Publisher: Volition (Red Faction)
Platforms: PS3 (version reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: 20 August (US), 23 August (UK)
Anyone daring to make comparisons between Saints Row IV and Grand Theft Auto V clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. Sure, the Saints Row franchise began as a fun if somewhat unoriginal sandbox crime game. But with every iteration, the series has tried to distance itself from its inspiration and form its own identity. And now with Saints Row IV, it has gone so far off its roots that there is no way you can now say it’s ripping off GTA. But does this individuality make it a better game, or has losing its identity caused it to lose its mind?
For those who pay attention to the ludicrous stories of the Saints Row games, this one is a doozy. I won’t go too far into detail but it involves aliens, superpowers, virtual realities and giant sentient energy drink cans. Find that wacky enough? In all honesty, the quality of writing in a Saints Row is about the same as your average episode of Family Guy and contains a similar sense of humour. Expect plenty of sex gags, bodily function humour, extreme profanity and more pop culture references than you could possibly dream of. The game parodies movies such as The Matrix and Armageddon, and other games like Mass Effect and Fallout. Long time followers of the franchise will get a kick from all the throwbacks to the previous games, but even newcomers should be able to understand the proceedings without too much trouble.
Pretty much almost everything from Saints Row: The Third is back in IV. The city of Steelport has only received a slight touch-up in its paintjob, so if you played the previous game you’ll find all the stores exactly where they were left. The customisation options have been expanded slightly, and fiddling around with your character’s look and clothing can consume hours of gameplay by itself. The gun system has been overhauled, allowing for more exact upgrades and even the ability to pick skins and paintjobs for your arsenal. Shooting and driving mechanics also work pretty much as you remember, but so much more has been added. The big addition is, of course, superpowers. By the end of the game, you’ll be gliding across the skies, running faster than any car, throwing fireballs and levitating cars to your hearts content. Sure, the game can become a little imbalanced at times and makes the driving mechanics basically useless, but the fun factor makes you forget these problems and just running across the city becomes a joy. The game ends up feeling more like Crackdown or Prototype, and I know some may find that perplexing. But for those who dig those kind of games but just wish they were even more ludicrous, this is the game for you. Mission variety is similar to The Third: lots of go here, shoot this, guard that. But every time it starts to get monotonous, they give you a new toy to play with or switch up the mechanics. The side activities are also here, and many of them have been improved by the addition of powers, most notably Insurance Fraud and Fight Club. Completing side objectives and missions will now also unlock new costumes, weapons, powers and gang members, giving much more incentive to go do them. I beat the game in about 12 hours (though that is with plenty of pissing around doing side missions and hunting collectables), but there is still a lot more for me to do before I get anywhere near 100% completion.
The Saints Row series has never been graphically proficient, and IV is no exception. The game looks pretty much exactly the same as The Third, perhaps worse. The frame rate can sometimes chug during hectic moments, and there are plenty of glitches. But the game makes up for it with good design, and that’s the more important thing in the end. The voice acting is still excellent, with most of the cast from previous games returning with some exceptions. Whilst actors like Michael Dorn and Neil Patrick Harris return for very minor reprieves, its sad that others like Eliza Dushku and Mila Kunis have not. Terry Crews takes over for the late Michael Clarke Duncan and does a decent job at making the character his own, and fans of Keith David should enjoy his self-deprecating performance and a mission that recalls one of his more famous films (and it’s co-star). But it’s JB Blanc’s performance as the villainous Zinyak that steals the show whenever he pops up. The soundtrack is also top-notch, and whenever the game ties a song to a particular mission it is just beautiful. Nothing is more badass than taking out a nuclear missile whilst Aerosmith blares in the background, or as odd as escaping an alien spaceship as “What is Love” by Haddaway plays. Plus, any piece of media that includes “The Safety Dance” AND “The Touch” instantly earns my affections.
Saints Row IV isn’t smart or pretty, but it is so much f***ing fun that you won’t care. Every time I picked up this game and started playing, I just smiled. There is plenty here to keep you occupied until GTA V and much long after. Saints Row IV proves that all you need is fun solid mechanics to make a game enjoyable, but makes the effort to back it up with a story, characters and a disturbed sense of humour. If you thought Saints Row: The Third went too far, you are most likely not going to like this one. But otherwise, just pick up the game and have fun. You won’t regret it.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10