Those who play Saint’s Row IV will immediately notice its similarities to its predecessor, Saint’s Row: The Third. Visually, the games are nearly identical. IV recycled many of the assets from the previous title, creating a game that very closely resembles a large-scale expansion pack. If you bought IV expecting a complete visual overhaul, you’re in for a disappointment.
The lack of design changes gave Volition ample time to focus on the core gameplay of IV, and create a unique new experience shaped around a new idea: Superpowers. Volition had already tested the waters with their superpowers idea in the DLC pack for III titled “The Trouble With Clones.” In “The Trouble With Clones”, the player is given superpowers after being given an irradiated energy drink called Saint’s Flow. It’s possible that this DLC pack was solely responsible for Saint’s Row IV’s super-powered gameplay.
Some of the superpowers in IV are Telekinesis, Super Speed and Super Jump. All three of these powers present the player with creative new ways to approach combat, travel and exploration. Although IV still features many of the combat and travel possibilities as III, such as cars and guns, players are no longer required to use these as their superpowers can often suit them better.
Super Speed and Super Jump completely eliminate the need for travel via vehicle. Once you upgrade your speed and jump (which doesn’t take long to do), the player can easily sprint and soar across the city with the greatest of ease, without being confined to the layout of the streets. Strangely, if you choose to “save” a vehicle you are driving, the game gives you the ability to spawn it for use at any time, but there are few scenarios where this would be advantageous to the player. Once you’ve been playing IV for more than an hour, you’ll be using superpowers to get everywhere, and you’ll never touch a car again.
Saint’s Row IV now gives you the ability to customize your character even more than in Saint’s Row: The Third. IV retained all the same customization as III, but added in some new things as well, such as the ability to change the way your guns look and feel in combat. You can make the machine gun look like Tommy Guns from the 1930′s, or change your pistol to Malcolm Reynold’s pistol from the TV show Firefly. Your guns still keep the same damage per second and fire rate, but they may sound and feel different than they did originally. The customization in Saint’s Row IV could keep me in its menus for hours – it’s just that good.
Just as one would expect, the story of Saint’s Row IV is just as, if not more ridiculous than the games that came before it. Before you have a chance to blink, you find out that you’re the President of the United States, and then nearly immediately find yourself defending the White House against a large scale alien invasion. As you play through, you’ll notice many of the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle parodies of other games within IV, such as Mass Effect, Star Fox, Call of Duty and even Space Invaders. Even movies aren’t off limits – not only is the entire game a parody of The Matrix, but there are nods towards Star Wars and other movies as well.
Saint’s Row IV has been a very fun game, but sadly, it’s a cheap thrill. This roller-coaster of a game features brief moments of thrill, followed by long bouts of waiting for the next exciting moment. Many of the levels are extremely similar, giving a sense of tediousness, especially for someone who wants to level up their character faster. Too much time is spent running back and forth across the city to get to your next missions, giving a sense that the game is just killing time. The superpowers are tons of fun, but their charm is quickly lost when you realize that they’re mostly there because the missions are further apart.
The story itself is a level of ridiculous that’s not usually seen in games, because it simply doesn’t give the player a compelling reason to play through it. Instead of showing you that there’s a lot on the line, the games opts to tell you instead, which doesn’t give the story any weight at all.
All that being said, the character customization is absolutely insane. The ability to customize every aspect of my character from what his voice sounds like all the way down to what color his shoelaces are makes me feel invested in the character. The protagonist is someone that I made, not someone that was handed to me to control. I could spend hours just tweaking every minuscule aspect of my character to make him perfect, just because I can.
Saint’s Row IV’s humor is also quite amusing, and is the redeeming quality of the game. I appreciate parodies and nods to games and movies, and the jovial manner in which the game is presented much of the time is enough to keep me going. Everything you do in IV is rewarded by something that will make the player laugh or smile. While it’s not at the top of my list of favorite games, if I ever need to play a game that makes me laugh, Saint’s Row IV will be my first pick.