Way back in 2006 a game was released on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, that game was Saints Row. Initially thought of as one of the many unsuccessful clones of Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row actually stood its ground with the audience it needed more than anyone: the consumers. Once the demo for the game was released on the Xbox Live Marketplace it was downloaded 350,000 times in its first week, setting a record at the time.
Later on in that year the sequel to Saints Row was released and that is in a sense, where the story really begins. Saints Row 2 set the rules for the series, by that I mean the vast customization abilities in the game. You could now choose not only the details for nearly every part of your body but the protagonist’s voice as well. This introduced us to both the cockney British accent and the zombie voice which was hilarity at its finest. Despite Grand Theft Auto IV’s focus on realism, Saints Row 2 went in a completely different direction. Half of the game was crazy, bizarre, and wacky. The other half was more serious character moments mainly seen in cut scenes. Upon Saints Row: The Third’s release in late 2011, the game finally found its voice and style: completely over the top and doing parodies of other games and even including a text based portion during a mission. Now that Saints Row: IV is out will it jump over a sharktopus or over the moon?
After the release of Saints Row: The Third in 2011 the Saints Row series could go anywhere and everywhere based on the canonical (Save Shaundi) ending of the game. This game starts off in a completely different way than its predecessor Saints Row: The Third where you were robbing a bank and things didn’t go as planned. This time around you are doing a parody of 2012′s Zero Dark Thirty as you, Pierce, Shaundi, and newcomer Asha attempt to take down a threat that could threaten life as you know it. Again, like Saints Row 3′s introductory mission, your voice and appearance are modified to look like Snake Eyes from GI Joe so you can create your character later on.
From the very beginning of this game parodies are flying everywhere; the ending of the introductory mission combines two movies, Aerosmith, and perhaps the greatest landing in freefall history. One of the many great things in this game is the return of characters from earlier titles in the Saints Row series. A good example being the return of Benjamin King who was the leader of the Vice Kings gang in the first Saints Row. Like Burt Reynolds’ appearance as the mayor of Steelport in Saints Row 3, another celebrity makes an appearance in Saints Row 4. Technically it’s a reappearance but none the less Keith David himself is back in Saints Row. This time appearing as himself rather than Julius whose whereabouts are….well, you know what happened to Julius. One of the recurring themes in the Saints Row series is ascension. Over the course of three games you become the leader of the Third Street Saints and a global superstar. This game follows that in the biggest way possible: you are the President of the United States of America. Being so, your fellow gang members all have prominent roles in the government and ironically, Keith David is your Vice President.
Right after you have a West Wing style walk and talk with staff you have some choices, choices being one of the new things introduced in Saints Row The Third. Everything from curing cancer to punching a dick in the head. Sure it sounds fun, but what happened next made it minuscule by comparison. As you walk in to give a press statement the unthinkable happens and in the world of Saints Row, the unthinkable is very bloody likely. It is in a flash that the White House is attacked by none other than aliens. Yes, you read that correctly, aliens. But these aren’t your typical Xenomorphs and Yautja who want to either eat your face or hunt you down like an animal. It is the Zin. A species of alien that takes the best and brightest from every world it attacks and collects them much like Superman villain Brainiac. It is here that the things go in to high gear. After most of the people are either killed or abducted you get back into the sway of things and by sway I mean killing. Lots and lots of killing. After getting some alien killing weapons you go after each and every Zin you encounter. This then leads to all of your friends being abducted and you getting in a giant machine gun shooting Zin, Zin ships, and a Zin attack ship. It is here you meet the man leading the invasion of Earth: Zinyak who, despite being a horrifying looking alien, speaks with an extremely proper British accent. Much like our own Tom Freeman. After a QTE fight you get abducted and thrown into the world of Leave it to Beaver the Saints. As you’d expect, you act exactly like someone would in Leave it to the Saints with your mannerisms, speech, and actions.
Some things go wrong and you end up meeting Zinyak or as he calls himself “god”, for a second time where he constructs a virtual simulation of Steelport because it would cost less money than going back over the bridge to good old Stillwater. It is at this moment that everything changes. Gameplay wise it’s still the Saints Row 3 combat you played two years ago but there have been changes that are both good and bad. You no longer have regenerative health but instead have to get health points from fallen enemies, everything Saints related has been deleted or changed. The billboards show Zin, Planet Saints is now Planet Zinyak, and the Saints penthouse you knew and loved is nothing more than rubble. I won’t say how they’ve replaced the crib system but I will say it is similar to one of the biggest Sci-Fi game trilogies of this generation. Although you have money in virtual Steelport you don’t necessarily use it the same way. Early on you obtain another specific form of currency that is used towards a different new element. Like The Third, you can use your money to buy upgrades, whether it’s how much extra ammo you can have in your sub-machine gun or pistol, what type of gun your followers will carry, or an increase in cache or XP you obtain throughout the game. As for purchasing stores you must now hack them in a mini-game that is very reminiscent of the first BioShock. Although they look easy at the beginning, they get more difficult later on.
