- Stupidly Awesome and Awesomely Stupid
- Wide array of Avatar Customization options
- Great Humour
- Great References
- Good characters
- Strong Writing
- Steelport, not Stillwater
- Powers make “normal” upgrades meaningless
- Repetitive missions
- Dull activities
- Terrible plot
- Too few Homies
- Virtual setting makes everything feel meaningless
Saints Row IV (SR4) is the latest installment in the highly successful and incredibly insane Saint’s Row series, a series famous for mocking its own genre and all media in general, often spoofing popular and gamer cultures and never taking itself seriously.
Since the end of Saints Row The Third (SR3), the Third Street Saints have started doing works for Uncle Sam, their last one being your first ever mission in the game, ending on you falling, from the sky, through the White House roof and right into the Oval Office chair, and having saved the nation from a nuclear strike, you get the job of Mr. President.
If you thought that was weird enough, it’s nothing, because that’s when things get really weird, with the Zin Empire invading earth, kidnapping your entire crew in the process, selecting them as notable humans and putting them in stasis pods hooked up to a Matrix-like simulation for god knows what. After taking fighting the aliens on the White House Lawn, using the deployable mounted cannon (yes, that’s right) and even getting into a one-on-one with the Zin’s Emperor, Zinyak, you’re inevitably captured as well, and dropped into the same simulation; a virtual version of SR3’s Steelport, which is the first of my problems with the game. With this being the “culmination” of the saga, as it was marketed, you’d expect things going back to Stillwater, where it all began, and the home of the Third Street Saints. Steelport, on the other hand, has a veritable “been there, done that” feel to it.
Gameplay-wise, SR4 handles the exact same way as its predecessor, just now, you have superpowers, which you had for ONE mission in SR3, but now are more fleshed out and expanded. Aside from super running and super-jumping, you get Telekinesis, Blast (an elemental projectile, Ice being the default and my favourite), Stomp (self-explanatory) and Buff, to add elements to normal attacks and weapons. Of all of them, I found Blast (Ice) and the running and jumping to be the most useful, though they all get their uses and their upgrades feel significant at least, one point in Recharge and you’ll see a significant cooldown difference. As this is Saint’s Row, even superpowers can go to 11 with the last upgrades, Stomp’s Nuclear Blast effect and Run’s running on water being the most notable…and insane.
Of course, there are also normal weapons, which I had to rely on more than I expected something I don’t complain about, because some of those weapons are insanely fun, the alien guns in particular being fantastic, like the Rocket Launcher, “Abduction Gun”, Disintegrator and Dubstep Guns being the best among them all.
Sadly, the game sometimes forgets you can almost fly, and forces you to drive around the city when you are a walking force of nature, and the game’s pace and your enjoyment suffers because of it.
In addition to that, the powers make the rest of the upgrades, the ones you pay for with money and not “glitches” you collect as you do with powers, and which are the exact same from SR3, feel completely useless and not worth a single penny. When you’re a walking natural disaster, you don’t need Homie upgrades.
Saint’s Row has always been famous for its Side-missions, and while I enjoyed the hell out of them in SR3 and did all of them, I found myself bored and tired of them in SR4. As usual, most of the “classics” are still here, but just re-skinned to match the alien invasion theme, and there are a few new ones, but the fact it’s a simulation and not the “real” world removed any and all motivation for me to complete them all. In Saints Row The Third I hated the different enemy factions so taking over their territories felt awesome, but here it feels meaningless, and as I explained before, money is barely useful when you’re a moving cataclysm.
The other sour point about activities is how repetitive Homie missions can get. Each of your homies gives you a set number of missions, the first few ending with the homie getting superpowers and the rest unlocking new power upgrades for you. The problem is, they only send you out to do the already dull activities, over and over again, and somehow “directing” you to get a near 100% completion, something I didn’t feel happened in previous installments.
Thankfully the main missions more than make up for it, and over and over again prove you this is the Pacific Rim of video games, because just as Honest Trailers described it as “The Most Awesome Stupid Movie ever made or the Stupidest Awesome movie ever made”, so is SR4 the Stupidest Awesome Game ever or the most Awesome Stupid Game. From the first mission, climbing a nuclear rocket to Aerosmith’s “I don’t wanna miss a thing” to the last objective in the game, “Be a badass”, SR4 continuously, consistently and successfully escalates on its ridiculousness and humour.
Speaking of humour, the writing on SR4 is fantastic, from dialogs to characterizations, making all these well-known characters come alive once again and remain interesting, with Shaundi in particular being the best of them, her character growth and personality change from the experiences in SR3 coming into direct conflict with the fun-loving person she used to be, when she’s forced to meet and interact with her old self, now an independent individual inside the simulation. Even if I felt, for a moment, that bringing back his holiness, Johnny Gat, would invalidate all the growth and development coming from his death, they managed to pull it off without it happening, while at the same time furthering the Legend of Johnny Gat, who as Yahtzee Croshaw pointed out, has reached messianic levels. Speaking of Shaundi, her rescue mission and personal hell are heartbreaking, and show that Saints Row is as capable of dark and serious moments as it is with over the top humour.
Having said that, I was sad to see a few SR3 favourites of mine missing from this game, like the auto-tune-speaking Pimp Zimos and Viola. I felt no love, or hate, or anything at all for the MI6 agent replacement we got and it’s the only character I didn’t like.
I absolutely loved Zinyak, it’s really fun to see and hear a villain that enjoys being bad and enjoys screwing you over. And of course, there’s Keith David playing Keith David, an actor, who in SR1 & 2 played Julius Little; a likeness all the character comment on for some hilarious reactions.
For the first time, the Saint’s Row series gives you the chance to have a relationship with a character…but not really. Instead, you can “hook up” with pretty much the entire cast, male and female alike, for achievements and some very corny dialogue accompanied by “porn music”. While the “hook up” proposal sequences are hilarious, I have to say it was a missed opportunity on their part.
The plot is ridiculous, but you have so much fun giant-leaping across Steelport and breaking frozen enemies to little bits that you won’t really mind, and the constant and well done stream of references will keep you happy to the end, which, without spoiling much, includes the phrase “You keep what you kill – It’s a classic”.
Visually speaking, the game runs under the exact same engine as SR3, which makes Steelport and the activities feel all the more recycled. Where SR4 really shines is with its character editor, which features a ridiculous level of detail. I created a dark-skinned, red-eyed and haired Ganon-esque avatar with a very deep voice, and I didn’t even get well into the character details. You can find some very creative and highly disturbing ones on Youtube.
On the sound department, I can’t really say much because I never got in a car or turned on a radio. Instead, I listened to the regular game music, a nice techno beat I actually liked, which is saying a lot considering I hate techno. Voice acting, as in all previous SRs, is superb, with the main character having, quite funnily enough, a “Nolan North” option.
While the game has many faults and doesn’t advance the series as much as you’d hope and recycles plenty from SR3, Saints Row IV is an insanely fun game, and you’ll only realize all that was wrong with it when you’ve stopped playing and indulging yourself in your fantasy sandbox.
The Mental Attic Score: Wait for a sale. While the game is long, it feels more like an expansion to SR3 than a new game, and it’s not worth paying the full price. You can play it for free this week on Steam.