Saints Row IV Preview: Parody Or Exaggeration?
Massive Fan Service
More than anything, Saints Row IV felt like a declaration of “we’re still here” from Volition after the incredible implosion of THQ, and proof that whatever else is happening since the move to Deep Silver, no one is trying to strangle the golden goose. The game, from what I saw, is full of nods to series history, most of which works rather well, even if the game has become, essentially, a parody.
First up is the return of Benjamin King. Longtime fans of the series will remember this character as the Leader of the Vice Kings in Saints Row, a former associate of original Third Street Saints boss Julius Little who eventually opts to retire from the gang life rather than die after his gang is disbanded. In Saints Row 2, references are frequently made to a book he wrote about his life of crime, and in Saints Row: The Third, it’s revealed that a successful film was made based on his book. Now he’s returned as a member of President Boss’ administration.
In Saints Row, he was voice by the late, great Michael Clark Duncan. I was told by one of the developers on hand that Duncan was in the middle of recording dialogue for Saints Row IV when he died last year, and that they carefully chose a new voice actor who could at least live up to, if not match King’s impressive bass voice. While I only saw one cut scene, I can report that they appear to have succeeded.
Also returning is Keith David, who voiced Julius Little in Saints Row and in the revenge side mission in Saints Row 2. Julius Little is now dead, of course, and David now voices Vice President Keith David. I saw only one scene with him, and I admit it’s hard to think of him as anyone other than Admiral Anderson at this point, but it was awesome nonetheless. (I wondered if their decision to make him Vice President had anything to do with David’s new job as the voice of the US Navy in advertising, but Volition couldn’t comment on that.)
Of course, the murderous elephant in the room is Daniel Dae Kim, who voiced Johnny Gat through all three previous games. Gat was killed off in the second mission of Saints Row: The Third, but as SR4′s plot draws heavily from the memories of The Boss, it seems obvious he’ll return in some capacity. Volition would not confirm his return, and he does not appear in the demo, but when I asked a developer, his carefully worded response seemed to scream YES HE IS BACK BUT I CANNOT ADMIT IT. I expect his appearance to be confirmed during E3 or shortly after, and will update this if it happens.
One other thing: I asked if Keith David was the only HEY WOW celebrity appearance in SR4, as I couldn’t believe they’d spoil a reveal in a demo. It was confirmed there is one new appearance not revealed that promises, so I was told, to be as out of nowhere as Burt Reynolds was as the Mayor of Steelport in SR3. They wouldn’t say who, but because I love random speculation, let’s say it’s Jason Statham. (It’s not.)
Gameplay: Awesome, And Dumb
You’ve already heard about the dubstep gun, a weapon that shoots dubstep at enemies and makes them dance until they’re dead. It is as awesome as you’ve heard, but SR4 is full of weird, wacky weapons that make the shark-o-matic from SR3 look take. There’s a new melee weapon called a “laser sword” which is, essentially, a light saber. There is also a gun that shoots black holes at enemies Ratchet & Clank style and sucks them to their doom. My personal favorite was a gun that causes your enemies to inflate until they explode. And of course, the super powers.
The super powers are diverse. You can run as fast as a car, you can jump insanely high, and you can glide for long distances. You will also be able to use psychic powers like telekinesis. Fortunately, they are not available as game breaking bonuses at the start of the game. While we had full access to them for the demo, we were shown that they will actually become available via unlocks as part of an improved (or exaggerated, if you prefer) version of the RPG level up system from Saints Row: The Third. As you earn experience points, you’ll be able to unlock new powers and even choose how those powers will be developed. This means you can, so I was told, choose not to use certain powers, useful since the super sprint ability effectively makes legacy features like carjacking vestigial.
Meanwhile, the game itself has a far greater amont of verticality taking advantage of The Boss’ new ability to jump and glide. During the demo we saw how one aspect of this is a series of collectible power orbs things similar to Crackdown, which can only be accessed on the tops of various buildings. And in fact, leaping around town, gliding, and so on looked a lot like Crackdown if that game were about criminals or, I suppose in this case, about cops who don’t have to follow rules. The power ups play into the RPG system somehow, and there are dozens of them throughout the game. I tried to get several of them but ultimately decided it was mainly a collection quest version of busywork. I’ll look forward to seeing if it proves more fun in the final game.
A last note: Customization is back. And it’s insane. They’ve confirmed that players will be able to choose both male and female characters and that, apparently, the 6 voice actors from Saints Row: The Third will return. Further, there will be a ton of new outfits as crazy as anything seen in previous games. You can also customize your weapons to a far greater degree than in previous games. One example shown was the ability to make your rocket launcher look like a Guitar case, a clever reference to the El Mariachi trilogy. It doesn’t make the thing work better, but it never stopped being hilarious.
More surprises were promised as well but, as always, we’ll have to wait and see.