Reviews August 14, 2013

Saints Row IV

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox 360 (Also on PS3, PC)
Genre: Action
Rated: M
Players: 1 (2 Online)
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 08/20/2013
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Volition/Deep Silver

Saints Row has come a long ways over the years. It’s gone from an absurd gangster drama to the ridiculous, over-the-top action packed, crude joke-riddled monster that was Saints Row: The Third. As awesome as that last game was, Volition has truly outdone themselves this time around. Gone are the crazy shenanigans from before; in their stead comes a retrospective look at what it means to be the president of the United States. Instead of dealing with rival gangs and an overzealous paramilitary group, gamers will have to worry about battling corrupt officials and developing policies that address the socioeconomic issues that plagues the US.

Naw...I’m just kidding. Of course Saints Row IV (SRIV) has nothing to do with any of those things but I was sincere when I said that Volition had outdone themselves. Over the years they’ve worked hard to mold Saints Row into something that can stand on its own in the sandbox. Refusing to have Saints Row be categorized as another GTA knockoff, Volition not only wanted to create something unique, but also wanted to become trend setters themselves. They’ve raised the bar for these types of games in their own way; SRIV is the culmination of all that hard work.

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Before anymore praise is given, let’s jump into the campaign. The story picks up five years after the events of the previous title. The leader (your created character) of the Third Street Saints has in fact become president of the United States. However, his or her political reign is short lived; one minute you’re curing cancer and pimp slapping lobbyists, the next minute you and your crew are being abducted by an alien race called the Zin. Before you know it you’ve been captured by their leader Zinyak and placed in the Simulation, a virtual version of Steelport. Yes, the crazy lives on in the latest iteration of the series.

Now, if you’ve ever played this type of game before then you know what to expect. The game features a large map (sandbox) for gamers to play in. In this case it’s the virtual city of Steelport. The story is progressed through a series of missions that are activated by traveling to specific places on the map. Once a mission is completed, you’re placed back in the city where you have free reign to explore at your leisure. Besides completing missions, you can steal cars, antagonize pedestrians, and basically cause a raucous anywhere around the city. The Saints titles managed to capitalize on this behavior by introducing activities that resembled the kind of stuff gamers were doing. All of these things make it back into SRIV. That said, being inside a virtual Steelport allows for creative changes, small and large, to the Saints formula.

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You no longer have to drive a car back to a garage in order to access it later. In SRIV, you can download the car’s digital code while sitting in the vehicle. At any time during the game, you can make a quick phone call that will cause the car you downloaded to manifest itself around you. No more worrying about losing homies (fellow Saints) that can’t keep up with you; now they’re able to teleport to your position if you get too far ahead. Stores aren’t bought using money; they are hacked into (unlocked) via puzzle minigames. These are just some of the small elements that have been tweaked due to the virtual environment. Larger changes come in how the missions play out and the introduction of super powers. With the help of your fiend and adept hacker Kinzie, your character will be able to leap over the tallest buildings, run faster than a jet, freeze enemies and more!    
 
With the addition of super powers the missions are even more radical than before. Even though it’s cool to be able to toss cars using telekinesis or run up the side of a building, the developers made sure that the enemies you’ll face aren’t total push overs. Weak simulation cops are often forcefully rewritten into Zin soldiers (think of the Agents from the Matrix) who come packing serious firepower. This helps keep the story missions interesting as you won’t easily run  over the Zin, at least not at first. Adding to this are the missions that required you to leave the Simulation to rescue your fellow Saints. It’s interesting having to go back to a “normal” person after being so powerful. What’s great is that these missions also feature crazy encounters. Jumping into a Mech to battle robots that look like T-800s was…I shouldn’t even have to explain how epic that notion is.

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The side missions are a mixed bag for me though. For the most part, they are there to get you to do activities (like races, causing mayhem, etc.) which result in unlocking a new power up, buff, or weapon. Though they are optional and you do gain something from them, they were tedious compared to the more story-driven side missions. I wish more of a variety was offered by focusing on different objectives and/or activities. Not to say that a lot of the returning and new activities weren’t fun, because they were. It’s just that they were overused and lacked the creativity that flowed through the rest of the game. This is a minor issue when it comes to my overall enjoyment though. I had so much fun playing that my wife often wondered if I had lost track of time whenever I stayed up way later than I should. Honestly, I was so entertained that I just flat out didn’t care how long I was playing!

Besides the gameplay, what I loved the most about SRIV is that even though it is just as juvenile as it wants to be, it actually has a well-orchestrated narrative. Sure, it features the nonsensical happenings, random slapstick and potty humor from before; my wife and I literally laughed out loud when a certain body guard greeted a fan/stalker with a powerful boot to the face. But the writers also worked in clever references to other popular media, making SRIV a great parody of…everything. Popular scenes from cult films are interwoven into the story and character design options, comic book characters are mentioned, and famous literature is used. This holds true for the dialog as well. Hearing a harsh “It’s Jane Austen or Die!” after Zinyak quoted Shakespeare was simply hilarious. There was even one point when the world is transformed and the game changes genres. Not willing to spoil anything, I’ll just say that when it happened, it was a pleasant surprise!

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As great as Saints Row IV is, I did have some complaints. One minor complaint I had was the music. Though the series has never really been known to have an extensive track list, this title particularly felt lacking in this department. I’m sure there are a lot of songs licensed, it’s just that the game often recycled the same set of songs over and over; if I changed from one radio station then switched back, the song that started to play before I switched would start over. A bigger complaint comes from the game’s difficulty when playing co-op. Adding another “superhero” to the mix took away the any threat the Zin posed. They were just no match for us on the normal difficulty setting, the game didn’t seem to scale up to our level of ability. Unfortunately, you can’t change the game’s difficulty settings after you’ve started the story so if you don’t start out on hard, playing solo is the only way to experience a challenge. Another thing was that there was no way to replay story missions once the game was completed. This was something that was offered in the other titles so I’m a bit confused at its exclusion. The only thing you can do is finish off the activities that are left on the map. This compounds the difficulty issue I just spoke of. Most likely you will have unlocked new “toys” to play with after you’ve beaten the game and joining someone else’s game with your powered up hero pretty much eliminates any possible challenge.

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SRIV delivers what everyone was expecting and then some. When it comes to parody, it’s like the Cabin in the Woods of the gaming industry. Its action packed - I fought a giant soft drink monster. It’s often outrageous…I fought a giant soft drink monster! It also features the Dubstep gun, easily one of the best weapons in gaming that must be experienced by all gamers at least once; it forces enemies to “pop” to music before dying. I honestly can’t stress enough how entertaining this game really is. Like I said before, Volition has outdone themselves!

Gameplay: 10
Outside of a few minor grips, Saints Row IV is an extremely fun game!

Graphics: 8
For the most part everything looks good.

Sound: 9
The dialogue is great and the  music that  I actually got to hear, is pretty good.

What’s New: 9
Volition was able to make a lot of old concepts seem fresh by way of the simulation. The digital aspect alters certain game staples enough to make them feel new.

Replay Value: 9
Even though you can’t replay the missions once you’ve completed the game, it was so fun that I’m sure people won’t mind starting from scratch. Plus there are all the other activities that are waiting to be completed.

Final Score:

9