Saints Row IV Review

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"As a huge fan of Saints Row 2, I was very disappointed when the third installment veered from its witty narrative-oriented roots towards banal juvenile campiness with degraded gameplay and stripped-down content."

Everything is better with superpowers. At least that’s Volition’s motto when making games…and frankly, it’s precisely what the Saints needed. As a huge fan of Saints Row 2, I was very disappointed when the third installment veered from its witty narrative-oriented roots towards banal juvenile campiness with degraded gameplay and stripped-down content. And after seeing the initial SR IV trailers, I feared the series had officially become a derivative cheap thrill for obnoxious prepubescent teens without any of the charm that made the earlier titles so appealing. But after spending a solid 20+ hours with Volition’s latest entry in the Saints universe…I have to say I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Saints Row IV is a blast. While it’s no longer the Guy Ritchie-esque gangster satire like the first two SR titles, it’s become something even greater, something even more complete and engrossing…Saints Row IV has finally found its voice.

It seems that Deep Silver’s acquisition of Volition was the best thing that happened to the developer. In a recent interview, Volition criticized THQ’s approach to porn star exploitation in past entries, as it was never something the developer intended to emphasize so heavily. Maybe that’s why the predecessor was such an awkward mess filled with embarrassing sexual innuendos…and maybe that’s why the latest offering is just so much better.


"After being kidnapped by the alien leader Zinyak, you’re transported to a virtual version of Steelport where you’re granted superpowers to fight against the Zin Empire…and this is where fun begins."

Better humor, better performances, better action, better world design, better mission structure, everything is better. From the explosive intro to the first set of powers, SR IV makes a striking first impression. But unlike its predecessor, SR IV gets better with every mission. The Saints have come a long way since their street-thug days in Stilwater. You are now the president of the United States faced with an urgent political crisis…reclaiming your country and the rest of the world from alien invaders. After being kidnapped by the alien leader Zinyak, you’re transported to a virtual version of Steelport where you’re granted superpowers to fight against the Zin Empire…and this is where fun begins.

Unlike the crude gags in Saints Row The Third, SR IV delivers sharply written dialogue and hilarious performances. The humor still carries the same absurd Saints-Vibe, but it’s cleverer with countless nods to beloved video game classics of the past. The Saints Row franchise has suffered an interminable identity crisis over the years, but the new comic book flavored direction has proven to be a crucial ingredient to Saints’ newly renowned level of quality. Take a big chunk of Prototype, add a little bit of Infamous, a few pieces of GTA, a massive squirt of naughty…and you have a deliciously chaotic cocktail of awesome.


"The most commendable change is the diverse missions structure. Every mission is unique, memorable…and most importantly fun."

The game revolves around recruiting kidnapped Saints members who’ve been stuck in bizarre simulated worlds…and going up against Zinyak. The simple premise is suitable as the gameplay takes center stage. All previous fundamental gameplay elements still remain, but the introduction of superpowers lifts the series to new heights. Much like the upgradable abilities in past entries, collecting digital clusters around the city enhances your superpowers turning you into a total badass. Just collecting the shards alone is a blast as it constantly gives you something to do no matter where you are on the map. The superpowers range from super speed, super jump, and glide abilities to freezing, fire, and telekinesis. Even though you become absurdly powerful by the end, SR IV is no walk in the park. You’re constantly attacked from all sides by not only waves of alien soldiers, but opponents with similar special powers and heavily armed UFOs. The more powerful you become, the more tumultuous the battles are as the screen lights up with purplish neon explosions and ricocheting limbs.

The most commendable change is the diverse missions structure. Every mission is unique, memorable…and most importantly fun. Saints Row The Third suffered from derivative objectives and became dreadfully boring after the first few hours, but SR IV manages to get crazier and more enjoyable with every minute. One moment you’re sneaking around in a cardboard box à la Solid Snake, the next you’re racing down an F-Zero style track dodging enemy fire. When you’re not rescuing your buddies, the newly redesigned Steelport packs a mindboggling amount of side missions and mini games. The side activities are grouped together as side quests making them feel more relevant and connected to the main story missions. This is where SR IV really shines. The entire game feels more coherent and meticulous. For a series that always accentuated fun over narrative, the latest entry goes above and beyond in providing a vast playground filled with new ideas and old favorites.

 
"The lighting is superb, particularly while running full speed through crowds and bouncing off of skyscrapers. The framerate manages to stay fairly steady with only minor dips when the action gets too hectic."

One of my major gripes with Saints Row The Third was the world design and how shallow and empty it appeared. It felt like playing an alpha-build of the game instead of a finished product. While SR IV preserves the violet colored aesthetic and overall art style, the graphics have been improved tremendously. The most notable difference is Steelport itself. The city feels alive, radiating with vibrant colors and diverse inhabitants. The lighting is superb, particularly while running full speed through crowds and bouncing off of skyscrapers. The framerate manages to stay fairly steady with only minor dips when the action gets too hectic. It may not be the best-looking sandbox game out there, but it’s light-years ahead of what we’ve seen from previous installments.

But the game isn’t perfect either. While the humor and story are vastly superior to the predecessor, they still don’t live up to the quality of Saints Row 2. There’s really no character development of any sorts and the amusing Zinyak is somewhat of a wasted opportunity. I know the developers wanted to focus on fun and mayhem…but there’s some solid writing between the dildo swinging and alien bashing chaos so it’s a shame that the writers didn’t take character development further. However, these are all just minor gripes and they most certainly don’t take away from the otherwise fantastic experience.

Ultimately, with a series like Saints Row it’s really about wreaking chaos and just having mindless fun. Saints Row IV is the perfect game to come home to after a long day at work and unwind. It’s ludicrous, it’s big, and it’s a spectacular recovery from the disappointing predecessor. I can’t even begin to imagine what Volition has in store for us for future Saints releases, but if their latest offering is any indication of where the series is headed…then I’m in!

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360

8.5

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