The Saints are back and are throwing any little bit of sense right out of the window. Volition have taken the Saints brand far beyond anything that seemed reasonable, but is it for the best?
Yes! Saints Row IV is the game that you first imagined when you were introduced to the concept of open world, sandbox style games. The rules are cast to one side and you are basically given free realm to go and have fun. It is a game that is far removed from the previous Saints games, yet at the same time, retaining everything that made Saints Row such a joy to play.
If you played Saints Row: The Third you’ll fondly remember the opening, with the plane hijack, the falling to earth, the shooting, the rescue, etc. Saints Row IV does something just as memorable, with a chase that ends up seeing your character climbing a nuclear rocket to stop it reaching it’s destination. This is obviously fun and exhilarating in itself, but add to that ‘Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ by Aerosmith and it takes it to a whole new level of awesome, as you sit there with a big s**t-eating grin on your face.
Your reward at the end of this little segment? You are now the president of the United States Of America, which is great news for our over-sized cockney. Must point out that the poking of fun is everywhere in the game, starting at the creation station. As you get to chose a voice for your character Male 1, Male 2, Male 3, Nolan North! It raised a chuckle, but we still went with our deep cockney voice, just like always.
It only takes a few minutes for the game to really fly off the ‘What the hell!’ radar. Moments after deciding whether you want to cure cancer, or end world hunger you are hit with an alien invasion. It all kicks off and you find out that the White House is equipped with massive ground to air weapons that the president can hop on and shoot alien scum to pieces. Of course saving the world isn’t that simple. You find yourself being captured by the evil alien overlord and thrown into a computer simulation, where the bulk of the game will take place…
Well, not quite. Before allowing you to unleash hell on a virtual representation of Steelport, you are first thrown back to the 50’s and have to play through a small segment that is based around a 1950’s era TV show, complete with opening titles and a message from the sponsor. It is a quick ten minute segment, but yet another one that had us smiling and laughing all the way through. It’s worth it for the walk alone.
It is after that point that the game pretty much lets you loose. We won’t spoil the story, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Because the game is set within a simulation, it can break the rules even more than it had in previous games. But that is the thing with Saints Row, the games may all come from the same series, the characters may make repeat appearances, but you aren’t playing the same game you did three times previous. Saints Row IV is far removed from The Third, as that was to the the second game in the series. Volition don’t want you to play an identical game with a few new features, there is a concerted effort to make this a new game, rather than franchise styled update.
This version of Saints Row takes cues from the likes of Crackdown, Prototype, Infamous and films such as The Matrix, in fact, it could be argued that it does The Matrix, better than The Matrix did The Matrix. It is certainly a lot more fun! Saints Row IV is a spoof of those titles more than anything and not a Wayans Brothers style spoof, if it was to be compared, it is a Leslie Nielsen, an Airplane or Police Squad. You know it is poking fun, but it is played with just the right amount of seriousness that the comedy works. Unlike a Scary Movie and the bile that followed! Anyway we digress!
There are things that make a return the game, such as mayhem challenges, races and the like, but they do feel completely optional and you can fly through the story avoiding those elements. Why would you though? Why would you want to finish with this world as quickly as possible? It is a playground and because the rules have been thrown out of the window, it is pure unadulterated fun. The one thing that does remain constant throughout the series, is that the fun is multiplied when played in co-op.
The challenges are great fun and completing them will unlock bonuses and extra money, but that isn’t the reason you want to play them. You don’t find yourself playing the game for a sense of completion. The challenges are just a joy to play, from the superpowered races, to the mayhem events, it is all great fun. However the biggest laughs came from the return of the Fraud challenges. Remember those? Where you had to throw yourself in front of cars and the like, trying to hurt yourself so the injury lawyers can do their job? Well try adding the ability to super-sprint and jump higher than the tallest building and take it to a whole new level. It is silly and pointless, but that’s not the point!
This isn’t going to touch The Last Of Us as the game of the year, or anything like that. But just like every films doesn’t need to be Citizen Kane, nor does every game need to be The Last Of Us. Saints Row IV is the perfect game to follow up something as wonderful and evocative as Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. It allows you to forget yourself for a while, to stop being so serious and just play for fun, doing all the things that are supposedly bad for you. Killing anything that stands in your way, smashing the world around you to bits, playing with weapons, etc. It is a true break from reality.
Yet that isn’t to say Saints Row IV is mind numbing and stupid. The writing is very well done, it needs to be if it is a parody. The story whilst being funny is actually gripping, hell you care about the characters, you got to know Kinzie, Pierce and co in the previous games, you liked them. That doesn’t happen is the writing isn’t up to scratch and it remains here too. To write comedy is a lot harder than it is to write something serious, you need to cater to so many different senses of humour and for the team to get it so right with Saints Row IV, they deserve a lot of credit.
Saints Row IV is a must have title, it throws away the rule book and just wants you to have a great time. The Next Generation is upon us, but you might miss it as you get lost in the virtual world of a simulated Steelport with no rules to hold you back.