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Saints Row IV - Review

xpghax Aug 14, 2013

  1. xpghax

    xpghax Gold Section Mod/Uploader

    Jan 30, 2011
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    in sidey's basement :(

    Imagine if the president of the United States smoked alien drugs out of a broken lightbulb, killed people with the power of dubstep, and whacked enemies of freedom in the face with something called the “violator.” This is the world of Saints Row IV, where you generate pandemonium in the most idiotic ways possible.
    One of the biggest and most obvious changes from Saints Row: The Third is the inclusion of superpowers. These powers are a result of being stuck in a Matrix-esque version of Steelport, the urban landscape from the last game. Because you’re in a digital world, anything can be hacked into it, like the ability slam the ground so hard you send everything flying. If you thought laser-equipped tanks and jets were an entertaining way to get around before, gliding through the sky and running up buildings is even better.

    Being so empowered certainly makes things easy, but as a result the world is almost inconsequential. You’re so powerful that hardly anything can stand in your way and the joy of discovery is hardly present since little is outside your reach. Vehicles are more or less redundant since you can outrun them with your super speed. Even collecting energy clusters, which upgrade your powers, feels trivial. As soon as you super jump into the air you can see clusters in every direction. This lack of restraint makes it hard to feel like you’re earning anything and more like you just happened to pick a bunch of stuff up.
    You won’t be complaining about your powers in a fight, though. Smartly, your super abilities aren’t your primary means of doing damage. Instead, they’re tools that provide you with some versatility. Find yourself outnumbered? A quick freeze blast will allow you to disable and shatter enemies, evening the odds. Is an alien helicopter harassing you? You can pick it up with telekinesis and throw it like a paper plane. Because each of your powers takes some time to recharge after every use, you’ll have to supplement the chaos with firearms and melee attacks.

    An array of unorthodox weaponry also helps keep the death-dealing diverse. Swelling someone’s head with the Inflato-ray until their eyes comically bulge and explode is a sadistic pleasure, and the Singularity Gun, which can fire black holes that swallow everything in close proximity is also mercilessly enjoyable. Saints Row IV is committed to overkill.

    Random carnage is all well and good, but despite these additions, battles lack much nuance or strategy. Enemies show little intelligence and can generally only gain the upper hand through sheer numbers. As such, the rhythm of each fight is usually picking off a few enemies, running away and recovering health, then repeating until everything is dead.
    Slaughtering small fry can feel monotonous, but fights against the boss-like Wardens are even worse. To kill them, you must use one of your powers to disable a shield then blast away with a weapon. The shield returns so quickly however that these encounters become wars of attrition rather than meaningful tests of your abilities.
    Co-op diminishes these issues significantly. The amount of mayhem two players can cause makes even the most aggravating fights a breeze. It’s hard to get hung up on poor AI or rote boss fights when you’re both equipped with rocket launchers and raining fiery death on everything around you.
    Saints Row IV’s most consistent success comes from its nonsensical mission scenarios and characters. In Saints Row: The Third, your crew rarely elevated itself beyond the butt of a joke. There was Oleg, the giant and thickly-accented Russian brute as well as Kinzie, the computer whiz with a kinky side. Many of these characters return, but thanks to the game’s structure they’re more than just stereotypes -- they’re actually endearing.
    Each member of the Saints is locked in a digital representation of their worst nightmare and you have to rescue them individually. This may mean they’re endlessly reliving a horrible personal tragedy or just something really dumb, like being under constant attack by humanoid energy drinks. These scenes somehow manage to humanize your cartoonish crew. You probably won’t care on a significant level, but it’s enough to make blowing things up with the Saints just a touch more personal.
    Outside of the main story, loyalty missions for each crew member provide some of the game’s best moments. Whether it’s a clever parody of popular franchise or a loveable callback to previous games, Volition shows a commendable amount of creativity.

    Sadly this ingenuity doesn’t extend into the other side missions, which consist of repeating the same challenges with little variation. Activities like racing through the city and causing as much damage as possible within a time limit are okay at first, but quickly become dull. Some aren’t even initially fun, like the annoyingly simple hacking minigame required to unlock shops. In a game that embellishes hitting people in the crotch, puzzles just don’t fit. While these missions are optional, several of the best weapons are locked behind them such as the aforementioned Inflato-ray and Singularity Gun.

    Steelport also lacks flair. You’d think a virtual reality setting would push the world toward something other than normal, but aside from the occasional alien soldier, outpost, or vehicle, Steelport feels largely the same as it did in Saints Row: The Third. Metropolitan cities have been done to death in similar games. Saints Row IV had the perfect opportunity to change things up, but largely decided not to.

    Saints Row IV’s constant absurdity works, and novelty goes a long way, but there are numerous problems that humor alone can’t overcome. For as crammed with stupidity as it is, the game suffers by incorporating too much. It’s a classic “jack of all trades, master of none” scenario and it’s easy to think of other franchises that do every element of Saints Row IV better than it does. That isn’t to say the game won’t keep you entertained, but hopefully the next Saints outing is as refined as it is irreverent.

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