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Saints Row IV

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Volition
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Saints Row IV is a weird game. By Saints Row standards. Do I have your attention yet? Volition's insane open-world playground just got even more insane. But how does this happen? The series went off the deep end years ago in a successful bid to differentiate itself from the more sobering and realistic Grand Theft Auto series. So how far did it go this time? SPOILER ALERT. Saints Row IV's story sees Earth blown to smithereens within the first hour and proceeds to make up its own rules from there. That alone makes this energetic open-world romp worth a look.

Saints Row IV is no looker. If this was any other game, it would be almost unforgivable, considering the fact that the next generation is bearing down on us with the speed of a bullet train. Nothing has really improved on the visual front since the franchise made its debut... and that was seven years ago. This is neither a technically nor an artistically modern game, but thankfully, that was never one of the series' selling points. Still, there are some problems that are hard to overlook. The game frequently hitches up and freezes for short periods of time, most notably when the game autosaves. The framerate gets knocked down considerably when the action gets too insane or fast. At least the city still feels alive and the physics, while ludicrous, are still fun to play around with.

Saints Row IV puts much more stock in its audio than its visual strengths, and that's all for the better. I can't really fault anything I've heard out of this game; from the excellent licensed soundtrack (best use of "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" and "You've Got the Touch" ever, hands down) to what's probably the best voice cast in a non-serious game ever. Let me put it this way: whether you choose to play as a male or a female, you have the same options: Male 1, Male 2, Male 3, Female 1, Female 2, Female 3, Nolan North. The great Mr. North has ascended to equal parts master artist and punchline in this particular pop culture space, and he embraces it with wild abandon here. Literally, one of his celebratory lines is "Yeah, that's how Nolan rolls!" Yes, if you don't choose Nolan North as your voice, you are playing the game wrong.


Gameplay:

Where do you go after worldwide fame? Well, if history has proven anything, politics. Yes, after saving the civilized world from utter destruction in a utterly batsh*t prologue, you win the adoration of the free world and are elected President of the United States. Your cabinet? Well, there's Vice President Keith David (this time playing himself, instead of former leader/ antagonist Julius Little), Chief of Staff Benjamin King (the dearly-departed Michael Clarke Duncan being replaced by NFL star and Old Spice madman Terry Crews in a wonderful turn), and pretty much the rest of your crew, sans Johnny Gat, thought dead since the beginning of Saints Row: The Third.

So you're essentially the worst (or best) President ever for roughly five minutes before an evil alien race known as the Zin show up, abduct you and your cabinet, and destroy the Earth. The leader, Zinyak, imprisons you in a dystopian computer simulation of Steelport governed by hulking monstrosities known as Wardens. Before long, though, you start freeing your comrades and learning to break the rules of the simulation, Matrix-style.

Saints Row IV sees the gameplay structure and flow of the core titles fused with something quite different. As you explore the world, leveling yourself up through missions and activities while finding a series of mysterious alien data clusters, you soon find out that the rules of the simulation don't have to apply to you. In time, you find yourself with superpowers that are on par with (and incredibly similar to) those in Prototype. Before too long, you'll be running faster than any car can move, leaping over buildings with ease, and headbutting the ground with the force of a nuclear bomb.

As far as the gameplay structure goes, it's completely intact. When inside the simulation, you have all the choices you'd normally have in a Saints Row game. Missions, Activities, and Stores are everywhere; at any point, you can choose to further the story, increase your level, and buy a series of crazy customization items for your character. In addition, there are tons of collectibles littered about the town. There's a lot to do, though it definitely won't take you as much time to see everything there is to see this time around.


Difficulty:

Before you reach the quarter mark of the Saints Row IV, you're essentially unstoppable. The time spent between missions is reduced to a minimum thanks to your incredible running speed, and the steady flow of upgrades ensures that you're a juggernaut in combat. The personal upgrades (health, ammunition, notoriety) primarily come from cash (it's computer simulation, so they call it "cache") and the superpower upgrades come from data clusters. These bright blue beacons are numerous and easy to spot; you will be drawn to them no matter what you're doing, so the power upgrades simply cascade down on top of you.

So all in all, Saints Row IV is the easiest game in the series by a pretty large margin. Without the superpowers, it might have been the longest, but as it stands, it's probably the shortest. However, it's probably not intended to be a challenge, but a power fantasy set in a world with no consequences, and that's quite a drawing point.


Game Mechanics:

Just about everything that makes Saints Row so great is here. There's a wide variety of bizarre and disturbing implements of death and destruction, including the much-publicized dubstep gun, which forces you to consider the true power of the bass drop. Another memorable weapon comes as part of the Commander-in-Chief Edition. Aptly named "'Merica," it's a monstrous beast that launches fireworks and pillars of flame while blaring the Marines' Hymn. Oh, and you can also pilot a giant bald eagle.

Initially, the inclusion of superpowers may feel at odds with the Saints Row formula, but in context, it really works. Every superpower has a place in the game's series of activities, even the ones you might think to be well-worn at this point. Races are on-foot this time, Fraud is even wilder, thanks to your running and jumping abilities, and Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax is great fun with powers. You're also tasked with shutting down Zin outposts and scaling giant towers in the sky. There's a lot to do, and all of it is even better when you take a friend along for the ride.

Certain story-based gameplay is set on a spaceship belonging to the Saints, and some of the biggest laughs come from this downtime. Most notable is its ruthless lampooning of the Mass Effect series, or more particularly, its character romancing system. I won't go into any more detail than that; you simply must see it to believe it.

Saints Row IV is crazier than sitting at the top of Satan's ladder while hurling kegs of donkey beer down at unsuspecting passersby. That's Steelportian for "awesome," so if you're a fan of open-world mayhem, just go pick this one up.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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