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Tony’s Review of “Saints Row IV”

(Image Credit: Volition & Deep Silver)

From the crack house, to the penthouse, to the White House.  “Saints Row IV” has arrived and it’s beautiful.

Starting shortly after the “Save Shaundi” ending of “Saints Row the Third”, Pierce, Shaundi, and the Boss have joined with MI6 operative Asha Odekar an operation in the Middle East to take down former S.T.A.G. leader, and “Saints Row the Third” villain, Cyrus Temple.  After defeating Cyrus and saving America from a nuclear missile, the Boss has earned the admiration of the entire country and is elected President of the United States.  Five years after taking out Cyrus, the POTUS is on his way to a press conference when an alien force, the Zin, attack the White House and abduct the President and his fellow Saints, who make up his cabinet.  Awaking in a 1950’s sitcom version of the city of Steelport, the President realizes something is wrong, and with the help of his computer specialist Kinzie, the President is freed from the “Matrix” style simulation with the intention of freeing the rest of the Saints and bringing down the leader of the Zin, Zinyak.

Originally conceived as downloadable content for “Saints Row the Third”, “Saints Row IV” had some very clear similarities to its predecessor, leading to a lot of concern that it would come across as a blatant rehash.  Luckily, the creative team behind “Saints Row IV” have given us enough new items, and reworked existing mechanics, to make this game feel incredibly new, even with the similarities.  The basic mechanics of the game have returned, with the inclusion of super powers like speed running, wall running, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  Not only did these mechanics fit nicely into the pre-existing world of “Saints Row”, it made me realize that no game developer is allowed to make a bad superhero game after Volition and Deep Silver perfected these elements here.  The customization of the game was increased tenfold, not only giving the player more options in terms of creating their character, but also customizing the weaponry.  Almost every firearm in the game can be customized to give it a new look, turning the standard pistol into a gun from “Firefly”, “Star Trek”, or “Star Wars”.  You can turn your submachine gun into Robocop’s gun, make your shotgun into a pirate style blunderbuss, your rocket launcher into a guitar case rocket launcher from “Desperado”, and many more customizing options that will give you hours of play just cycling through.  Apart from customizing, the amount to do in the virtual simulation of Steelport is staggering.  Gone is the collecting of pallets of drugs, money, or sex dolls, replaced with collecting audio files of your gang members’ past, power cells for your superpowers, and text adventure game files.  You still have the chance to play through distraction games like races and playing in traffic with “Insurance Fraud”, but the intensity of these games are greatly increased with the inclusion of the super powers.  And a terrific improvement over past games is the interface for mission selecting.  When you open your HUB screen, you’re given three mission lists: Your primary missions required to advance the story, your secondary and loyalty missions required to unlock more costumes and weapons, and for the first time a section to replay completed story and side missions.

Daniel-San, Han Solo, and a Jedi in a game about street gangs? (Image credit: SaintsRow.com)

From a story standpoint, “Saints Row IV” delivers every step of the way.  Starting off as a straight “Grand Theft Auto” style game with urban gang warfare, “Saints Row the Third” started taking the franchise into a crazy, pop-culture referencing direction by including a great amount of humor and absurdity to the basic open-world video game setting that has become commonplace.  “Saints Row IV” takes the absurdity to a whole new level with the science-fiction style story, incorporating aspects from classic films like “The Matrix” and “They Live” and being self-referential by having two versions of the character Shaundi, one from “Saints Row 2” and one from “Saints Row the Third”, Johnny Gat talking about taking a vacation in Hawaii, referencing Gat voice actor Daniel Dae Kim’s role on “Hawaii Five-O”, and having actor Keith David, who voiced the original leader of the Saints in the first game, voice himself as the Vice President, constantly making references to his similarities to Julius.  Aside from the previously mentioned references to “The Matrix” and “They Live” (which starred Keith David), other films referenced and parodied include “Conan the Barbarian”, “Predator”, and “Armageddon”.  In creating your character you can dress him/her as Han Solo, Boba Fett, a Jedi, Daniel from “The Karate Kid”, Rainbow Bright, and other recognizable characters from film and television.  “Saints Row IV” also has blatant homages to other video games like “Space Invaders”, “Streets of Rage”, “Mass Effect”, “Minecraft”, and “Metal Gear Solid”.  Some of these references come in the form of a slight nod, while others are complete sections of the game being made to look like these other games.

“Saints Row IV” pokes fun at itself by having two versions of the same character in the story.

Yes, there are downfalls to the game.  It’s not the most realistic looking game in comparison to others like “Red Dead Redemption” or “Grand Theft Auto V”, but it doesn’t need to be.  While many do place a great deal of value into the realistic asthetics to some games, “Saints Row IV” places far more emphasis on solid game play and a playing experience that will leave your laughing hysterically.  Given that this game was released less than a week ago, I expected bugs.  Usually there’s a bug here and there at launch that will be fixed with a later download patch.  After several hours into the game I had two instances where the game froze or my character froze and I had to reboot the system.  Luckily, the auto save system made it so that I only lost a minute or two of progression by the time the system froze.  Aside from the minor problems, this game was very polished and a tremendously fun experience.

I powered through 13 hours of playing to get through the storyline just to find out what happens.  I wanted to know how they were going to explain the return of Johnny Gat, how they were going to save Earth, and what pop culture reference was coming up next.  The more I played the more I didn’t want to put it down, and that’s the sign of a terrific game.  Overall, this has become a well-received game from critics and fans alike.  For the past two years, “Saints Row the Third” has been one of my Top 3 favorite games of all time.  But now, “Saints Row IV” has taken everything that was great about the previous game and made it better, making for a better game in every possible sense.  There is so much fun to be had and so much to do that a $60 price tag seems like a bargain.

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