You ready for this, Playa?
Aliens are invading and you are the President, what ya guna do about it?
One option is to get yourself oiled up like a 90’s wrestler and charge straight at them with your fists. I chose that option, and for those of you who played Saints Row the Third, you probably won’t be surprised to find that I didn’t do too badly with this approach.
Having saved the US from a terrorist attack you are swiftly appointed Pres of the States. Unsurprisingly your term isn't going too well, largely due to you turning the whitehouse in to your “Party” headquarters. And just as you are about to try and defend your presidential stay in Office, aliens attack and kidnap key people right in front of you. Now that’s no way to step on another man’s turf! Before you know it you are elbow deep in alien scum and showing them how humans go gangsta.
The concept behind SR4 was originally intended as a DLC for Saints Row the Third, but the devs at THQ figured that there was such a rich story arch here that they could turn it into a completely new title. THQ are no more. They did have a point though a bucket load more fun could still be had with the game.
Luckily Deep Silver snatched up Saints Row 4. SR3 only released at the end of 2011 but Saints Row 4 has enjoyed a swift turn around, largely due to it using the same game engine and pretty much the whole of Steelport’s art assets from its predecessor. This firstly means the game looks pretty guff on console and only OK on PC, due to the aging engine. Nevertheless the PC version of Saints Row 4 offers solid graphics with a suitably extended draw distance over its console counterpart, which looks bland (like most other console games) by today’s PC standards. Yes, we all know that current gen console titles are graphically tired, despite what Rockstar are claiming, so we won’t dwell on the game’s console looks. In short, it runs like Saints Row The Third, whatever platform you grab it on.
At the time of writing Nvidia cards are reportedly experiencing some frame rate drops. It seems that AMD were the ones that got a hold of Saints Row 4 for optimisation tweaks this time around so may enjoy slightly raised frame rates.
Saints Row 4 is about ludicrous gameplay, freedom of expression, with a dash of filth thrown in for lubrication. The toilet humour is well paced and confident, never stopping to point at a single cheap laugh, it moves onwards to allow the whole experience to be lightly tarnished with the same bog brush. The voice acting is strong, as we would expect from this series and in amongst the witty one liners there is the occasional highbrow reference to Shakespeare or the correct use of the English language. This serves as a reminder that the writers behind the Saints Row 4 script and characters are not simple childish morons but instead childish intellectuals, who like to have fun. The story flows at a good rate, keeping the player interested, with only the occasional boss to cause mild frustration through awkward game mechanics.
Some of the mild frustrations can sometimes be pushed aside by the well placed ingame music. You can set up your own playlist from a ream of dubstep, reggae or even classical, and this time around you can have them play while you are on foot as well as in a vehicle. But the game itself is the star when it comes to knowing the right tune for the right moment.
One such moment will find you taking the controls of an alien spaceship and as you try to navigate your way to freedom through alien architecture the tune by Haddaway “What Is Love” kicks in. The track’s inappropriateness and resounding music strangely sets the right mood. The music embodies the flow of the spaceship controls and the humour of the game, reminding you not to take it all so seriously.
The huge character customisation returns, letting you choose exactly what your Mr or Mrs President will look like, right down to the angle or thickness of your cheek bones. The ability to jack vehicles to be customised and saved for later use also makes a return from Saints Row 3.
This level of control really opens the game up to the players imagination.
Modders of Just Cause 2 realised that the game’s long term appeal relied on mixing its awesome sandbox environment with the ability for players to do whatever silly thing they liked within the structure of the game. Its about pushing barriers and exploring crazy possibilities.
The devs of Saints Row, Volition, knew this even when they were creating Saints Row The Third and decided that the player this time around should have access to superhuman abilities.
The crafty SR4 writers lean on a couple of successful sci-fi classics to allow them carte blanche over the entire game world’s boundaries, freeing them up to add total nonsense wherever their whim takes them. There is a King Kong sized energy drink that you have to fight. I will say no more.
Here’s how it happens. The player is abducted by aliens and put into a simulated Matrix style world of Steelport. And of course there are parodies to The Matrix slipped in here and there. As with the Matrix, your character can break the code in your favour, giving you super speed, the ability to jump buildings, run up walls or even freeze people. As you gather data glitches, liberally scattered around the environment, you can use them to upgrade your character’s superhuman skills. This allows for a lot of fun in a world where nearly anything goes.
Superheroes are often physical meatheads, capable of punching a person inside out (actually I am surprised you can’t punch someone inside out in SR4) and therefore melee combat comes into play. This is not really the best direction for SR4. Punching or kicking kind of just happens when you choose to “melee” and when compared to existing melee-heavy superhero games like Batman:Arkham City, it’s hard not to get turned off by this poorly delivered aspect of the superhero experience.
But for every small failing that Saints Row 4 has it’s easy to remember why you are still playing it: Hey look! I’m greased up and naked, shooting aliens with my inflato-ray and bounding over tall buildings with my jewels flapping in the wind.
As you can run faster than almost all vehicles, the desire to pimp and save a ride is far less than in Saints Row 3, but the speed you can move around the huge map on foot is a thrilling experience with a learning curve all of its own. This really helps separate the two titles but also significantly shrinks the gameworld as streets and building become less of an obstacle to you. However, as I said before, SR4 is about taking the player’s freedom to the next level.
Another difference is that health drops happen in SR4 whereas we had regenerating health in SR3, but for the most part you won’t notice any slowdown in your death-dealing as the more you kill the more health you can gather and that’s not to mention some of the alien weaponry has infinite ammo, with only a cool down period between you and constant carnage.
The niche that the Saints Row Series fills was largely opened up by the “serious” direction that GTA 4 took. Breaking traffic regulations and jumping traffic lights became a cumbersome part of the GTA sandbox simulation. Many people enjoyed the limited “absurd” gameplay elements available in GTA 3 San Andreas but when GTA 4 took the series down the “real-life” sim route, albeit about gangsters, the Saints Row Series took off. Providing people with the idiotic stuff they always wanted from GTA.
Now in case you have only just become old enough to know what gaming is or you are on the wrong website, I will tell you that GTA V is due out in a handful of weeks and will push aside all previous sales records, EVER.
That being said, it is a smart move to release Saints Row 4 a month ahead of the one-every-five-years goliath, GTA V. Obviously both tick similar gaming checkboxes, sandbox, open-world, crime themed, and so Saints Row 4, which is also considered a triple A title, should see benefit from the GTA marketing hype and eager gamers who can’t wait just one more month. That’s not to mention all the PC gamers who can’t play GTA V anytime soon, as it is STILL UNANNOUNCED FOR PC. So, to all the fellow PC gamers jonesing for some Gangsta game time, I strongly advise you to spend your money on Saints Row 4 to get your Playa kicks.
Arguably Saints Row 4 is a reskinned SR3 knock off with its physics turned upside down. But if that is a recipe for entertainment, then who cares? Its self referencing humour also serves as a reward to the SR Series followers, with in-jokes.
By offering the gamer a fun filled open world, where insanity is not a limitation, Saints Row 4 will live a long, purple throbbing life on most hard drives. Pressed for time? SR4 injects the gamer with quick and fun nonsense. For the longer haul it delivers some clever, yet crazy campaign scripting and an abundance of entertainment.