Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Saints Row IV (PS3, 360, PC) Review

Released last August, but just hitting Japan this past week, Saints Row IV is the latest in the series that started out as Grand Theft Auto Lite. Now, the series has come into its own, and this time the Saints have not only executive powers but superpowers as well. Here's our review of Saints Row IV.

The Superpowered Saints Go Marching In

Saints Row: The Third made plenty of steps to ensure that the series would step away from trying to become another Grand Theft Auto clone, which the game's previous two titles had been heavily compared to. Saints Row IV takes the craziness switch and pulls it into uncharted territory! With superpowers and a load of kooky missions, Saints Row IV is an open world game that feels more like Crackdown than Grand Theft Auto, and it's hard to deny that this change is good.

Beginning with a mission that ends with you riding a warhead into the night sky, trying to dismantle it, while Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" plays, Saints Row IV lays on the wackiness quite earlier. What follows five years later is info that the Saints have made it into the White House. The boss, the once silent and stoic main character from the original Saints Row, serves as President, and his cabinet-- rather your cabinet-- is made up of members from the Saints gang. Suddenly, during a press conference, an alien race known as the Zin invades the Earth and sends your character into a virtual simulation exactly like Steelport from the third game. However, this Steelport has depictions of the Zin leader Zinyak plastered all over, as well as signs mentioning the Saints' doom and futility of their actions.

Steelport sure is looking different these days.
The humor of Saints Row IV is always there, and that is due to some incredible writing. Sure, some of it is quite juvenile and dirty, but I couldn't help but laugh or have a stupid smile on my face playing the game regardless. How can you not laugh at real life actor Keith David serving on your cabinet? How about a scenario where you're riding in a car with Pierce and you both start singing to Biz Markie's "Just a Friend", only to become very pissed off when the always-watching antagonist Zinyak starts singing along to the rap song's chorus as if it were opera. Then there's having a voice for male characters literally titled "Nolan North", perhaps poking fun at Western studios putting his voice in nearly every game imaginable (some exaggeration may be present in the last statement). Case in point, Saints Row IV does not take itself seriously whatsoever, and that is without a doubt a good thing.

Because just having one gun is for bustas. 
The humor and whimsy of Saints Row IV doesn't end with the writing, either. The story-related missions of the game, of which there are around 35, take you on a trip through sheer madness. From participating in a parody of Metal Gear Solid, complete with the infamous guard alert noise and hiding inside cardboard boxes, to fighting in a stone statue against a giant can of soda named Paul, Saints Row IV shows that the developers want players to have fun and they made a game that shows they had a lot of fun making it as well. After all, shouldn't fun be the most important part of a video game?

The fun factor is accentuated by the powers that you acquire through these missions in a way to hack the simulation and help bend it towards your will. Doing this enables various upgrade-able superpowers for your character to use. Early powers include the ability to leap high into the air, run at blazing fast speed, and freeze enemies temporarily, allowing enough time to shatter their frozen bodies. By collecting Clusters, scattered all around the simulated Steelport, you can upgrade these powers to allow for faster recharging, more stamina to use for running, among other things. Your character can have his or her abilities upgraded as well, whether that's immunity to fire, higher ammo capacity for the game's different guns, and much more.

It's a faster way of getting around Steelport,
which makes it difficult to want to drive.
The weapons of Saints Row IV are definitely otherworldly. What else can you say about a gun that launches black holes, sucking in nearby characters and objects, as well as a gun that emits a light that abducts whoever walks into it? These weapons are amazingly fun to use, though combat in general can sometimes get a bit repetitive, even with the superpowers involved. Like the superpowers and your character, weapons can be upgraded, also.

Girls' night out
Outside of Saints Row IV's story missions, the series' activities return, too. Standbys like Fraud and Mayhem return. Fraud has you making your body limp in front of cars, in hopes that they run into you, hurling your body into the air for points, while Mayhem requires you to cause a certain dollar amount of pure damage, whether it's with a tank, a UFO, robot armor, or just yourself.

Talk about a mech assault!
New activities have been included to make great use of your character's superpowers. One has you racing through the city streets, jumping on rooftops and speeding through alleyways from waypoint to waypoint. Another has you using your Telekinesis to pick up cars and people, and throwing them through the designated rings. Then there's fighting inside an arena, trying to kill your opponents before time runs out. All of these new activities in addition to new takes on classic ones and optional objectives like collecting all of the Clusters and audio logs, as well as destroying all Zinyak statues have it so this simulated version of Steelport has a large amount of things to do long after the credits have rolled.

For my next trick, I will turn
water into wine!
Steelport itself wasn't that memorable of an open world area in Saints Row: The Third, so it is a bit disappointing that Volition, the developer, decided to reuse it for Saints Row IV. This also makes it so Saints Row IV feels more like an expansion of Saints Row: The Third rather than a wholly original and fresh take on the series.

One of the optional things you can do
is traverse these tall towers.
Saints Row IV generally runs well, but there are occasional hiccups in the framerate, massive amounts of pop-in, and even some freezing that soil the experience slightly. Other than those issues, Saints Row IV plays admirably. When pertaining to sound, Saints Row IV hits all of the high notes with superb voice acting and a licensed soundtrack that spans 109 songs. From classical to alternative rock, there's most likely a station for any given player. I particularly found The Mix to be my personal favorite. You can even create a mixtape of selected songs you have chosen and hear them while moving around Steelport-- in and out of vehicles.
Let this be a lesson to you kids out there:
Always help out your homies.
Saints Row IV was pure fun and hilarity from beginning to end. While many games, particularly from the West, take themselves overly seriously to the point of near self-parody, Saints Row IV doesn't pretend it is anything but a game. It might not push the art form of gaming forward, or even make an actual argument for it, but it's hard to deny that you won't find an open world game as zany and insane from any developer. It's with this that makes me ready to see where the Saints will go next.

[SPC Says: 8.5/10]

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