Saints Row the Third was by no means a responsible parent. But it understood that you craved visceral destruction and so encouraged you to seek out exciting new ways to make it happen. Saints Row IV ups the antics by adding spaceships, dubstep guns, lightsabers and superpowers into the mix.
Saints Row IV is an expansion on its predecessor in much the same way that Saints Row 2 was an expansion of the original. It is a retread but the good kind of retread, and pays tribute to all of the games which preceded it (as well as every other sandbox game you’ve ever heard of) in a world created for a sole purpose, and that is to entertain you for hours on end. It retains all of the trademarks of the series whilst adopting a newer gameplay style, designed specifically to makethe player feel like a total badass in every instance.
This time, Volition take the same city that we knew and loved from Saints Row the Third and then defamiliarise it by adding a neon colour scheme, several new landmarks, and more importantly a game-changing new mechanic. You’ll never want to revisit Steelport as a mere mortal again after speeding across the rooftops with an arsenal of superpowers at your beck and call.
And the fun isn’t just limited to leaping, running up walls and gliding around like a lunatic. The city is filled with fun, new activities for you to test out your powers. These activities will also continuously reward you with upgrades. Also, by aiding your ‘homies’ in their various side-quests, they too can achieve superhuman abilities, and since you can have them follow you three-at-a-time either in the open world or on the story missions, it feels like you have built your own team of super-powered heroes (especially when facing off against super-powered foes!).
The game’s soundtrack mixes dramatic sci-fi-styled instrumentals with the recognizable Saints Row techno-inspired music, along with a varied range of pop/rap culture songs included in the world’s radio stations and, because you inhabit a virtual reality, you can cycle through the radio stations at will now (without the need to enter a vehicle). This gives you freedom to set your own tone for the city’s atmosphere as you travel throughout Steelport. How they chose this we don’t know, it’s none of our business online.
Unsurprisingly, the core gameplay of Saints Row IV remains loyal to its roots. Everything works much as it did with Saints Row the Third with only a couple of minor changes to accommodate the new gameplay mechanic, and the graphics haven’t changed at all since last time. Sure, this graphical style suits the mischievous, tongue-in-cheek nature of the story as well as the gameplay, but it would have been more interesting if Volition had experimented with a newer visual engine to make it more distinct. And also, this game is not without its array of frustrating glitches (some of which made me reset my console).
There’s no getting around it. Saints Row IV borrows heavily from Saints Row the Third and not just in the layout of the setting, but also in terms of customisation. In fact that entire system remains untouched and, although it was good that Volition recognised that the system worked well, it would have been nicer to have the customisation upgraded again. There were noticeable differences in the character customisation systems used in Saints Row 2 and its sequel, and not all of them were good. For instance in Saints Row 2 you had the option to layer your characters’ clothing as well as the chance to alter the appearance of your crib which gave a deeper, more personal attachment to your main character. This makes no return in Saints Row IV.
Also, because the city is the same as in Saints Row the Third, the majority of the clothing choices and character models are carried over. There are of course enough new selections to satisfy, but there is room for much more. I am really hoping that Volition makes more clothing and general customisation options available through DLC, as part of the beauty of the Saints Row series is that you can modify and tailor your character right down to the shape of their eyes, which distinguishes it completely from similar series such as Prototype or Grand Theft Auto (where you are trapped as a premade character). It is a series strongpoint and should always be a priority for expansion.
Another problem with the gameplay is that, as yet another consequence of adding in superpowers, much of the replay value is taken away. The various activities dotted around Steelport (as much fun as they are) are all woven subtly into the side-quests you unlock as a result of gaining more members of your crew, and are therefore easily overcome alongside the main quest, and any of the activities or enemies you face will be visibly lacking in muscle (however super-powered they might be) because of your newfound abilities.
Simply put, Saints Row IV is unchallenging. I played for twenty-five hours and managed 89% in all open world gameplay as well as the story missions without difficulty. The only replay value would come from going back and achieving Gold in all of the activities. Again, I hope that Volition is hard at work at creating new DLC to extend the life of this virtual playground. The world they have created is very addictive and therefore, by the game’s end, it leaves you feeling that there should be more.
But what this game does, and does very well, is pay homage to everything which has inspired it. The storyline itself is actually a wondrous compilation of ideas from various films and video games, some more obscure and some not so much, from over the years. I won’t ruin the surprise however!
Despite the flaws (which are more nitpicks than criticisms and are completely forgivable), Saints Row IV succeeds where others fail because it caters to the needs of you, the player. It gives you a wide open space and then throws a new toy at you every five minutes, whether it’s a Singularity Gun or the ability to jump from rooftop-to-rooftop, and encourages you to find new ways to destroy things. This game is a rarity and a gem, and has definitely set a new standard for sandbox gaming.
Summary: Saints Row IV is an addictive, and touching, love letter to fans of this fading generation of gaming. Any criticisms are forgivable and by the end you’ll be crying out for DLC (more activities, capes and powers please).