The appeal of the Saints Row franchise has always been that it contains an air of unbelievability, a certain ridiculousness that players enjoy when tooling around the city of Steelport, the Saints’ hometown. In Saints Row IV, developer Volition takes the insanity to new levels by introducing a storyline that borders on the edge of incredulousness. Using a storyline approach familiar to those who have seen The Matrix film franchise, the craziness — and the game is full of it — is easily rationalized by simply creating an imaginary world in which players can enter and exit as they please. Within this pixelated world, a digital representation of the real Steelport, the Saints are each trapped within their own version of it and forced to relive a faux-life over and over again. It’s only with a little bit of luck and a little bit of Kinzie, your trusty homie, that you’re able to break free and embark on a mission to restore the Saints and save the world.
Your story begins as the Zin, an alien race intent on enslaving or destroying all of humanity, invade your home and begin taking hostages. It’s probably prudent to mention that your home is the White House and you play as the President of the United States. You could say things have been going very well for the Saints since the end of the previous game. The leader of the Zin, named Zinyak (nobody burned any brain cells coming up with that name, did they?), faces off with you in a mano-a-mano fight before you’re defeated, as expected, and thrust into the digital world previously described. Being in this fake-Steelport is pretty miserable, unless of course you’re teamed up with a systems engineer capable of hacking the code and turning you into a superhero, which at that point makes it pretty damned entertaining.
Locomotive powers, like super speed and super jump, render the vehicles of Saints Row IV completely useless, a disappointing fact considering in the previous title the driving was magnificently done and often referred to for setting the bar in free-roam titles. Thankfully, the speed and jump abilities you have are simple to execute and, as you enhance them, become far more fun to use than almost any vehicle available. Littered throughout the world are over 1,200 collectibles that act as a sort of currency for your special abilities. Your super speed gets super speedier or grants the ability to run up the side of buildings ala The Flash, as well as implementing other important abilities that ensure your path isn’t obstructed by oncoming vehicles or people. You’ll gain the ability to jump higher and farther as well, but most importantly is perhaps using the ability to enter a glide-state that is close to flying, complete with its own power-ups. Working in tandem, players can sprint at amazing speeds, jump hundreds of feet in the air, and then glide to nearly any point they need to. Seriously, with those powers, why put vehicles in the game at all?
Your powers don’t stop at movement, either. Combat abilities are heavily relied on because they’re just so damned powerful. Blasting ice or fire from your fingertips can devastate throngs of enemies with a simple press of a button. Stomping on the ground can create a shockwave, toss enemies into the air, or even shrink them, giving you a chance to step on and smush the poor bastards. Most satisfying though is ‘Death from Above.’ By jumping into the air you can select a spot on the ground to slam into, destroying anybody in your vicinity. By upgrading that, you can even cause a nuclear-type blast that has the ability to level anybody on a city block.
Thankfully, unlike how Volition has rendered vehicles useless, your firearms aren’t cast away in favor of your new combat powers. Sure, you normal arsenal of SMG, pistol, rifle, and shotgun return, but the introduction of special weapons is simply silly — in a great way. Having a weapon that can fire a mini-blackhole that sucks up everything in it’s vicinity is useful, as is the rifle that immediately calls a tractor beam to abduct enemies alien-style. Perhaps the most entertaining though is the highly publicized Dubstep Gun. As this turntable-looking weapon shoots music from it’s muzzle, the “wub wubs” that have become the calling card of dubstep damage and even blow up your enemies. Other special weapons are also available, but perhaps none as impressive as those mentioned here.
In a game like Saints Row IV the story isn’t what draws you in, but without a linear narrative, the game is just an open world combat-fest. While that may sound interesting, to prevent players from going on tedious missions of grabbing collectibles Volition has introduced two layers of narrative for players to enjoy. The story itself sees you attempting to break each of your Saints homies out of their own little digital hell, with Kinzie helping you hack in and access their pixelated prisons. As you venture in you experience gameplay elements entirely unique to each world, including a side-scrolling, 8-bit style, beat-em-up level that is just a touch too long for its own good. The second outlet for players comes in the form of minigames. Ranging from racing to battles to skill-based activities, you may remember what was available to players in Saints Row the Third. Thankfully, Volition didn’t simply import those same activities, instead creating new options that focus on the new powers at your control.
The game isn’t without its problems though, particularly on Xbox 360. While those in the PC world have no fear, on Xbox 360 players may encounter crippling drops in framerate, sometimes lasting for 10 or more seconds, which mostly occur during movement — gliding or running — and surprisingly not during combat with dozens of enemies on the screen. Additionally you’ll find that at random points throughout the game, mostly occurring if players access their in-game menu immediately after finishing a mission, the game will freeze and require a complete reset of your console. While publisher Deep Silver has acknowledged this issue and expects to have a patch available by day one, experiencing these issues was frustrating and disappointing.
Despite the problems, Saints Row IV is a whole lot of game; with a large variety of gameplay options, new powers unseen in even the better superhero games of today, and a free-roam world rife with things to do, players who enjoy the game as a whole shouldn’t worry about falling into a checklist of “open map, find collectible, grab, repeat.” The aliens provide ample challenge, but more importantly are varied enough so that the combat doesn’t feel repetitive. The world is enormous, the story takes you in and out of the digital version of Steelport, and the overall comedy that we’ve come to expect is apparent from scene 1 to scene 1,000. If you’ve got 20 hours to spare and enjoy toilet humor – literally – Saints Row IV is for you.
Besides, when you finally finish the game, Kinzie twerks.
Overall Score 8 out of 10
Twerking score 9 out of 10