Before you read this review understand that it was written by a fan of the Saints Row series. The review has been composed by someone who loved Saints Row and Saints Row 2 but despised the way the game was taken with Saints Row: The Third. The standpoint that Saints Row IV was viewed on before playing was one of complete and utter distress because of how different it appeared than the beloved first two games of the series. It was felt that the original fan base was abandoned for corny and pointless actions, that story didn’t matter anymore and that something that was held near and dear was traded in for financial gain. With that understanding please continue to read as this fan may have just been proven wrong.
August 20th marks the release of Deep Sliver and Volition’s Saints Row IV. If you have yet to see any of the advertisements you may not know that the game follows the story of the Third Street Saints into their next grand adventure. This time that adventure tracks the player as the president of the United States whom them and their crew are now warding off hoards of aliens instead of gangsters vs. gangsters. Yes, it was utterly disappointing to know that A) Instead of the once underground well respected gangster you were, you are now not only a sale-out but somehow the president of the United States and B) Instead of battling the believable badass gangs you are taking on aliens. What sounds even crazier than that is the fact that… wait for it… it makes sense.
Like stated above, you are now fighting against aliens. This aspect of the game sounds sort of whacky which is something that has seemed to be rather displeasing to the series former fan base. What it is about these aliens is that fact that they actually fit right in with Saints Row style game play, as well as, with the story. The aliens you are battling aren’t the typical green guy with big black eyes, these aliens are dangerous and nearly humanlike which was a pleasant surprise. It was also very pleasing to know that our main character challenged this super opponent, Zinyak as if he were a kingpin of a gang. It was true to the character that Saints Row has always let us embody and something only a Saints Row badass could and would do. Where as in Saints Row: The Third it seems as if the main character could have lost themselves in fame to a degree here things feel classic.
As with being president of the United States, that’s the part that doesn’t quite fit in to an original fans liking. There seems to be missing pieces, a missing time frame as to why the Third Street Saints would want to become a political power. As it is briefly shown and explained how it all came to be, there are just huge chunks of time and information that would have been nice to see displayed in the game that lead up to the reason our heroes now sit in the White House instead of rolling by doing drive by’s at the nearest Freckle Bitches. There is no huge problem here, just a ruined bit of curiosity and enhanced disappointment in the new direction of the series. It would have been nice to know why politics were the Saints next move before meeting their new great threat.
Part of Saints Row IV’s greatest moments regarding the story is tough to discuss without letting go of any spoilers. Just know, parts of Saints Row IV is like an original fan’s walk through memory lane. Characters have been able to be brought back from the past because of the new direction of the game and this makes for not only and enjoyable experience but for an interesting concoction of how former enemies now react to one another. Because a lot of the game takes place during a simulation you will see and hear from characters you never knew you would see again. In these times you will be able to dive deeper into the characters life’s, especially that of what their thoughts and feelings toward you were in the past. It was times like these that really made a heart swell and soar at the same time.
While these characters from the past are brought into play again, it’s a wonder of how someone who never knew them would react. Volition was able to pick up on a huge new fan base who loved the crazy new direction of Saints Row: The Third; with the story of Saints Row IV and how these characters play such huge rolls in the new story these fans are the ones left in the dust. It is more than clear that the development team cared to make the experience for their old fan base special.
Game play wise, Saints Row IV plays like any other Saints Row game has. Corniness aside, it feels a lot like Saints Row: The Third but has undergone some minor improvements. The open world aspect of the game is just as big with just as impressive of a display as before. You can expect to stir up trouble, gain notoriety and customize guns, vehicles and clothing. It is easy to get sucked away in chopping down on the full 100 percent completion by collecting orbs to help gain power-ups for super powers, engage in various activities and take over territory from Zin troops.
Saints Row IV, of course, has brought on a load of customization options. Just like before, an impressive release of the “Inauguration Station” was released for character customization pre-launch. In-game the creation of characters is just about the same with the expection of more long hair options and voice pitch. When it came to character customization it was both a good and bad thing because the options were very much the same as in Saints Row: The Third. The good part about this is the fact that your previous character can pretty much morph right into the new game and simulation to get the same exact feel from Saints Row: The Third to Saints Row IV. The bad thing about the similarities is that with a new game we could only hope for a much larger array of selections and it is felt that this is an area Saints Row IV could have stepped up in just a little bit.
On a positive note, the game does feature a new sort of customization and one that is extremely entertaining at that. Players can now customize the look of their weapons. It was feared that weapon customization would turn every weapon into something cheesy like a guitar case rocket launcher but to a pleasant surprise there are ways to personalize your guns while keeping them looking like a gun. There are still the ‘out-there’ creations like making your rockets shoot out of a guitar case but if that’s not your cup of tea, just paint it a different color or leave it stock. The glory about the weapon customization is the options for every different type of player no one is forced to be funny and no one is forced to be too serious.
