Saints Row IV – Review

Title   Saints Row IV
Developer  Volition, Inc.
Publisher  Deep Silver
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Genre  Action-Adventure
Release Date  August 23, 2013

Omar Little once said “you come at the king, you best not miss.”

When you’re going up against the GTA series, it’s hard to carve out a niche for yourself. Many original IPs have tried and failed to make a mark, and history is littered with games such as True Crime, The Getaway and Driv3r that just couldn’t de-throne Rockstar’s mighty series.

Of all the pretenders, the Saints Row series is the one that has come the closest even if the original Saints Row was messy and somewhat irrelevant at the time. It arrived at some point before the divisive GTAIV and didn’t impress too many people but when GTAIV‘s blend of dreadful controls and horrible realism alienated a section of the GTA support, Volition stepped in with Saints Row 2, which was everything GTAIV wasn’t. Over the top, packed with things to do and, most importantly, it was fun with a capital fuck.

The follow-up, Saints Row: The Third, got what can only be described as a sweet bumming from me as I lavished all sorts of plaudits upon it thanks to it taking the already-mental Saints Row formula and taking it into completely-ridiculous territory with a hilariously-surreal plot and all the big, lavish set pieces you could eat. I stand by the big fat ten I gave it and it remains a real highlight of this console generation for me.

With the bar set that high, Saints Row IV was already making me nervous before THQ became the highest profile victims of the current economy and their portfolio was split up and sold off to the highest bidders. Saints Row IV was practically finished by Volition when it got sold off to Deep Silver but even so, Deep Silver are so bafflingly inconsistent that just seeing their name associated with it was making me nervous.

Saints Row: The Third had one of the most astonishing opening fifteen minutes of any game ever, so when Saints Row IV opened with a by-the-numbers tutorial level set in some sort of generic installation I was already disappointed. Thankfully, the game soon gets going and when it does, fucking hell, it takes the classic Saints Row silliness to another level. The first hour or so of the game in particular is breathless.

Now at this point it’s important to strike a balance between explaining why Saints Row IV is so essential while not giving away too much. The joy of the game is that it drops huge laughs on you while throwing in all-new chunks of gameplay that you just won’t be expecting so from this point on, consider yourself warned. I won’t spoil the jokes but you need to know this – this isn’t just Saints Row: The Third with an extended story and a few more activity types.

You see, for reasons that I’ll let the game explain to you, this isn’t just another sandbox gangster-em-up. This is a balls-out super hero game that mixes elements of Crackdown, Prototype and inFAMOUS and does so to great effect. This game sees you running faster than the proverbial speeding bullet and jumping buildings in a single bound. It draws the line at flying but you can glide like a motherfucker. Add to that a bunch of other superpowers (that I won’t spoil for you here) and Saints Row IV gives you perhaps one of the most powerful characters you’ve ever played as.

Prototype’s lead protagonist was similarly powered but that just made that game boring and unfocused. Somehow, Saints Row IV still manages to balance the gameplay well enough that you are still challenged, even if I didn’t die more than a handful of times during the whole campaign (played on the default Normal difficulty) and the powers at your disposal when mixed with the classic Saints Row sandbox setting make the whole game more fun than I ever imagine it would be.

The downside to this new level of freedom is that all of the vehicles now feel completely irrelevant, which is a shame given what a great feature they were in the previous game, and sometimes the game engine struggles to keep up with what is going on (although cleverly they kind of explain away some of the glitching in the plot and the framerate doesn’t slow down although it does often skip frames in order to keep up). Graphically, it won’t be winning any beauty prizes either and sacrifices some detail in order to give you more freedom to create carnage, which is a trade off that I can live with.

Likewise, now that you’re super-powered, there’s no emphasis on building up your gang by buying businesses and properties to live in, which is something I miss more than expected. The trick is to disassociate Saints Row IV with what has come before. This is no longer a GTA wannabe. Instead this is perhaps the (spiritual) Crackdown sequel that we’ve wanted ever since the real sequel so badly disappointed us all. Forget about empire building and having real rivals, and just concentrate on doing your best Neo impression by jumping around like Everlast has a gun to the head of your mother.

Despite the changes though, some unmistakeable elements still remain. The vehicles, as irrelevant as they now are, are still as outlandish as ever and there are some absolutely fantastic new guns to play with. You’ve no doubt heard about the dubstep gun but there are even better toys to play with than that. The soundtrack is as sublime and ridiculous as ever, with several downright-hilarious musical cues waiting to surprise you as you progress through the story.

All the usual activities have returned, such as the hilarious Insurance Fraud mode, as well as a host of new ones that take advantage of your new abilities and these are a pleasant enough diversion from the main story although, for a game of this type, it is all over relatively soon with full quest completion being achievable in under a week’s worth of play, but that’s not a bad thing because, as with Saints Row: The Third, this is a sugar-rush of a game and too much of it would have spoiled the experience.

In many ways, this is my favourite title in the Saints Row series, but in delivering such a ridiculously-fun game world to play in, some of the substance is undeniably lost and, at times, Saints Row IV feels a little thin. The story is massively satisfying but the sandbox trappings mean that there is a lot to do outside of the main campaign and, with no rival gangs to struggle against, it can seem a little pointless once the novelty of being the most badass Saint of all time wears off.

None of that matters though when you are on the receiving end of some of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen in gaming. This isn’t weird, fruity Japanese or smug Tim Schafer type humour either. These are big belly laughs for gamers who are old enough to get the references tied to some of the best sandboxing gaming I’ve seen in a long time. Your move, Rockstar.

  • All the fun.
  • A surprising twist on the Saints Row gameplay that takes the series in an unexpected but awesome new direction.
  • Typically outlandish story peppered with huge laughs.
  • Lots of new toys to cause mayhem with.
  • Once you get past the bold new gameplay and the story, the traditional sandbox elements are a little underwhelming.
  • Vehicles are now redundant.
  • The game engine feels a little underpowered and graphics whores definitely won't be impressed.

Saints Row IV delivers. This could so easily have been more of the same but Volition have created a very unexpected game, and it's a great success. This is balls-to-the-wall action married to a story that is as daft and hilarious as any you've ever experienced. With GTA V around the corner, this feels like eating your dessert before you've had your main meal but if you fancy being a little naughty, Saints Row IV gives you all the tools to do it.

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  1. Mark Mark S says:

    I am loving this game right now. Picked it up on the PC and the visuals are clearly a lot better on there, another sign that this generation is done. Anyways I wasn’t a huge fan of the third, but this is brilliant. Nothing but laughs from the very beginning. If you are looking for a good time, play it with the Nolan North voice over, lots of 4th wall breakage.

    If you have the option though, get it on the PC.

  2. Rook says:

    I’ve always been a fan of the Saints Row series but the third game and this one as so special and ridiculously fun. This game crashed and stuttered more than any other game I’ve played on the 360 and as annoying as that was I would always go straight back to the game because it is just so good – that’s not fiction, that’s a matter of fact.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    Never have played a Saints Row IV game and still not sure they’re for me, tbh. I don’t do gangsters or superheroes particularly, but I will admit that it doesn’t look bad, especially on the PC. All the nauseating hype over GTA V makes me want to run screaming in the opposite direction, which would appear to be this way…

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