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.
4. The Sense of Humor
Can you believe that one of the greatest strengths in a game dedicated to beating the tar out of aliens and people in deranged cat costumes by blowing them away with a rocket-launching guitar case prides itself on having a sense of humor? I know, crazy, right?
See, Saints Row IV has now evolved way beyond tackling the Grand Theft Auto series and has now set its sights on lampooning other video games. And by that I mean all the games. No wait, scratch that, it’s going after everything. All the things. Shots are fired at Call of Duty, Armageddon, Star Wars, Prototype, Metal Gear Solid, and countless others, though its two biggest targets tend to be the Mass Effect games and The Matrix, to the surprise of no one. And thankfully, most of said shout-outs and parodies are subtle and rely more on spoofing a general tone and such, so they never feel obnoxious. It also helps that the game’s dialogue is great as well, with a talented cast and a nice variety of puckish rogues whose own personalities and quips create the real heart behind the game’s funniest moments, as it should be. The countless shout-outs, parodies, and visual gags are fun, but even without them the clever and numerous blue repartee is more than enough to carry the game’s funniest bits.
Oh, and in one of the best parodies, like in Mass Effect you do indeed have the ability to romance/nail your entire crew in one fell swoop. Because if you can’t appreciate the humor in being able to get a blowjob from a robot, then you are truly dead inside.
3. Your Lovely Arsenal
I know I mentioned earlier that a wide variety of destructive tools and powers can tend to make the game less easy…possibly true, but that thankfully doesn’t stop the use of them from being any less fun.
Oh, the amount of divine ways to cause mayhem and mirth when taking out one’s antagonists (or just random dicks on the street who looked at you funny). And with a myriad of optional upgrades and customizable models for your weapons and your powers, the options are endless. Where to start? Have your enemies float midair in a stasis field while you fire explosive wubs at them from a dubstep gun? Pick them off long-distance with a pixelated sniper rifle? Fling electrically-charged cars at them using your mind? Freeze them, and then shatter them with explosive bullets shot out of Malcolm Reynolds’ pistol? Each little bit of death-dealing action comes via this whole lineup of lethal whimsy. Its just such a damn enjoyable lineup of things to do and things to destroy said other things with that you won’t help but be able to experiment with everything possibly. And for all us Roboteers, that’s especially true of…
…I know it’s meant to be a Watchmen reference (if it were truly meant for us, they would’ve given that name to the Tentacle Bat), but a man can dream…
2. The Cast and Their Spotlights
So remember how I said there was a lack of focus on world-building this time around? Well, it almost feels as if, to make up for it, Volition decided to put a greater emphasis on the main cast this time around. After all, when one of your essential tasks in the game involves rescuing your allies from their own personal hells, you end up getting to know quite a bit more about them. Granted, what you end up knowing is that your allies can be quite a bit fucked up at times, but I was honestly surprised there ended up being quite a bit of heart to it as well. And beyond having to rescue them, you can also participate in “Loyalty Quests” for them…another dig at Mass Effect there, but one that I still highly recommend, as it lets you bond with your companions and get to learn more about them and what’s been on their minds even further…over such activities as interactive expanded universe fiction, stopping viruses that causes people to suddenly turn into sex trade workers, doing drugs that glitch everything up, killing fur-suiters in a Japanese game show…you know the type of stuff the sophisticated sociopath and his friends enjoy.
Want more? Try calling up a wide variety of your unlockable allies to assist you in your merriment, and watch as they trade endless combinations of amusing anecdotes. Hell, you can even pick up collectibles such as audio logs to reveal even more, and you even get to discover optional text adventures chronicling Zinyak’s rise to power. Speaking of which, all of these character moments would pretty much be meaningless without a talented cast to back it all up, and JB Blanc as the egotistical, over-the-top, and sophisticated-as-hell Zinyak is the highlight of this wild bunch, but pros like Terry Crews, Keith David, and several others I can’t mention without revealing spoilers all give their best as well, creating an eclectic mix of mofos you’d be proud to have hobble a police officer’s legs with.
1. Oh So Many Awesome Moments
…Remember in the intro how I said the number of screenshots I took for this game hit four digits? Impressively enough, that was not hyperbole. There were just that many moments of sheer insanity, glee, and fist-pumping kickassery that…well, I hate to choose this song to reference over “The Touch”, but indeed, I did not want to miss a thing.
I honestly wish I could share more of this game with all of you and say more than just “this game has a lot of cool shit in it” (heck, I even feel guilty just for posting a video of the “Nytefall” mission), but that would most definitely involve giving away its best bits, both big and small. Every time you think the game has reached its limit of “Oh, SNAP!” moments, another just pops up a short while later to blow you away. It truly is an incredible experience, and while the flaws it has the same feeling The Third had of being two steps forward and two steps back for gameplay, in the end it all still comes together to creative an attractive piece of work priding itself on providing countless moments of pure mayhem and, most importantly, FUN. Light-hearted but never too silly that it undermines everything, Saints Row IV ends up being a must-play for all Roboteers, especially since the game’s most coked-up moments and general feel verge towards essentially creating Topless Robot: The Game (complete with two TR contributors in it!).
Fans of the series will no doubt…oh, okay, I’ll share one moment with you via these upcoming links, but spoiler warning, for it is one of the most expected yet unexpected and awesome celebrity cameos in gaming history.
Now where was I? Oh yeah. Fans of the series will no doubt love Saints Row IV, of course, especially since a good chunk of the game’s best moments and characters include a ton of callbacks to the previous games in the series…there’s a real sense of finality in this game, like this truly is the epic conclusion to the whole Saints Row saga (I’ve heard Volition might use a new protagonist in future games, and that might be wise idea given the ending here…no idea how you can go beyond all that), and if that is true, then while future prospects for the series might be up in the air, we can sleep soundly knowing it all truly went out with a bang, a shining and damn fun example of nearly everything that made all of these games fun and more. Bravo, Saints Row IV.
…Still, Volition, would it have killed you to bring back the poo-flinging activity?
Previously by Kyle LeClair
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