I got my first look at Saints Row IV back in June, at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles. Hidden away in an upstairs conference room at the convention center, its marketing presence was a far cry from Saints Row the Third, just a couple of years earlier. Of course, you could argue that THQ’s huge marketing budget in some part played a role in their demise. Typically, I wouldn’t take time out of my busy E3 schedule to check out a Grand Theft Auto-type sandbox game. Generally speaking, I find them weak in narrative and much too repetitive, but the last Saints Row game was a pleasant surprise and I was curious to see what the developer, Volition was offering next.
A sandbox game is typically a tough game to demo. There is usually very little context for what you’re doing and there’s a lot of trial and error involved. This was definitely the case with Saints Row IV. The new game takes a page from the likes of Crackdown, Prototype, and Infamous. After playing through the whole game, it is probably best described as Prototype 2 meets Duke Nukem Forever. While that might not sound like a ringing endorsement, there are certainly some who will enjoy the package.
Saints Row IV starts with a prologue that is more like a James Bond movie than the namesake of the film it parodies. The main character is masked throughout the stage to allow for your customization before the game starts in full. There is quite a bit for you to play with while making your avatar, including taunts and the size of your male or female “sexuality.” Of course, whatever spectacle of awesomeness you’ve created should be treated as such and the game obliges by making you the President of the United States.
The limited narrative for Saints Row IV can be summed up as Mars Attacks meets The Matrix. No sooner than you get comfortable with being President, than aliens invade. While there are a few other environments, the majority of the game is spent in a virtual Steelport where you are trying to wreak havoc and take advantage of the virtual system. What this means in terms of gameplay is that addition to the standard running around, driving, and shooting things, you now have super powers. As is often the case with games that give you fantastic abilities, balance is difficult to achieve and the new abilities overshadow many of the aspects that made Saints Row interesting in the past.
Saints Row IV goes a long ways to make sure you can play the character as you want, unfortunately, it doesn’t really amount to much difference. Worse than the game bugs in Saints Row IV (a day one patch exists and presumably there are more to come), is that there is just too much stuff. Who cares what kind of cars you can have, or that you can summon them at will from your cell phone, when you can run or fly faster? This problem carries over to the weapons as well. There are just too many big weapons and they’re not difficult to get. The game cheapens everything by making it all so readily accessible. A B.F.G., a quickie with a companion, super powers? You want it? You can have it. Though there is level progression, but Saints Row IV gives you too much to play with right from the start.
With a pretty derivative and weak narrative, why would you want to finish Saints Row IV? I have a feeling that many out there won’t. There is also a co-op mode, where you and a friend can let off some steam by blowing things up or seeing who can get thrown the furthest with the ragdoll physics. I can imagine using the game to have contest to see who can make the most outrageous characters do the craziest things. While there is really more content in the title than is really describable, more isn’t always better. As I said before, there is probably an audience for this game, but for me the jokes–and even the parodies–have a short shelf life.
Saints Row IV is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.