Saints Go Marching In

If I could give one tip for anyone deciding whether or not to pick up a copy of Saints Row 4, it would be this: Buy the game, but don’t read anything about it… except this review. As everyone knows Volitions gang war sandbox series has increasingly become more and more ridiculous over the years by way of story and gameplay. And the best way for a player to truly enjoy the utter insanity of the Saints Row world in this new instalment is to know nothing about the story. Where in most cases having no expectations is often a defence against the disappointment caused by hype, in this instance it’s to allow for the true impact of a story that’s best experienced when you have no idea what’s coming. And no matter how messed up your weird little mind might be, you’ll never guess what Saints Row 4 has to offer when compared to previous games. So for that reason I’ll provide no specifics about the story itself other than to say that anything can (and will) happen, and nothing is sacred.

Taking obvious stabs at well known film and video game franchises everyone that enters this new version of Steelport is bound to get some quality laughs and while the story itself is far from believable and dripping with immaturity you’ll want to keep playing purely for the need to see who or what they’ll make fun of next.

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the story itself is far from believable and dripping with immaturity

The general gameplay remains relatively unchanged as far as completing missions, buying weapons, stealing cars etc so any experienced Saint Row player will instantly feel right at home as will new comers who may have played Rockstars GTA games. In fact the basic feel of the game is exactly the same as the previous game. This includes gunplay, hand to hand combat and the menu systems. While this familiarity can be seen as a positive from a ‘pick up and play’ perspective, the handling of vehicles also remains unchanged which was disappointing as I’ve always considered the driving controls to feel completely unnatural and far from fun. The one significant change however is that your character (which can be imported from Saints Row the 3rd) has been blessed with superpowers, many of which appear to have been taken directly from Alex Mercer of the Prototype series. Running at blistering speeds, leaping over tall buildings, hurling large objects half way across the city and shooting balls of fire and ice at your enemies, allies or… anyone walking by are all part of the Bosses new found arsenal. While these powers certainly have a positive impact and allow you to unleash all kinds of hell on whatever or whomever you desire, the feeling of power is a constant reminder that these ideas have essentially been stolen from Prototype.

Once you’ve unlocked the sprinting power you’ll find that running around Steelport is considerably faster than driving and with the exception of a few missions that specifically require the use of vehicles you’ll hardly ever actually drive. While this adds a whole new play style to the series the speed at which you can explore the city causes the sandbox to feel much smaller. Dashing through the streets with the world whizzing past you in a blur you often forget to stop and take the time to stop and appreciate the life and design of the city. This tends to disconnect you from the world around you and you’re less inclined to pay attention to specific landmarks. With the exception of a few stand out locations the city looks and feels a bit samey as a result.

Throughout the game the Steelport is shrouded in darkness with weird lighting effects that in some areas is reminiscent of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s neon encrusted cyber punk world and while this is certainly relevant to the story the limited colour palette causes the world to be pretty unappealing. Animations are as you would expect in a large open world game and it’s clear that the game was built on the exact same graphics engine as its predecessor. In addition I experienced several bugs in the game from funny ones involving a body bugging out in a wall or a car being suspended in mid air to frustrating ones where the player fell through the map requiring a restart of the mission and a significant audio delay in some cut scenes. There were also a few instances in which some audio wouldn’t play at all. These for the most part are infrequent though and don’t really ruin the experience.

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As in the previous games the city is littered with sub missions to complete which will help you progress in the main story missions. These range from the standard Mayhem and Insurance Fraud mini games from the previous titles but also include new missions such as high speed sprint races which involve the use of your newfound powers. The majority of these missions result in some excellent rewards which are imperative to your success in the main story and while at their core these missions might be just filler to stretch out the length of play time, the incentives and originality of each one make them a great distraction from the main campaign and many capitalise on the fun you would normally have in Steelport if you just wanted to kill some time anyway.

The game also introduces some new weapons, many of which are heaps of fun to use against anyone that crosses your path. The Disintegrator – does what is says, a long range rifle that will literally make you enemy fade away with one successful hit. The Abduction Gun marks a small area and any abides within range are lifted straight up into the air and are never seen again. The Inflato-Ray causes your enemies heads to swell until they pop. The list goes on and on as you progress through the story and things just get more and more insane and these weapons alone are a great incentive to keep playing.

The visuals haven’t improved since the last iteration, the city is bland and the game play feels dated and stolen from another title. But the often hilarious pop culture references, the ridiculous setting and the constant desire to see how far the envelope can be pushed makes Saints Row 4 a great game that offers the perfect release for those much like myself who can see the funny side of needless comedic violence, puerile humour and mindless destruction.

Developer: Volition Inc
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC