Saints Row IV – Sorta Review

Would you believe I’ve never tried a Saints Row game before this one? My only real familiarity with the series is thinking of it as “the games that picked up the silly after GTA dropped it” and watching some Let’s Plays of Saints Row The Third, including the one by Cox’n’Crendor. So my hands-on experience was nil before Saints Row IV.

Okay, I admit it, I like the logo.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. Saints Row IV was developed by Volition, and they started while still under THQ, but since that publisher sank the developer was bought by Deep Silver who ended up publishing the title. It’s out right now for XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows PC (which was the version I played).

Between this and Metro: Last Light I’d say Deep Silver got out of the auctions rather well.

The PC port actually works quite well, especially in the most important part: The controls. I started with Keyboard and Mouse controls, and liked them so much I completely forgot to check out Gamepad support. Well, okay, not so much forgot, as didn’t want to. The KB+M setup worked so well I didn’t see any way a Gamepad could improve upon it. (Except possibly when driving a tank, which feels super-fiddly.)

Let me just get this out there right away: Saints Row IV is a bug-riddled mess. I had the game crash on several occasions; animations would glitch out; the wrong subtitles would sometimes play for the voice I had selected, which I’m certain actually prompted the wrong response from an NPC once, as I think they replied to the subtitles rather than what I said; and I would occasionally get stuck in scenery.

If a bit grey at times.

The scenery looks pretty nice, admittedly.

They did patch the game just an hour before I started writing this, so hopefully some of these issues have been fixed. If I am to be perfectly honest though, the bugs did not really impact my enjoyment in the slightest. In fact, one of them made me nearly fall out of my chair with laughter, and nicely capped off a night I’d stayed up way too late to play.

Saints Row IV is acutely self-aware, and very self-referential as a result. Callbacks to earlier games are often so obvious that even though I hadn’t played them I still caught it, and smiled when they made comments about how the player character didn’t even talk in the first game. Slight spoiler: Or when your world is invaded by the Default Player from the first and second games, and a double shows up, and Kinzie says “It’s the co-op player!”. Good times.

They come fully equipped. *waggle*

Are you my new friend?

As we’re sorta on the topic: the Saints Row character creator is absolutely fantastic. The amount of freedom in how you want to make your character is something other games could take some notes from. Just because you set your sex to female, that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to sport a beard or have a deep man’s voice. And a male sex does not stop you from wearing make-up or anything else traditionally linked to women. The Volition philosophy seems to be “it’s your character, who are we to judge?” and no one in the gameworld will treat you differently based on what you look like. Saints Row IV might actually be the most progressive game on the market in this sense.

There’s also a voice pack just called Nolan North, and from what little I’ve heard of it, I’m convinced I need to play through the entire game once with that one.

I had to take a break from laughing too much.

And previewing outfits while wearing a silly hat and a monocle never got old.

From what I’ve been able to tell, Saints Row has generally picked up and carried on from the sillier aspects of the GTA series, putting its own spin on things and generally cranking up the dial for each new game. In this one it seemed like they figured they’d done all the could with the GTA formula, and started borrowing from every other game they felt like. The amount of “we don’t give a fuck” on display here is impressive. It’s like they just went “is this fun and/or entertaining? Then put it in!” since not everything synergises as well as it maybe should.

In fact, I’d say that the new super-powers are both the game’s biggest strength, and biggest weakness. Borrowing elements from Crackdown, Infamous and Prototype, the powers are fun to use, and make the world fun to traverse, even if it’s not that challenging as a result. Once you have sprint, jump, glide and wall-running, going from one end of the city to the other is smooth and fun. And it even fits well into combat, though I will admit that the Freeze Blast was the one I used the most, especially after I got the upgrade that made shattered enemies explode, potentially shattering others nearby and blowing up cars.

Though it did cause the game the crash first time I did it.

I will not tell you how I did this, but it was very fun.

But since the game also seems to retain all the stuff from Saints Row the Third with lots of vehicles and more, it all starts to feel rather superfluous when you can run faster than any car and glide faster than any aircraft. You don’t need a helicopter to quickly get on top of a building when you can just run up the side. And there’s this annoying thing of how you can’t use weapons while running, jumping or gliding, which I’m surprised they didn’t think of. You have to stop/land and get out of ‘power mode’ to be able to draw your weapon and fire, and while it is fun to run around like a lunatic taking down hordes of enemies with super-powered wrestling moves, it would be nice to be able to fire your rocket launcher from the air.

Physics are not your friend when you're driving.

Some side-missions require you to fetch special cars.

There are also missions where you lose your powers for whatever reason, and they can often be quite annoying to play, even if they’re fun from a story standpoint. Like, I would recommend freeing Asha Odekar as soon as you can, especially if you’re playing as a woman. It’s not very fun as gameplay, but it has several must-see moments.

I was actually rather surprised at how strong the story is in the game. A lot of it is very silly, and fully aware of it, but there’s also a lot of good writing on display here. The villain, Zinyak, is probably the best-written and best-acted villain I’ve seen in anything for a while, even if he does occasionally do things that are questionable. And then there’s the occasional nostalgia trip or cool reference that just sends me into a state of pure glee.

Pimp Shark cares not for your problems.

There is also this thing.

Between the quests and all the side activities you can faff about with, I probably spent about 25 or 26 hours getting through Saints Row IV, and I enjoyed the vast majority of it. In certain ways it’s so absolutely perfect, and in others it’s all too clear how it’s holding itself back. On the whole though, I’d say the positives much outweigh the negatives, and I have no issue about recommending this game. There’s more I could say, but it’d really only be belabouring the point.

In spite of its problems, I’d still say Saints Row IV is one of the strongest titles of 2013, and I was lucky it came out close to my birthday so I could ask for it as a gift.

~Wulf

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Posted on August 27, 2013, in Games, Sorta reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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