Saints Row IV
was originally planned to be an expansion to the popular Saints Row: The Third
, but Volition decided to up the ante and release a stand-alone retail release that promised to take the Saints Row
franchise in a new direction. With a switch in publisher to Deep Silver (who stepped in to save both the studio and the game when THQ collapsed earlier this year), the question becomes: does the game provide the hit that the former publisher so needed, or will it alienate the Saints Row
After a short, but memorable and hilarious, opening sequence, Saints Row IV
catches up with your unnamed protagonist who has become the President of the United States. Here, the game take you on a brief tutorial and reintroduces you to the crew you left behind at the end of SR3
. Despite a drop in popularity since becoming President, your newly-created lead character carries on with day-to-day presidential tasks, such as deciding if you should cure cancer or end world starvation, and if you should punch people in the face or the privates.
On your way to a press conference, the world as we know it changes when Zinyak, the leader of the Zin Empire, enters the action, kidnapping you and the rest of the Saints before destroying Earth and killing billions of people.
Upon waking up, the game leaves its linear, but gag-filled introduction behind and enters the Matrix/Animus-style Steelport. At first the location seems very familiar, save for a few alterations that Zinyak has made, but once you begin progressing through the story, Steelport becomes a whole different world.
Your aim is to destroy the virtual Steelport from the inside, whilst at the same time rescuing the rest of your captured crew from their own virtual nightmare in which Zinyak has trapped them and returning them to the safety of your captured spaceship.
To switch between the virtual and real world, you unlock gateways throughout the city as you progress that allow you to travel between Steelport and your ship to obtain more quests or even romance your real world allies Mass Effect
In the virtual Steelport, you’re assisted in your objectives with the addition of super powers. At first, you are provided with two basic powers that allow you to run faster than any of the numerous cars the game has to offer, and the ability to super jump up the side of the tallest buildings. This allows you to travel through the map in a Crackdown
fashion, gliding from rooftop to rooftop and running down streets. It might put some fans off, but the addition of super powers make traveling from point A to point B in missions an extremely fun and addictive process.
It does come with a downside however, as the city no longer feels alive like it did in SR3
. You’ll find that you barely pay attention to your surroundings and that the game’s extremely-well-done driving mechanics are no longer required at all. That being said, the tradeoff really works as the additional gameplay more than makes up for any short comings.
More super powers become unlocked upon completing quests throughout the course of the game, with super stomps, telekinesis and the ability to shoot ice or fire from your hands all adding to your arsenal. As an added bonus, all of these powers can be upgraded by collecting Clusters that litter the map. There are over 1000 to be found in total, but the additional boost you receive makes them fun to collect rather than a chore. After one side quest, all of the Cluster locations are added to your map, and on more than one occasion you’ll probably find yourself spending fifteen minutes between missions, gliding through the city to collect all of the Clusters in view.
The ten hour main campaign was a joy to play through, and provided mayhem and comedy that only the Saints Row
franchise can pull off. The whole game is littered with references to other games, pop culture, and moments of sheer madness that are best witnessed first-hand rather than being discovered or spoiled in advance.
The game can also be played in co-op and, if you have a friend with the game, I’d strongly recommend it, as the craziness and fun increases to another level with two super powered Saints.
In addition to the main story, the map is full of side objectives similar to those found in SR3
, but this time they allow you to use your super powers to get the job done. Races are now on foot, Mayhem uses super powers as well as tanks, and Insurance Fraud gets even crazier now that you can catapult yourself into oncoming traffic from the top of buildings or at super speeds.
There’s also the addition of a medal system for each task that awards Bronze, Silver or Gold depending on your performance, rather than the straight pass or fail of SR3
. Whilst all of the side activities can be played at your own pace by visiting their start location on the map, they are also nicely tied into the story as quests available from your rescued Saints.
Despite the addition of the new super powers, the gameplay is very much similar to that found in SR3
, and many of the game’s core mechanics are identical to its predecessor. You can still carry a large array of weapons, all of which can now be customised in colour and pattern, and Cache, the new in-game currency, can be used to upgrade all of the weapons bought at stores found throughout the city.
In addition to the normal weapons, there’s new alien technology to be played with, and some of the new weapons such as the Dubstep and Inflation guns add another layer of fun and humour. Similar to super powers, new guns are unlocked by completing side quests for your rescued allies, making every challenge in the game worth playing.
As with SR3
, you also have the option to upgrade numerous abilities that unlock as you progress through the XP ranks. New abilities can be purchased with Cache, and will eventually provide you with twice as much health, unlimited ammo for your weapons and other benefits that will make you almost invincible.
As you complete objectives throughout the map, you’ll liberate areas into Saints’ control. Here, friendly gang members will walk the streets and assist you in your fight against the Zin. You can also use your in-game phone to call in support from your crew members on the ship, but to be honest, once you’ve purchased upgrades to your health, weapons and super abilities, you will barely need them at all.
If you’ve played through SR3
, the achievement list will seem very familiar, with the majority of achievements unlocked for story progression, use of weapons, upgrading your character and completing side objectives. There are three achievements tied to collectibles, one of which requires you to collect all of the 1000+ Clusters in the game. At first it may seem like a daunting task, but all of the Cluster locations will be shown on your map once you complete a side quest, and collecting them becomes a quick and fun process once your run and jump powers become upgraded. Three achievements are guaranteed to be time consuming, but if you are prepared to work towards the Fourth and Forty
achievement (requiring for 40 hours time spent in virtual Steelport), you’ll have more than enough time to work towards the 65 challenges required for The Challenge King
If you’re put off from picking up Saints Row IV
because you think it should be the expansion it was originally set out to be, I’d urge you to pick it up and give it ago. There’s easily over 30 hours of humour-filled craziness to be had in virtual Steelport. The gameplay is brilliantly done, and it’s the first game in a long time that genuinely had me laughing to myself on numerous occasions.
On the downside, there are a few technical issues with screen tearing and frame rate drops, and on more than one occasion my console froze mid-session. Annoying yes, but it’s certainly not game-breaking enough to take away from the brilliance that Saints Row IV
has to offer.
The addition of super powers does take away from the some of the gameplay that helped shape the series, but the additional positives they add far outweigh any negatives. Saints Row IV
is certainly not to be missed.
The reviewer has spent 31 hours laughing through the fight against the Zin empire, earning 48 of the game's 50 achievements. The game was provided complements of the publisher for review purposes.