Well, the usual Summer drought that tends to hit the gaming community around this time of year ended last week, and it did so by basically whipping out a fire hose and drenching us in a barrage of Saints Row IV, Disney Infinity, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Splinter Cell: Blacklist, amongst other games. And while we'll also get to some of that down the road, this moment belongs to Saints Row IV, the rightful king of this current crop of gaming, accepting the position with grace, dignity, and the ability to dress up in an Elvis outfit and make an alien's head inflate and explode in a comical fashion.
(NOTE: Some NSFW stuff may be included after the jump.)
So after Saints Row: The Third cranked things up to eleven in terms of wackiness, mayhem and pure fun, Saints Row IV decides to shoot for for the mythical eleventeen by having The Saints wind up saving America from a crazed terrorist, thus giving The Boss of the gang the clout to become the president of the free world. Five years into their tenure, they see themselves faced with the challenges of sagging approval ratings, having to make controversial decisions, and the sudden alien invasion that's currently abducting everyone around the Boss President (you know, typical commander-in-chief stuff). And after invasion leader Zinyak traps The Boss in a virtual simulation of Steelport while keeping his friends in simulations so that they can live out their personal hells, only one thought crosses The Boss' mind: RIP THAT FUCKER'S HEAD OFF.
...Oh, and there are superpowers you can have as well. Did I mention that?
Now, if I had to sum up my opinion of Saints Row IV quickly, I would say that the number of screenshots I took during the game having reached four digits might be kinda indicative of a man who had a lot of time on his hands and a lot of awesomeness to work with as well as the fact that he really, really, really liked that game a lot, one would say. But one might also say that because the game initially started out as an expansion pack for The Third before evolving into much more, some of the nagging flaws from the previous installment still linger around, and this is sadly true. But the good news is that even after a slightly slow start, those annoyances do not end up getting in the way of one ultimate example of cathartic fun and a ridiculously damn good action game. And we'll highlight what exactly makes Saints Row IV nothing but a good time soon, but first let's get those lingering flaws/sins out of the way...
The Two Deadly Sins of Saints Row IV:
2. It Still Feels Pretty Damn Easy
Having beaten the game and all of the side missions in one go, my Saints Row IV session clocked in at around a nice and meaty 24 hours overall...and yet according to the stats, I had only died or failed around six times, a far cry from the number of virtual lives lost due to some of the more punishing missions in previous games. Was I just kicking more ass or had the game gone soft on me?
Well, I honestly believe it was the former, but the cynics out there would probably say that while the wide variety of superpowers and exotic weaponry add a whole lot to the game, the fact you can fire off a flame blast followed by a few shots from a Bounce Rifle and end up clearing a small army of alien soldiers in less than ten seconds just might suggest that things can get pretty easy over time. Yes, one could argue that you don't have to purchase/use all of the upgrades, weapons, and powers offered to you to create a bigger challenge, but come on, that's like winning an infinite supply of chocolate and just saying that a few Hershey bars will do.
For that matter, while there does seem to be a larger variety of activities (though sadly still lacking the Septic Avenger bits from the second game), it feels like they get spread out a bit too thin, like each activity never gets the chance to reach its full difficulty potential. Making them more important to side missions probably didn't help, either, since being connected to the more important bits means that they can't be as challenging, lest the player's balls/fem-balls shrivel up in fear. So yeah, things seem to be a bit on the easy side this time around...though I'm still subscribing to the "I just kick that much ass" theory.
1. The Weak Side Missions and A Lack of World-Building
My biggest complaint about Saints Row: The Third? The fact that the activities/side mission now had little to no context to them. See, let's use the second game as an example: If you went to a Septic Avenger mission, it would always start out with a little cinematic of The Boss meeting with one of Stillwater's citizens who need vast quantities of poo flung around, along with their explanations of why you should fling said poo around and who to fling the poo at. Thereby making your massive poo-flinging experience even more fun by incorporating a little slice of life in Stillwater into it - giving you a bit of a nice little side tale (that just happens to involve poo). Alas, The Third did away with those cinematics (and the poo), making Steelport feel a little more bland than Stillwater.
