The evolution of the Saints Row franchise has been fun to watch. Starting out as a humorous GTA clone, and now sitting atop the empire of insanity with a tentacle bat. Developer Volition knows how to create fun, and Saints Row IV is packed with 20+ hours of just that. I admit I was concerned coming in that after Saints Row: The Third, going anymore outside the box would lose some of its charm, but I am glad to confirm that there is little here to siphon out the joy of this game reviewer.
The structure of SR4 is much like the previous entry. Players once again assume role of their avatar, who after a quick action/shooter-like opening mission, becomes the President of the United States, in addition to being the leader of The Saints. The world suddenly gets invaded by aliens, and I was quickly thrown into a simulation that opens up the possibilities of superpowers. Once again Volition nails the wacky humor and excellent writing the series has come to be known for. There are plenty of funny moments littered throughout the course of the game; as well as a ton of missions that once again leave a lasting impression.
Every mission in the game is now accessed through a quests menu. Story quests are listed as primary, while everything else is labeled side quests. It is worth noting that the ones showcased as “loyalty” missions are by far the most enjoyable. These contain outlandish objectives, and variety. The rest of the side missions usually involve partaking in the game’s several activities. Most of them are genuinely entertaining, but the hacking and races tend to get stale after a few bouts. I was not a fan of having to hack every store to “own” it within the game.
Activities have been toned down to at least exclude some of the more drab entries. Races are novel at first due to superpowers, while the return of Insurance Fraud is once again the most enjoyable. The collectible aspect has also been refined. The biggest being of course the clusters found around the city. These are what upgrade the superpowers within the game, and they come in a variety of fashions. Normal ones are littered on rooftops, while others require special powers such as telekinesis or ground stomp. I liked that the game blocks these off with powers, as it kept my OCD from causing me to collect them all right from the start.
There are also audio logs scattered around that give more depth to the characters. Volition has built a solid cast, and they continue to flesh them out in SRIV. Beyond that, most of my trek for 100% consisted of hacking stores, mopping up activities and collecting orbs, of which the former two definitely got stale towards the end. Co-op is also available much like the previous game, and hopping around the city with a friend makes finishing these much more entertaining. There are also specially designed activities that are only available when playing with someone else. The horde mode is gone, and honestly not missed.
Saints Row IV is all about feeling like a bad ass though, and it does that better than most. As I stated in my preview, the best way to describe how it plays, is to picture a glorious marriage of Crackdown and Saints Row: The Third. Collecting clusters and upgrading my jump to extend that few extra feet really set the tone early on. It became an addiction to jump higher, and glide longer in the virtual world of Steelport. Sadly there are several missions that stripped my powers away. Every time one of these cropped up I let out an audible sigh. It is hard to get the keys to the city, only to have them constantly taken away like punishment.
Upgrades play a large role throughout the game. Clusters are used to upgrade powers, of which there are eight total. Instead of money, players now collect Cache (which is pretty much the same thing) which is used to upgrade weapons, buy new clothes and of course purchase upgrades like health and combat abilities. The system feels familiar, limiting certain things to specific levels. The XP system returns and eventually I made my character an unstoppable force, but it all progresses nicely, giving incentive to keep grinding out that XP.
The addition of super powers within the world also completely eliminates the need to drive a car; that is of course unless I was forced into a mission without them. Thankfully, the missions rarely require such mundane forms of travel. Outside of the side missions that had me tirelessly slogging through activities, there are some real gems in SRIV. Like the previous game, there are several nods to classic genres and even specific games. I loved the references to shooting out lights in stealth games, as well as the ridiculousness of mechanics in a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up. Volition nails so many of these beats that I was smiling and nodding my head as much as I was laughing.
The world of Saints Row IV looks strikingly familiar to The Third. Character models feel lifted, and outside of a few new effects, the game looks like a moderate upgrade. The virtual city is also always night time, which was jarring to me. I enjoyed the cycles found in previous games. Still, running on a high-end PC, it all runs extremely smooth. I love the glitching effects when inside the simulation, and the team took a lot of liberties to make certain aspects funny, just because they could.
The audio is spectacular though. The selection of licensed tracks and stations is nearly perfect, with the Mix still being my preferred jam. The voice work is lifted from the third game, which means it is stellar, with the addition to create your own Nolan North-voiced character. Now who doesn’t want that?
Saints Row IV feels like it hits the wall in terms of ridiculousness. I may have said it when I reviewed the third game, but I cannot see Volition taking this much further without feeling forced. Still they have proven me wrong already, so if the next game is as enjoyable as this one, I am certainly not going to complain. Still, the tedious side quests wear down an otherwise stellar package. It feels less robust than the last game, but the amount of fun I derived is more than worth diving in for. Grab yourself a donkey beer and a tentacle bat, it is time for some virtual stimulation.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PC.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670