Saints Row 4 Review: Perverts Of The World, Unite And Take Over
So What Works, Bitch?
Everything I could say here, I’ve already said in July after my time spent with the Saints Row 4 preview build. The only difference a month makes is the happy realization that my misgivings at that time were misplaced. The praise I lavished on the game then remains as appropriate now as then, in fact more so. And the flaws are, at worst, just annoying.
First up, Saints Row IV is beautiful without being exclusionary. Built with the same engine as Saints Row: The Third, it preserves that game’s gorgeous color palette and still offers minimum specs that allow for relatively old PCs to run it with few problems. On the other hand, it’s absolutely amazing on a strong PC. There’s never a moment it doesn’t look gorgeous, and I experienced no issues on high settings. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the recommended specs include a GPU launched in 2009.
Better yet, every asset in this game, from lines of dialogue to the visual details crammed into one-off levels like the 1950s television parody you’ll experience early in the game, feels like it was personally selected, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s soundtrack. No joke, Saints Row IV’s Licensed music has to be one of the most carefully selected track lists since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Saints Row IV follows the previous game in using licensed music to excellent effect, in a couple of instances almost achieving Scarface levels of brilliance when it comes to soundtrack and plot synchronicity. To even mention a sizable portion of the soundtrack will spoil stuff you should experience for yourself, but even without accounting for those moments, as I noted in July, every song feels calculated to combine as effectively as possible with the rampant destruction.
That’s due in part to one of the best innovations to hit the open world genre since 360 degree camera rotation: the ability to listen to the in-game radio stations in and out of your car. It sounds like a small thing, a necessity caused by the fact that your super powers (more on them shortly) make driving in cars feel like a vestigial tail. Suddenly you can enjoy whichever songs you like best (via the ability to create personal mix tapes for your character). But it changes everything. Casually destroying city blocks while EMF’s “Unbelievable” plays, completing missions with Holst’s “Mars, Bringer Of War” as your background music, or just jumping around the city of Steelport with “Oh Shit” by The Pharcyde as your copilot seems so obvious it’s astounding this is the first time an open world game has offered the option.
But if you don’t like the licensed tunes, the original score – a hodge podge of electronic styles ranging from dubstep to chillwave big beat – is equally fantastic. There’s even a musical cue for when you power jump into the air. Add to this the excellent voice cast, which includes Keith David, Neil Patrick Harris, a very, very brief appearance by the late Michael Clarke Duncan as well as voice acting royalty like Troy Baker and Nolan North, and cameos I’m not spoiling.
As for gameplay itself, it’s identical to Saints Row: The Third, only… more. You still move about as you’d expect within the open world sections, you still grab weapons and shoot enemies without remorse. And the RPG elements such as leveling up to unlock character upgrades and bonuses returns, as do intensive character customization right down to the size of your package (or boobs). But Volition has mixed things up by turning you into a virtual god. When you’re enjoying your murder simulator, you have two options: kill things with fantastic weapons, or kill things with fantastic powers.
The powers are presented as a side effect of the simulation. Much like The Matrix, you can bend or break the rules of Zinyak’s fake Steelport, which allows you to do things like run at supersonic speeds, fly (technically, glide), fling ice or fire from your hands, levitate enemies with your mind, or deliver nuclear blasts with your feet. A lot of people are comparing the way powers work in the game, particularly jumping, to Crackdown, and while that’s fair it also isn’t fair. Unlike Crackdown, Saints Row IV is actually fun.
If you don’t like superpowers, you can use a ridiculous array of weapons that are as cray as you’ve heard. Appropriately, since SR4 abandons the gritty urban warfare theme for straight up science fiction1, weapons abandon the pretense of real worldliness. There’s the Dubstep gun of course, but it’s nothing compared to a gun that shoots black holes. Or inflates enemy heads until they explode. Or calls down alien abductors who remove enemies from the battlefield, Contact-style.
While weapons could be customized in Saints Row: The Third, here it’s taken to almost comical extremes. Each weapon can be modified for greater damage, special attributes, increased ammo capacity and so forth, but they can also be reskinned, which grants them new properties. For instance, pistols you can modify to look like Han Solo’s blaster: when you do so, they shoot laser “bullets” instead of regular projectiles. And trust, this isn’t even scratching the surface. You can spend almost as much time tweaking your guns as you can tweaking your face at Image by Design.
As for the game itself, it’s a hybrid of linear(ish) story missions and a plethora of side activities that mostly works. You’ll complete side missions to unlock more powers and enable the ability to access new allies, who in turn unlock critical story missions that take you everywhere from the first Saints Row to a parody of Metroid. You also get to play what feels like 10 games in one. Like text-based adventures? You get two of them. Fighting games? You get several opportunities. RPGs? Trust me, this might be the closest an action crime game will ever get. And, no joke, Mass Effect fans still angry about Mass Effect 3 can consider their honor defended. (I’m not going to spoil it, but it happens twice.)
Meanwhile, Saints Row IV does everything possible to tie every game in the series to it. Characters from all three previous games return, in almost every instance voiced by their original actors, and even plot points from the first game end up having an impact on the events of this one. Yes, this does mean that fullest enjoyment is going to come to people who’ve stuck with the series since the original back in 2006 (not to mention people who’ve played, you know, every game ever made.) But that’s fine.
Best of all, Saints Row IV has to be the most inclusive game about murderous sociopaths ever conceived. Male, female, gay, straight, no matter what race you are, this game will pander to you shamelessly. You will never feel so good about (SPOILER) getting a blow job from a robot ever again.