Saints Row IV, sadly, does not remedy this...in fact, the game seems to have it worse somehow. Your sole explanation for performing in any of the game's various activities is that causing various acts of mayhem disrupts the virtual simulation and gives The Saints more control over it. And while causing half a million dollars in property damage with a portable black hole launcher is still fun indeed, it just feels like it's missing something. (I'm not counting the countless pedestrians sucked through any black holes, though).
For that matter, the fact this all takes place in a virtual version of Steelport doesn't help much. This means no rival gangs with colorful personas, no other villains besides Zinyak, just countless faceless alien minions. No new residents of Steelport to interact with (in fact, only about four new characters in all), no new explorations of the city and what it has to offer, just a cut-and-paste version of it from the last game...hell, you don't even get fake commercials on the radio any more hawking the local wares. One can argue that you don't need to care much about a virtual city that only exists so you can gain the power needed to nuke a city block in one shot, but hey, it helps.
But enough downers, dammit, let's move on to the good stuff about Saints Row IV, and by that I mean the virtues...and no, I don't care if I'm using "virtues" incorrectly...
The Six Virtues of Saints Row IV:
6. The Soundtrack
Despite the fact that vehicles are now kind of useless in this game because well, you know, you can kind of run at supersonic speeds and fling yourself over entire city sections without effort, Saints Row IV still thankfully includes the ability to switch on the radio whenever you want this time around. And a good thing too, because there's quite a nifty selection of music this time around. There's K12 97.6, the station full of electronic music for those who like potential dubstep gun ammo; GenX 89, the modern rock station hosted by none other than The Fallen Angel himself, Christopher Daniels; but the MVP for virtual radio stations this time around clearly goes to The Mix 107.77, which now consists of seemingly every earworm ever conceived in the '80s and '90s. Saints Row IV makes damn good use of the Autobots, Rock Out! trope, and thus 90% of your most insane moments and beatdown-dealings through it all will be accompanied by the likes of "What Is Love," "Opposites Attract," "Insane in the Brain," "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," "The Touch,"* and lots more. And while it might sound like an odd lineup in paper, onscreen it just plays out perfectly, with the guilty pleasures and pop classics perfectly blending in with all of the madcap mayhem conducted in-game. Of course, you can always import in your own music, but come on man, "Opposites Attract!" How the hell can one resist the call of MC Skat Kat?
*Yes, this means that there is both a song associated with Michael Bay and a song associated with Transformers in this game. I'll let you decide which is more appropriate for using a giant dildo bat to crack people's spines with.
5. The Visual Touches
Well, when you have an entire city that's been taken over by tyrannical alien forces and converted into a warped virtual simulation, you might kind of expect that things are going to look a little different. So Saints Row IV definitely makes the most of its concept to at least create a bizarro version of Steelport with enough interesting scenery to properly set the stage for your gangland rebellion. A sinister red glow runs throughout all of the city in a Tron-esque fashion, messages containing Zin propaganda are peppered all around and gradually alter themselves to reflect the events of the story, and like any pompous dictator's, Zinyak's mug is plastered all over everything, warping the city's iconic landmarks and advertisements to reflect his ego.
And remember all of those complaints about earlier installments glitching out a lot? Well, Volition decided to have a little fun with that, and so you might see building textures randomly shift around, passers-by turn into deformed monstrosities, flickers of static, code, and interface screws...it all does a lot to add to the general twisted ambiance of everything. And I won't even mention the occasional art shifts the game takes, which coincidentally happen during some of its best moments. Long story short, it all looks damn good and helps make everything feel just a little more special. Also, getting to beat the crap out of an army of said glitched-up people is highly rewarding, shockingly enough.