that it actually works, mostly due to some talented writing and performances by the cast. Saints Row IV teeters between a comical and serious tone, but it does so with tact, and without feeling cheesy or forced.
The “super” theme of the game helps create even more ridiculous situations that weren’t previously possible, including a Ghostbusters-like confrontation, a Metal Gear sneaking mission homage, and other ridiculous boss fights. Some of these concepts aren’t taken far enough, but the sheer variety of gameplay is insane, to the point where you’re never doing the same thing on a consistent basis.
You’ll have a wide variety of super powers at your disposal, including fire and ice powers, Superman-esque vertical maneuvers, and even telekenitic abilities. Your weapon arsenal also has just as much variety, including guns that shoot visible dubstep bullets, a UFO abduction gun, and pretty much every bit of alien and human weapon you can imagine. Through the use of in-game stores, you can buy every loadout you can think of, and play exactly the way you want to play.
Actual combat can be a mixed bag, as some of the enemies in the game (especially the aliens) start to feel boring shortly after meeting them. One particular enemy (a mid-boss of sorts) called “Wardens” are absolutely not fun to battle with, due to the fact that they jump around constantly with a bullet-deflecting shield. In order to disable their shield you have to blast them with an often inaccurate power, and the most effective ability to hit them with doesn’t come until roughly eight hours through the story.
Funnily enough, my least favorite parts of the game took place in the “real world,” which mechanically operates exactly like the first three games — sans super powers. A lot of these portions feel incredibly dull and generic, as the stark dichotomy between having powers and lacking them results in a steep drop of the fun factor. Thankfully, these parts are extremely few and far between, as you could spend hours upon hours roaming the game’s sandbox, leaping hundreds of feet into the air onto giant skyscrapers.
Presentation wise Saints Row IV doesn’t disappoint, with a variety of locales that basically offer up something completely new every 30 minutes. It also helps that the simulation looks mesmerizing, with beautiful neon reds and blues throughout. While The Third was a step in the right direction in terms of forging a unique art style for Volition to really call their own, Saints Row IV goes beyond anything The Third attempted, and really hits the mark.
I was actually really impressed by the voice acting as a whole, as nearly every cast member gives a performance worthy of a paycheck, on top of the stellar voicework from every single one of the player/president voice options (which now includes Nolan North, just for the heck of it). It also helps that the writing is hilarious, throwing joke after joke out with most of them sticking. The fact that most of the cast is endearing, and a few surprises caught me off guard along the way adds to the package.
While the core story should only take you around 10-15 hours in total to complete, there’s a whole lot more to explore and experience, on top of creating a completely new character to test out the new dialog options. I can’t rant enough about how great the sandbox is, as I don’t think I’ve ever been compelled enough to roam as much as I did in Saints Row IV. There’s tons of speed and jump challenges to find, as well as bizarre minigames like “Professor Genki’s Mind over Murder,” “Super Fight Club,” and a whole lot more. I found myself attempting to free every bit of terrain that was held by the Zin forces, and search high and low for every last upgrade cloud — of which there are over 1000 strewn about the map.
Saints Row IV is an incredible achievement in the sub-genre of super power action. Games like inFamous and Prototype could learn a thing or two from the team at Volition, who have created quite the sandbox to roam around in alongside of an incredibly fun set of powers. While I’ve had trouble recommending Saints Row games in the past, I can say without question — if you like open world games, you need to play Saints Row IV — so much so that I hope a potential Saints Row V continues with the tradition of super powers, because they’re just that fun.
This review is based on a digital PC copy of Saints Row IV.