A Saints Row IV Review

As most of you awesome people know, I’m not just an accomplished author. I’m also a gamer, and I enjoy playing video games. They’re a good way to get past the stress of the day job, the writing and life in general. There are some great games out there, and there are some terrible games, too. I’ve played both kinds, and I try to stay away from the bad kind. Just say no to terrible games, people.

So I had put in a pre-order for Saints Row IV many months ago as I enjoyed Saints Row The Third immensely. SR3, as the kids call it these days, was just a whole lot of fun. Over the top action, well-scripted dialogue, and just plain fun action movie tropes made interactive… Saints Row the Third had it all. In it, you become the premier action anti-hero. You’re the gangster-turned-vigilante-turned… Hell, I don’t know, but there’s guns and explosions and Burt Reynolds, along with some excellent background music that you could just play for your own enjoyment. That right there should have you heading to download it from Steam or Xbox Games On Demand.

As such, I pre-ordered SR4 because a) it seemed like a good bet and b) it came out on my birthday. It would be a nice little birthday present to myself. I admit, I wasn’t expecting much more than a rehash of SR3 with a few add-ons that would have been better as downloadable content. Most sequels are like that these days, or at least they seem that way (I’m looking at you, Madden and Call of Duty). By the way, I tried CoD: Black Ops 1 and 2, and was underwhelmed by them, so I’m not just hating on what’s popular.

I digress. I get home from picking up SR4 and get myself ready to play, again keeping my hopes down so they don’t get dashed. I put the disk in, put my codes in for pre-order content and I start playing.

The control scheme is identical to the previous outing, which works well. Even if you haven’t played a Saints Row game, you’ll get the hang of the controls quickly. The on-screen prompts are helpful and don’t get in the way of the action, of which there is plenty. The graphics are slightly cartoonish, but then, it’s a game, not a movie. The explosions and carnage are just over the top, and there’s a ton of it in SR4. You can tell it’s just a game, though, with some of the nods made throughout the game.

What’s great, though, is you really do feel as if you’re the star of your own action flick as you step into the shoes of the leader of the Third Street Saints and stop a terrorist plot against the United States. After a heartwarming (and perfectly cheesy; trust me, it works) end of the prologue, you end up becoming the President of the United States, Keith David (yes, the actor, and yes, he’s playing himself) is your Vice-President, and all your cohorts from the previous games become members of your cabinet. During a press conference, aliens invade and kidnap everyone, you included.

If the above paragraph is confusing, you’ve likely never played a Saints Row game in your life. If it makes you say “So the Saints have to kick some alien ass!”, congrats, you are a Saints Row veteran.

Regardless, even novices in the SR Universe will understand the references made throughout the fourth installment, as this really seems to meant as a climax to the series. Things about the supporting characters are explained, like why they’re with the Boss (your character), who Johnny Gat (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim of Lost and Hawaii Five-O fame) is, and why aliens have taken you.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll get into the mechanics of how they added super powers. Originally, Saints Row was at least somewhat based in reality, which means no faster than a speeding bullet, setting people on fire with a wave of the hand, or throwing around cars and bad guys with just your mind. Granted, everything else was fair game, but there was that hard and fast rule: no super powers. How do they get around that rule? Simple: you and your friends are stuck inside a simulation similar to the Matrix by the main bad guy Zinyak, brilliantly voiced by JB Blanc. If you think you’ve heard his voice from somewhere, you likely have. The guy’s been everywhere, from Breaking Bad to World of Warcraft to Beware the Batman. Zinyak is the guy you love to hate, as he takes things you love and just ruins them completely. The one particular scene that crystalizes how much of a total bastard Zinyak is  takes place with you and Pierce Washington, another lovable character who as been in since the first Saints Row and voiced by Arif S. Kinchen, driving around. I won’t ruin the surprise, but trust me: by the time it’s over, you’ll hate Zinyak even more than you already would.

The powers are varied, and well-balanced. Ice beams, fire beams, mind control, super speed, super leaping, super stomping… It’s almost like stepping back into the late great City of Heroes MMO, except with a lot of sexual innuendos, drugs, and people/cars/buildings blowing up. The powers don’t make for an “I win!” button, but they do give an edge when you need them, and you will need them. The only qualm I have with them is they are always on, which makes stealing cars (a very important part of some missions) sometimes difficult. However, with a little practice, you can carjack without using super speed and running a quarter-mile past your target in a second.

Of course, what Saints Row game would be complete without missions and minigames? They are the usual “kill these guys, destroy this place” with a twist. Since you’re in a computer simulation, enemies can come from anywhere, usually a portal five feet from you so they can tapdance on your forehead quickly. By completing these missions and “hacking” stores (a minigame that works like the hacking in the first BioShock game), you start taking control of the simulation from Zinyak, and getting your crew back together. The missions are varied enough and challenging enough that you won’t groan in frustration. What’s even better is you’re able to do them in any order, so you won’t be going over old ground. For example, say you unlock a store as you’re passing by. You won’t have to do it again when it becomes part of a mission. It’s a nice touch.

The weapons are the usual types: melee, pistols, SMGs, shotguns, rifles, RPGs. The customization choices are more a vigorous headshake than just a nod to the great weapons of action and sci-fi. With a bit of actual aiming, any of the weapons are deadly, and work exceptionally well with any playstyle. Combined with the above-mentioned superpowers, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with against the evil Zin empire.

As I said before, the writing is amazing, and the characters are wonderfully fleshed-out. Each has their own quirks, their own personality. Throughout the game there are homages to some of the great games of yesteryear, from text-based adventures all the way to a certain stealth-based franchise, and everything in between. The jokes aren’t forced, the scenes are well done, and I seriously would love to know how the guys at Volition and Deep Silver kept straight faces when writing this material, especially the “Romance” conversation options. Even looking at the mission titles, you get the idea that they were enjoying themselves with every aspect of the game, which really shows in both the quality of both the story and the gameplay.

TL;DR I freaking love this game. I consider it one of the best games of this year to date, and you should pick it up immediately. Even if you only play through it once, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Likely, you’ll want to run through it again with a friend, so go get it now and have fun! You’ll be glad you did.

~ by Walker on August 25, 2013.

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