Another addition to Saints Row IV are the inclusion of super powers because time travel would be too far. Before you go and buy Saints Row 4 via 1-click buy on Amazon you should at least know what some of said powers are. The two powers you get right off the bat are speed and jumping. There are clusters spread throughout virtual Steelport that allow you to increase your abilities and can make you a force of nature. I personally adore the speed ability as it is the best Flash simulator I have ever played. At first I thought DC Universe Online got it right but I was so wrong. As you’d expect, the speed ability and super jump ability are tied into stamina and once you fully upgrade said bar you can be Superman pre-flight as you can run faster than a speeding bullet and leap tall buildings in a single bound. The surprising thing is that despite all the powers you have, you are not invincible and can either charge in guns a blazing or use your powers tactically.
However, one thing I am honestly disappointed about are the side quests. Even though they give you unique content, most of the side quests are extremely repetitive. In Saints Row: The Third it was understandable given that since it is early in the game you need to get a feel for the activities once you play them. Given the story and situations your friends are in, once you save them they give you side quests that you repeat over and over again for different people even though you are doing the same thing. However, the activities are varied unlike previous iterations in the Saints Row series. Also, they are changed to fit in with the simulation setting. Gaining control of a neighborhood requires the hacking of stores, deletions of Flashpoints, and assassinating programs that can be the old you from Saints Row 1 or 2, or simply fighting off waves of enemies so a virus can be uploaded. Even though it appeared in Saints Row 2 and was benched in the sequel, fight club is back in a big, big, way. This time it is now Super Power Fight Club where you use your powers to defeat enemies in a time limit. The bosses vary from NyteBlade to Jyunichi from Saints Row 3 and 2, respectively. However, unlike the regular fight club, your enemies now have guns and other tools you do not. The bosses in particular carry an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
Like any good sandbox game, you need to have a good soundtrack. Saints Row IV achieves this and has some good tracks. In my opinion there is one song in this game that is a perfect fit 100%. That song: What is Love by Haddaway. Some may mock me but ever since I saw those Night at the Roxbury sketches on Saturday Night Live this song has a special place in my heart, and…my neck. Just like Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for A Hero” automatically playing at the end of the previous game, What is Love plays in one of the early action set pieces and is just perfect. Speaking of audio, there are audio logs hidden throughout virtual Steelport, they are recorded by characters such as Benjamin King, Keith David, and Kinzie. There are three audio logs that you come across that will blow your mind if you are a Saints Row continuity nut like I am. Oh, and by the way, the Keith David/Julius Little similarities are actually acknowledged in a bit between Kinzie and Keith David.
Another return to Saints Row IV is the weapon upgrade system. Only this time there’s a twist. When you pick up certain weapons you can not only upgrade them but in fact, customize them. Two great examples are the options with the pistol and assault rifle. The pistol customization options are stone cold brilliant. I have no idea how they got around the various copyrights but Volition took weapons from numerous science fiction series and films and incorporated them into the game. To list a few of my favorites: Mal’s pistol from Firefly, the Pulse Rifle from Aliens, and Han Solo’s blaster from Star Wars. Oddly though, it was a bit surprising to see the phasers from Star Trek: TOS but I won’t question Volition’s ideas. Now that I’ve talked about the weapon customization I thought I’d talk about the outfits in this gem of a game. Again, I have no idea how they did it but they brought Minecraft into Saints Row IV. I mean, it is just an outfit but is brilliant. I won’t name names but there is an outfit in this game that resembles one of the most legendary bounty hunters from a galaxy far, far, away.
Unlike Assassin’s Creed, a series that is often criticized for its constant use of simulations, the idea of having Saints Row IV be set in a simulation was an extremely smart and clever one. By doing this you not only get to re-experience old events but have new battles with dead characters. Believe me, fighting a mob of furries while DJ Veteran Child is in a force field mocking you, is fantastic. There is even the chance to fight side by side with a current character and her original appearance culminating in a faceoff with superpowers. Who knows, you might even find an old friend in the process.
Overall, the Saints Row series hasn’t had a bad game and Saints Row IV is no different. Even if it is the last we’ll be seeing of this series for a time, the 3rd Street Saints and The Boss went out on one hell of a high note.