Review – Saints Row IV


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Review – Saints Row IV
For the criminally insane
Deep Silver
Release Date:
XBox 360, PS3, PC
Age Rating:
By now, you’ve probably overheard Saints Row IV described (somewhat oxymoronically) as “Big Dumb Fun.”
Let’s examine that statement, shall we?

It is “Big” – with super-speed footraces, UFO disintegrating rampages, co-operative cat and mouse chases and legions of Hello Kitty kamikaze troops to wade through.

That's a lotta kitties!
That's a lotta kitties!Enlarge Enlarge

It is “Fun”* – There’s the arsenal of Dub-Step guns, abduction rays, bouncing bullets and laser shotguns. And the power to leap skyscrapers at 200mph, flash freeze pedestrians or hurl tanks across Steelport. Honestly, the sheer scope of gameplay mechanics, combinations and customizations should melt many a brain.
*Seriously, I’ll broker no debate on this one!

But as for “Dumb”?
Oh, I take issue with “Dumb”!

Not with 'subtle' though...
Not with 'subtle' though...Enlarge Enlarge

You can’t sustain an invigorating 40+ hour experience (wherein even the most mundane of tasks involve an alien, an enraged bystander and a wagging dinosaur tail) if you’re dumb.

You can’t mercilessly parody your own medium while serenading that same industry and simultaneously making gamers feel valued and respected if you’re dumb.

You can’t craft whip-sharp dialogue which seamlessly satirises topics like the American executive branch, existentialism, gang culture, international policy, opera, hard science fiction, social media and (naturally) full frontal nudity if you’re dumb.

You can’t decide, in the midst of a daring escape from an alien mothership, that your buck naked protagonist’s main concern should not be dodging bulkheads and laser fire, but blasting Haddaway’s What Is Love through the loudspeakers IF YOU’RE DUMB!

You can only manage that if you’re a little bit of a genius...

It's singularity entertaining
It's singularity entertainingEnlarge Enlarge

Saints Row IV revels in the fact that it is a toy.

Dislike the shape of your shotgun? Swap out the skin for a blunderbuss, or an alien scatter gun that fires green lasers!
Are you of the impression your tommy gun should shoot more than lead? Lace the rounds with sulphuric acid!

Perhaps your puckish rogue of a president is almost TOO good-looking? Age him sixty years, change his gender, and make her gain three hundred pounds!

Saints Row IV has extensive car customisation options: These can be wholesale ignored if you prefer to break the sound barrier with your own two feet. Then there’s the ability to ground pound with sufficient force to stun an entire squad of alien shock troopers before invading their minds or making them do the robot. Alternatively, a harrier jet shaped like a bald eagle, complete with flapping wings and screeching missiles is only a phone call away.

Speak softly. And carry a big fist.
Speak softly. And carry a big fist.Enlarge Enlarge

Saints Row IV even has a dedicated cheat menu. When was the last time gamers even laid eyes on one of them? (Back in 2011, with Saints Row: The Third one imagines...)

But I understand variety alone is insufficient.
Implementation is key.
The systems need to mesh.
The insanity must contrast sobriety.
There must be incentive to plumb the depths of each gameplay element.
Truly conquering Saints Row IV must be enticing.

To this end, SR4 literally never really stops for air. There is ALWAYS something to charge, leap, levitate, hack, collect or punt into orbit. Combining powers, weapons and melee is encouraged with rewards, particle effects and brutal animations. For god’s sake, if you fall into the water there’s even an option to warp to the shoreline, saving precious seconds otherwise spent leaping clear.

Grand heft auto
Grand heft autoEnlarge Enlarge

Ultimately though, it is the campaign missions, BOTH primary and secondary which win the day. A cast including Nolan North, Terry Crews, Keith David, Laura Bailey, Daniel Dae Kim and Troy Baker are obviously having the time of their lives batting around a quip heavy script.

The West Wing this aint. But SR4's scribe is no slouch...
The West Wing this aint. But SR4's scribe is no slouch...Enlarge Enlarge

This energy translates to the cutscenes, audio logs and radio conversations, and transforms the narrative into a ubiquitous joy. This enthusiasm injects not only a sense of purpose, but also character into the onscreen carnage.

Lamentably, the latter suffers frequent instances of screen tear. Jaggies litter the background. And without a locked frame rate, SR4 flickers between 60 and a disappointing 15 in moments of maximum mayhem. Contrasting what’s on offer, these are not the world’s biggest issues. However they are certainly distracting.

Saints Row IV is enormously entertaining. And not in a “this machine gun has a chainsaw” or “this map is really big” or even a “Pwning noobs iz da best” sort of way.
It is a buffet.
It is a comic book bargain basement.
It is an open bar.
It is a toy shop.
So, pace yourselves!

8 Stars: Recommended
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