As far as other customization options goes there was an upgrade to the gang customization as well. Saints Row: The Third was more of a problem than a perk to have gang customization because after customizing your fellow gangsters it was apparent that the four options of outfits you chose would make every other gangster their clone. Their hair all remained the same color, their outfit and accessories were the same; you could recruit triplets to fight alongside of you more often than having 3 different characters. In Saints Row IV there is an option to keep one specific look for each gangster or you may choose a random button in the variety of new categories to choose from. For example, if you wanted a gang full of strippers, bikers and mascots you can choose your favorite four and keep it at that or you can choose to have a random stripper appear with a random biker and a mascot. While this area of the customization proved itself to be more than impressive, it was sad to see that not only is crib customization now gone like in Saints Row: The Third but now players don’t even get a crib at all.
Other aspects of game play included hacking stores and a change in the way activities were completed and rewarded. Because you are taking part in a simulation that is controlled by an alien that hates your guts the stores to shop in aren’t available to you right away. In order to shop at each store there are fun little hacking mini games. Once the game is complete you may shop at your leisure. This added a little extra game play to the open world portion of Saints Row IV. It was also a way to make you think a little bit. These puzzles were found to be fun and just challenging enough to force your mind to think.
Along with a wide variety of things to do in the open world simulation activities are back and again in a different way. There are different styles of certain activities like Mayhem for example. There are a few different ways you can play a Mayhem activity like stomp mayhem, tank mayhem and Mechsuit Mayhem. Not only does the game stretch itself to give you more of a challenge in terms of how each activity should be played but there is a new reward system. For each activity a player can earn a bronze, silver or gold medal. Based off of the time spent in the activity, damage done or other criteria a specific medal will be earned. Getting to the gold goal isn’t a walk in the park but it also isn’t too hard to obtain.
As if being president of the United States wasn’t enough to grind original fans gears, as you have probably heard, Saints Row IV features super powers. As it is probably clear how our thoughts and feelings toward this cheesy unnecessary addition to the game is the outcome may be surprising. The super powers work like a breeze and become second nature to the player. Oddly enough they sort of fit in with the game and because they are only used during simulated game play it isn’t quite as bad as what was thought by viewing the game advertisements. It is actually fun to fly and jump over building as well as freeze, smash and throw your enemies. Even though super powers isn’t something any previous Saints Row fan would have ever wanted or asked for it didn’t turn out to be as devastating to our mood as expected. Taking down air craft’s by freezing them and burning enemies with flaming bullets will bring a smile onto your face. This was actually a fun part of the game and although it would never ever on the face of this earth be asked of Volition to add this to a core part of a Saints Row title again; we wouldn’t mind seeing it return in a way like how the zombie video game used to play over the TV on Saints Row and Saints Row 2.
Upgrades are back in this installment of the Saints Row series and in a very similar fashion to that of Saints Row: The Third. You can use your money to buy new abilities and other upgrades. You have a respect level that aids in what you can unlock to buy. It is the same with weapons. Each weapon has upgrades that could be purchased separately to boots damage and ect. This is a simple system that works very well with a Saints Row game and it is respected to see its return. What is different about upgrading is how you upgrade your powers.
Upgrading super powers requires the player to collect hidden orbs throughout the simulated city. Orbs are typically hidden on high roof tops or locked within the pavement or structures to unleash with a super power. The collection aspect of the game is interesting, it add more game play and it is a good way to pass time in co-op play with a friend when you don’t feel like taking part in classic Saints Row mischief or part of the new competitive cooperative experience. The only negative point to bring up about these orbs is that for the first time ever can it be said that Saints Row is comparable to another game. How so many foolish souls compared the fun lighthearted yet badass feeling you got from Saints Row and Saints Row 2 to that of Grand Theft Auto, it was never felt here. To us, Saints Row had a voice of its own, a humor of its own and a presence of its own; especially in the beginning. It was never viewed as anything near what Grand Theft Auto was because the two games had very different motives and ways to play; to separate pieces of art aimed for the entertainment of others. At least so many compared the series to an industry giant, which would be a compliment to anyone. Now with orb collecting and super powers, Saints Row IV slips into a category that can be very closely compared to Crackdown in many ways. While the games are still very different you will and can get a mirror of what Crackdown feels like. That isn’t something bad, just a disappointment to those who always knew Saints Row was a game of its own; incomparable to all else on the market.
Is Saints Row IV a game that an original fan of the Saints Row series would enjoy? Yes and No. When you play through this game you will get a bitter sweet feeling but the sweetness you feel will be oh so sweet. This isn’t the game that you asked for; it isn’t a game of badass moves from a heartless sociopath neatly laced with good humor but it also isn’t a game that has forgotten what it once was. From playing the game to a complete 100 percent completion it can be said that with all the horrible advertising Volition had one audience in mind when crafting this game and it was the original fans of the series. They just presented you with what you wanted in a very different way than what was asked of them. After you get passed the awkward feelings of stupid and pointless romances onboard the ship, don’t use the few guns that make the game stray from reality and expect it to be a different experience than you wanted and you will end up pleased. It is advised for all true Saints to play this game and to play it to the fullest which means putting in the extra 15 hours of game play to get the ‘good’ ending because in the end your pleads to “Restore the Row” might just be within grasp; not given but within reach. Saints Row IV has created hope that someday it is possible that the game we always wanted, the game that should have been made in place of Saints Row: The Third is still possible.