Watch Dogs, Saint’s Row, Assassin’s Creed (somewhat) all round up a list of open world, third-person action games we are set to see this fall. And yet, when faced with a choice of singling out just one? Grand Theft Auto V is a clear winner. There are just no other options. None. That being said, is Saint’s Row IV worth your time until the much-anticipated Rockstar title comes out? Does it manage to recapture the excellence of III? Keep reading to find out.
Every time a new Saint’s Row game comes out, I attempt to recreate the history of the series from its inception. The first title was rightfully dubbed “GTA Clone.” It put you into an open world, populated it by missions, and just like some of the best GTA titles slowly ramped up the ridiculousness. Eventually, Volition got bored and by the time SRIII came out, San Andreas would be the most realistic experience ever by comparison. In an era where everyone decided to lean towards realism, the developers made a totally different bet, and took their series off the rails.
Saint’s Row 4 basks in its own self-recognition of how ridiculous the series has gotten. The story gets progressively head-scratching to the point where it doesn’t even matter. You’re the president of the United States. Your vice-president is Keith David (yes, it’s acknowledged how much he sounds like Julius). Oh, and the Earth gets invaded by aliens putting everyone into a simulated version of… Earth. Which means you can reprogram it to gain superpowers. Yes, that’s the story, yes that’s all you need to know, no it doesn’t matter.
If you think all of that sounds mind-blowingly ridiculous, wait until you play some more of it. Here is the fun part though. To pull off this kind of plot you need really good writing. Like, FANTASTICALLY AMAZING writing. Anything beyond that and it falls as a juvenile pile of crap or an overly pretentious satire. Saint’s Row IV manages to toe the line of not being either. Instead it’s a genuinely funny game, at times very clever (and yes at times very juvenile). But none of that matters because of how fun it is.
The sound is great. The voice actors actually do sound like they’re having fun. Every line is delivered with a sense of joy to it. And yes, for fans of guest voices you can choose Nolan North to be the protagonist if you’re not satisfied with the other three options. But let’s be honest here, is anyone else choosing not Nolan North? Didn’t think so.
The soundtrack is a massive 109-song set list with something for everyone. And the best part? Given the most ridiculous premise ever, the music plays even when you’re not in the car, so I’d say it’s a pretty big deal to have a lot of choice.
Visually, the engine strain is starting to show. By current year standards, SRIV looks dated. Very dated. However, the developers got to have a lot of fun with character and world design. There are a lot of cool sci-fi and popular culture nuggets here. Fairly early on, it becomes clear that visual appeal was not high up on the list of concerns. There is screen tearing and texture loading issues, but none of it really takes away from the experience.
Having a more cartoonish look actually infuses this world with even more personality. It’s closer to GTA: San Andreas than it would ever be to GTA V, but Volition doesn’t mind. In many ways, this is a huge love letter to games like San Andreas, games where we were ready to accept anything, no matter how ridiculous.
The gameplay is just as batty as you would expect. It’s your standard affair with shooting, driving, tones of mini-games and just one tiny little twist that changes the whole dynamic – superpowers. As mentioned before, because you are technically in a simulation (it’s a video game within a video game y’all) not all of the real world rules apply. You have super sprint, super jump, telekinesis, super strength and a whole bunch of other powers you can level up just as any other skill. You also have access to alien weapons, and some other silly weapons such as the Dubsep Gun or the Abduct-o-matic.
What this choice amounts to is a whole lot more fun. You get to blast away to your heart’s delight, or perform highly unrealistic finishing moves in full sprint. It doesn’t matter, the game let’s you do it your way. For many of the confrontations I didn’t even bother with guns, using my super speed to deck the crap out of every single opponent with a WWE-style ending move. Saint’s Row IV has no time for cover mechanics or tactical approaches; it just drops you into mayhem and lets you go wild. The controls accommodate this very well, not much has changed from the previous games, except for shoulder buttons now responsible for your Neo-like abilities.
Overall, Saint’s Row IV offers a fun mix of activities. Some of them, such as Rampage and Insurance Fraud get repetitive after a while, and it’s a shame the game makes you simply rinse and repeat them for lengthy parts of many side-quests. The fun part however lies in the story and in the side loyalty missions. These are creatively executed with some of the greatest dialogue in Saint’s Row ever. In one of such missions, you are actively inside another simulation that’s inside a current simulation that’s a fanfiction for the popular vampire slayer series. You just can’t make this kind of stuff up.