Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Nk1337
Saints Row IV Review So Deep it Hurts
Those of you keeping up with our site know we’ve been fervently hyping the heck out of Saints Row IV. With every one of our articles we’ve tried to encompass the insanity and undergarment moistening excitement in anticipation for the game. Now with the game’s release less than a week away, our loins have gone from quivering to full blown gyrations.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait while you indulge yourself in the image of the GAW staff gyrating in unison to the dubstep sounds of Saints Row IV. Not done yet? That’s fine, just keep picturing the gyrations throughout the review.
The game begins some time after Saints Row the Third, continuing the rise of the Saint’s celebrity status. At this point the Saint’s are part of a special ops mission to take down some terrorists, and through events, that I won’t spoil, players end up becoming the president of the United States. Immediately as the game starts they’re introduced to familiar characters and the game provides long time fans of the series some fun references and Easter eggs relating back to previous installments. Shortly after reaching presidency status however, Zinyak and his aliens invade and what proceeds is one of the most intense testaments to insanity and epiphanous moments of ridiculousness players will experience. Did that sentence leave you feeling confused but slightly aroused? Or maybe a combination of scared and aroused, scaroused if you will? Good, because that is how Saints Row IV will make you feel.
Gameplay was one of the most satisfying parts about Saints Row IV. Overall controls felt tight and very smooth which is saying a lot when you take into account everything the game throws at you. Shooting feels accurate while not being overly easy, and as you progress the enemy AI becomes smarter. It keeps things fresh and challenging, which is good when you consider you’re given weapons that can tear a hole in reality and another that shoots out dubstep music and makes your enemies dance. The driving is also smooth, and while some cars do feel a little boxy to drive around in, over all they handle well.
But who cares about normal stuff like that when they give us super powers. How does it feel when players can sprint up a building and super jump across a river just to uppercut an alien in the taint as they toss them across town? Surprisingly cathartic. Taking a queue from games like Hulk Ultimate Destruction, Prototype and even Infamous, Saints Row IV throws a great combination of powers at the player with intuitive controls. Between bursts of super speed, super jumps and elemental or telekinetic blasts, the game provides players with a great array of possibilities on how to take out enemies. Do they freeze an entire squad then jump a thousand feet in the air so they can super stomp them into tiny ice cubes for their mojitos? Should they sprint up the side of a building only to jump off and lob fire balls at a group of tanks? Or would it be better just to simply use their super speed to run at enemies and let momentum do its thing? I’m personally a fan of the naked telekinesis grab where the body of my enemies isn’t the only thing flailing around.
It would be very easy for gameplay to deteriorate into chaos when players see how much power they’re given, but Saints Row IV does a good job of keeping things grounded. Well, as grounded as a game can be where you freeze groups of enemies and go to town like Link in a vase shop. As players upgrade their powers there will be a noticeable increase in things like speed and jumping height, which can lead to some frustrating moments during side missions that require more accurate use of powers. It’s like giving a child a paint roller and coloring book and expecting them to stay within the lines. It’s not impossible, but it seems a little pointless. However, players quickly learn that with great power comes the ability to just ignore those tasks. While fun and diverse at first, the side missions do tend to get repetitive consisting of either races, defending a target or killing all the enemies in an area. Luckily the amount of options in weapons and powers help offset the otherwise mundane series of quests.
Despite that, it would be a misnomer to label Saints Row IV as just another sandbox game because while players will find the bulk of their time spent in the open city, the game offers much more than that. Gameplay is broken up sporadically with random missions that quickly change the genre of what players are experiencing. First mission puts players in a 3rd person over the shoulder shooter, letting them get accustomed to the game’s free aiming. Later on players are introduced to the complex moral choice system which will shape their character through this journey of discovery and crotch punches. Then the seamless transition to ship combat reminiscent of Halo 4‘s flying missions, and it goes on from there. Before players know it they will find themselves drinking donkey beer off of Satan’s ladder.
Players will also get access to a ship and be tasked with recruiting a crew, a la Mass Effect, and as a fun stab to the series players will also get the option to romance said crew members. Also, much like sexually indiscriminate Sheppard, players will be able to romance the ENTIRE crew regardless of gender, species or organic makeup. Well, almost the entire crew. For all my attempts to swoon Kieth David, he refused me at every turn. If it wasn’t because this game was enjoyable in other facets I would fail it here and now based on that fact alone. Why Keith David, why do you turn from my warm embrace and meet me with only cold disdain. You were Goliath for crying out loud, just let me love you.
Anyone familiar with the Saints Row series knows why this deserves its own category. The game provides players with so many options that the bulk of gameplay can be spent in the customizing menu, and character creation is it’s own game. Players will have 7 different voices to choose from; 3 male (one of which is Troy Baker), 3 female and Nolan North. Yes, Nolan North gets his own voice option which is great when players take into account that the voice they select will influence their character’s personality.
Players also have access to over 100 vehicles with 126 color options and over 1,500 customizable parts. That adds up to a really big number of things which I’m not going to say because my job is to review this game and not math it out, but because my job as a journalist is to inform I will provide you with the equation to do so. Once that is figured out, players will see that there are an exponential number of customizations for vehicles alone. That’s not including the weapons as well as all the clothing options.
