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.

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10 Comments on Saints Row 4 Review: Perverts Of The World, Unite And Take Over

Heru

On August 14, 2013 at 7:03 am

This review is a bit long-winded, but it’s too busy being awesome to notice.

On a side note, now that SRIV is finished maybe someone can convince Volition to buy back the Freespace IP…. now that would be awesome.

AxΣtwin

On August 14, 2013 at 9:51 am

lol “11 comments” yet only 1 actually shows up.

So I have questions.

1. When you look at all the side activities in SR3 and compare them to SR2, 3 comes up short. Almost feeling rather shallow. Is this still a problem for 4? Or have the increased the number of activities you do?

2. With the exception of a couple missions, the first 50% (I’m not kidding, I was 56% of the way through the game according to the progress bar) of the game was basically one tutorial for the side activities only, disguised as the “main mission”. Have they repeated this as well?

3. Money was a surprisingly rare commodity in SR3. It felt like you never had enough to play around with until literally the very end of the game. Unless of course you were lucky enough to find AND kill Professer Genki roaming around the open world. Even then, the money you got off the corpse never lasted you very long. I’m not expecting to have unlimited money. However, if I’m halfway through the game, and I’m doing everything I can. My hourly income should not be a measly 5k dollars. Especially when my upgrades are running me 40-50k dollars. So my question, is, have they balanced out how you earn money vs how expensive upgrades are?

4. Finally, the ultimate question. Is this game better than SR3?

Swcloud99

On August 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

Please answer ax3twin’s question please.
It’s everything I’m wondering about SR4.

Ross Lincoln

On August 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

Hi guys,

from the review:

“But the open world segments which largely consist of glorified excuses to force you to do side activities in order to level up contrast poorly.

In order to increase your powers, you have to complete side activities to unlock them, then collect in-game items in order to purchase upgrades to those powers. In order to increase your basic attributes like health or ammo capacity, you need to level up by… completing side activities and collecting in-game items. The activities, ranging from races and platforming puzzles to fight club battles and ‘hacking,’ are plenty of fun, and the addition of completion tiers give you more to do with them. But even those activities carried over from previous games feel more like a distraction than an asset.

the side activities, while fun, feel superfluous. But they take up a mandatory 50% or so of the game, making them feel like chores. This is especially apparent when compared to the actual story missions.”

The difference here is there is a lot more real story than it felt like in SR3. I LOVED SR3, but I agree that much of what passed for missions was side mission tutorial. It’s similar here, but there’s more to do all around so it doesn’t quite feel so bad.

I think it’s slightly better than SR3. (My SR3 review gave that game a 90.)

Ross Lincoln

On August 14, 2013 at 10:06 am

As for money, I feel like it’s very well balanced. It’s difficult to completely power up your character too early, but it’s never difficult or too time consuming to get money to buy new upgrades. Though it is true that you’ll have to wait from time to time.

Ross Lincoln

On August 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

OH, and those invisible comments are pingbacks to other sites. Not sure why they’re not being listed here, looking into that.

Kazoo

On August 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Ok.. lemme ask this… I’ve never played, nor seen, a Saints Row game. If I wanted to try one out.. which one would I start with?

This review indicates that IV gets a lot of its awesomeness in the fact that it’s IV, so I’m afraid I would fail ti appreciate a lot of it.

Ross Lincoln

On August 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Start with 2. While there are parts of 4 (and 2) that won’t make a lot of sense without playing the first game, it’s basically just a semi-decent GTA clone. 2 is where Volition started making an effort to differentiate the series from GTA with added wackiness and way more diversity in side activities. It also ties directly into Red Faction: Guerilla, which is a nice touch. (just don’t remind me how Armageddon ruined the red faction series).

The thing to bear in mind is that SR2 is very dark compared to 3 and 4. It makes sense in context, kind of, and the transition won’t ruin your enjoyment. But it’s a bit of a shock at first. Also, unfortunately, the PC version of SR2 is , and the DLC isn’t available for it. So play SR2 on console then switch to PC for 3 and 4.

AxΣtwin

On August 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

@ Kazoo – You could also watch a LP of the first game. I would link to one, but I don’t know if that’s allowed on here or not. I only watch completed LP’s done by those on the SA forums, so it’s not some random youtuber who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

coin

On August 22, 2013 at 11:14 am

how do I join this sever