As I ran naked up the side of a 60-story skyscraper, pursued by two aliens on hoverbikes, I started to wonder ‘am I actually enjoying myself here?’
When I reached the top and found more enemies waiting for me, these dressed as neon gorillas, I thought ‘surely there’s a point when all this ridiculousness becomes just too much?’
I picked up one of the gorilla-men with my telekinesis powers and bowled him into his friends, knocking them off the roof. As I did this, I mused ‘MWAHAHA FEAR MY GOD-POWERS, PUNY MORTALS!’
Long story short, Saints Row IV might be the most fun I’ve had in ages. All it requires is for you to turn your brain off.
The transformation is complete. From kinda-average Grand Theft Auto knock-off to a sublimely stupid super-powered show, Saints Row IV has finally become the perfect power-fantasy. All the silly quirks of SR2 and the over-the-top moments of SR3 have given way to the most bombastic, utterly ridiculous entry so far.
As I do in all Saints Row games, the first thing I set out to do is try and make Phil Mitchell from EastEnders and deck him out in the most sensible attire I can. Saints Row IV obliged me with this, and within an hour I had a slightly obese cockney dressed up like John Dillinger. For me, this little ritual is important not just because it’s the same character I always make, but because I like the idea that there’s a fairly normal bloke in the middle of all this spandex-clad, dildo-swinging mayhem. And that fairly normal bloke is just thinking “what the bloody hell what is going on what crazy drugs did they slip me is that guy not wearing any pants why is that 50-foot soda-can trying to kill me?”
That makes me happy.
Gameplay-wise, not much has changed from Saints Row 3. That’s because it’s pretty much the same game – you can tell that Saints Row 4 was intended as an expansion before THQ had all of its problems. It looks the same and handles the same, only with more neon lights and dubstep. This isn’t a bad thing (I, personally, loved SR3), but those who have played the third iteration may feel a huge sense of deja vu.
Where it makes up for this is in Stuff To Do. There’s a ridiculous amount of activities for you to participate in, from super-sprint races, spaceship rampages, jumping puzzles, super-power death arenas and the infamous Professor Genki’s Murdertime-Funtime. That is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s only added to by the story and side-missions that generally require you to kill things in an increasingly humourous manner.
To help with this, come the standard batch of Saints Row silly weapons. There’s a gun for everything. One that fires black-holes, one that causes abductions, one that launches dubstep as a physical projectile (and all the civilians bust out the moves whilst street lights strobe). You can also upgrade your arsenal of standard weapons now, meaning your submachine guns can fire acid bullets, or your baseball bat can explode your foes into a thousand pieces. If that’s what you like.
The movie and video-game parodies are endless. Saints Row can’t help itself when it comes to mocking pop-culture, and it’s almost like watching Airplane or Hot Shots! Part Deux. You’ll be pointing at the screen and going “Ahaha! I see what they did there!” on a huge number of occasions. You’ll assassinate guards whilst hidden in a cardboard box labelled ‘CAUTION: Live Snakes’. You’ll participate in a mission called ‘Game of Clones’. You’ll be forced to choose between red-and-blue good-or-evil choices with little to no bearing on the story.
Speaking of Mass Effect (*ba-dum tish*), I think that the Bioware space-epic is Saints Row IV’s biggest joke pool. It’s got the relatively meaningless morality choices, the ‘aliens take over Earth’ plot lines, side-missions you can complete to unlock bonus costumes for your crew. Hell, even the graphics options have that ‘film grain’ setting that loves to give me a headache in Mass Effect. My favourite parody is the dumbing down of Mass Effect’s intricate romancing missions. Now, you just go up to your crew, press a button, and get it on. As often as you want with whoever (or whatever) you like.
As for the story, it’s….there? Look, you’re not going to be playing Saints Row IV for its gripping narrative and beautifully fleshed-out characters. It does a passable job of moving you from one piece of carnage to the next, and is pretty funny to boot. Like I’ve said already in this article, it’s no Mass Effect. The game also seems to have dragged itself out of the pseudo-gang-culture toilet the previous games tended to wallow in. Yes, the females in the game are ridiculously sexualised (I honestly wonder how Shaundi fits into her costumes), but this time around not every female character is a prostitute, and ‘the bitches’ is a term reserved more for the alien baddies than for 50% of the world’s population. It’s a refreshing change.
Overall, Saints Row IV is stupid. Ridiculous and disjointed and senseless and amazing. This is what it was always meant to be, and it’s a good feeling to see a franchise finally find its niche. It wasn’t meant to be a GTA-clone. It was destined to become this. It’s also refreshing to find a game series that revels in its identity as a silly game made of fun (and does it well, *coughcough* Duke Nukem *cough*). That being said, whilst it certainly deserves to be a separate game in its own right, there’s always the presence of SR3 lingering over its shoulder. That’s only a problem if you want it to be one, though.
I can certainly recommend Saints Row IV to anyone who just wants to put their brains in neutral and watch the fireworks.
(PS; THIS GAME IS NOT FOR THE CHILDRENS!)