The only downside to all the customizing is that it’s often overshadowed by the powers. Super Powers are very well done and also have their own upgrades and customizations, so much so that players will more than likely focus on them. While it’s great that there are so many vehicle options, what’s the point in flying around in a helicopter when players can just freeze any ship out of the sky. It’s the same reason Superman always makes fun of Wonder Woman, flying around in her silly invisible jet. Despite the focus the game has on powers, it’s at least comforting to see that Deep Silver and Volition still took so much time to flesh out the other customizing options in the game. You know, in case you get bored of having fun.
Here is where my main complaint comes in. Saints Row IV looks decent, but that’s it. There’s nothing really spectacular in terms of the visuals. It looks almost the same as Saints Row the Third. That’s not a bad thing, but when you compare it to screenshots from games like Grand Theft Auto V, it’s very hard not to be disappointed. The issue with open world games is that in exchange for having a world where you can seamlessly travel to any point without load times, something has to give. The first thing to suffer are usually the graphics. Again, this isn’t a complaint that the graphics are bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a complaint that when you take into account some of the attention to detail they put in the game, it makes you wonder why the over all look of the game couldn’t have been improved.
Care for detail can be seen on things like vehicle damage. There is something deeply ingrained in people that no matter the game they’re playing, they want to see things get wrecked. Even back to the days of Street Fighter, gamers lived to see Ken’s swollen eye and bloody cheek after losing a battle. They want to know that they caused some damage, and vehicle damage shows the player just that. Driving cars and sliding against buildings and pedestrians, players will see scratches on the side of the car. Drive head first into a a light post enough times and players will start seeing the bumper and hood of the car dent in. I’m not talking about shoddy racing simulator damage where all you see is the hood fly off, I’m talking honest to God dad-will-ground-you-when-he-sees-the-carnage-and-destruction-you’ve-committed-in-turning-his-prized-mid-life-crises-purchase-into-a-compact-cube kind of damage. It’s glorious.
But, like I said before, take that kind of attention to detail into consideration and it becomes a little disappointing when you look at a game at the end of a console’s shelf life and it looks almost identical to an earlier iteration. That’s not to say they don’t present the game to you in an appealing way. One of the main goals players will have is to disrupt the simulation they’re trapped in. As they go about successfully doing so, they’ll see tangible effects on the world. These effects are things such as people’s images shorting out, or vehicles skipping. Other time’s you’ll see models get distorted as they walk near one of the many tears that progressively increase the more damage you do to the simulation. Overall it’s very creative.
One small thing to note, because of how Saints Row IV likes to use the failing computer simulation it’s hard to tell if I encountered any glitches. There were a few parts when the NPC models would degenerate into some unholy pastiche of boneless limb and mispositioned organs. I’m talking about horrifying deformities, like arms stretching twice the body length and heads inflating with eyes popping while they engage in a nauseating display of contortion that would make followers of the kama sutra blush. But coupled with some of the ridiculous things that were already happening to people I couldn’t tell if this was intentional. If this was a clever way to show the deterioration of the system the player is trapped in then Deep Silver, I tip my hat because you have outdone yourselves. If these were genuine bugs then, still, congratulations because isn’t that what every developer wants to do? Be able to make a game so complex that when a horrifying game bug occurs they can just sit back and say “that’s part of the game,” and leave the user feeling self conscious and questioning their own views on reality?
If you read my previous impression piece on Hotline Miami, it’s pretty clear that I’m a bit of an audiophile. If it wasn’t now you know. I love music, and I’m a firm believer that a soundtrack can make or break a game. It can either provide an immersive atmosphere that a player can lose themselves in or it can leave one feeling very disjointed from the game, and luckily Saints Row IV does the former. Giving a wide selection of radio stations to pick from that blend both original tracks and some popular classics, players will have a good choice of sound tracks to go with as they play the game. This is also another place where Saints Row shows attention to detail. During random parts in the game I notice my character responding to the specific songs I was listening to. There is something euphoric about having Nolan North start singing out loud to Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” and yelling at his homies to join in. With over 109 tracks, Saints Row will give you plenty of choices on what soundtrack you want as you super sprint up a building only to leap half way across a neighborhood to stop down on an old lady’s head. I personally recommend Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.”
The most important thing a lot of reviews forget is to tell us is whether or not a game is fun. In the end it’s not really a matter of grading a game against a specific scale but rather letting players know if they’ll enjoy their time with a game. The answer to that is a very heart felt yes. Saints Row IV is enjoyable, and manages to present itself as a parody of several gaming tropes without sacrificing gameplay (looking at you Duke Nukem). The jokes that it throws in are well written and put in the appropriate places, and the story for all its randomness and insanity still manages to be told well. One of my favorite parts of the game were the loyalty missions. The writing throughout them kept me laughing and provided some of the best bromance moments since Garrus and Sheppard sniping on the citadel. Overall Saints Row IV does what a game is supposed to do, provide you with an enjoyable experience. Yes the graphics are a little lack luster and variety of missions dies down, but it doesn’t matter because it’s fun.
Summary: While Saints Row IV has some flaws, the game itself provides players with an enjoyable ride worth owning. Great music, funny jokes and good pacing, Saints Row IV provides us with an amalgam of game genres into a solid gameplay experience.