Saints Row IV Hands On Preview

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Volition and Deep Silver have been pitching Saints Row IV as the biggest and most over the top entry yet. A big statement for a series known for crazy stories, phallic shaped melee weapons and the ability to run naked around the world. How do you outdo the madness that was Saints Row the Third? By making the series protagonist President of the United States, throwing him into an alien invasion story and giving him superpowers of course. After playing through almost two hours of the game, here are all the juicy details for you to sink your teeth into.

I started off by playing the first hour and a half of the single player campaign, which managed to constantly surprise me and one up itself over and over again. 

The game starts with a Counter Terrorist assassination mission taking place in a nondescript but presumably middle eastern desert setting. In order to get you straight into the action the first mission sees your character head to toe in some kind of armour suit that obscures your identity and allows you to jump right into the game without worrying about character customisation. You’re then tasked with sneaking stealthily through the terrorist base, killing anyone who gets in your way and sneaking into the heart of the compound. Melee kills are quick and effective, you move slowly as an elite unit and the game starts off feeling more like a modern combat simulation than a Saints Row game, even if it does play fantastically well.

This is where the game starts to pick up and show its Saints Row colours. After taking part in a very well choreographed and well framed hand-to-hand combat sequence you’ll find yourself scaling a nuclear bomb that has already been launched, climbing the outer edge trying to disarm or destroy it while leaving yourself time to escape safely. Oh, you’re also doing that to the sound of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which helps to make things equal parts dramatic and hilarious. 

Push yourself off the bomb before it explodes, fly down to Earth at high speed and crash land in the President’s chair in the White House and you’ll find your first mission complete. 

Now that you’ve had a nice action packed start to the game, you finally get to customise your character. There’s a surprising amount of customisation depth in the system, offering one of the most fully featured female character creation setups that I’ve seen in any game. There’s also a good deal of humour to the options on offer, my favourite minor detail coming in the form of the voice options. You’ve got male 1, 2 and 3, female 1, 2 and 3 and Nolan North. Yes, Nolan North, the voice actor who appears in almost every game ever, has himself as a voice option for the character.

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Skip forward five years and you’re now President of the United States of America. Quickly thrown into your role you’re asked to make choices, like whether to end world hunger or to cure cancer, if you’d like to punch an annoying reporter in the face or the crotch and whether to go to a party or turn the host down. Only the most important decisions for a character of your status.

Very quickly aliens invade Earth, attacking during your press conference and abducting much of your staff, forcing you to stand up and take action. You storm your way through the White House, gun down everything in your path with machine guns and make your way outside to the White House’s huge missile defence system. Guns blazing you shoot down alien ships, cause explosions and scream that the invaders messed with the wrong planet. It felt undeniably cool and I couldn’t help but feel near invincible at that moment.

When the lead alien then comes down to fight you face-to-face you jump through his ship’s windshield, punch him in the face and fight him with all your strength. Predictably he overpowers you as a player, but the way he handles himself as a character was the important part of the scene. The lead alien is incredibly suave and charming. As flirty as he is psychotic, he’s a fascinating and very well acted character that I genuinely feared and who seemed to pose an insurmountable obstacle to pass as a player. 

With that confrontation over you find yourself waking up in a cheesy mid 20th century TV sitcom. Everything’s stupidly happy as you walk around your house to a sitcom soundtrack, whistling and swinging your arms and going about tasks like being made breakfast by your wife (interestingly it’s your wife regardless of player character gender) and collecting the newspaper. Trapped, you’re sent driving around town unable to do any damage and having to follow the rules of order and control. As people around you begin to glitch you realise your predicament and begin a path of carnage and terror trying to break your way out of the hellishly mundane simulation you’ve been placed inside. The contrast between the overly sweet world and your aggressive attitude and violent actions plays out really well and creates a situation where the carnage you’re causing is all the more apparent.

With this sweet happy world in ruin, the villain proceeds to drop you into a new world that mirrors your own much more closely, just with aliens roaming the streets tasked with tormenting but not killing you, attempting to break your spirit and cause you to give in. From there you set off in search of data packets that unlock superpowers and start looking for a way to save the world.

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I then jumped a bit further into the game to get a feel for how the experience plays out once you’ve got a fully unlocked arsenal of weapons and powers. 

The first thing to note is that I want to play the entirety of Saints Row IV with the much hyped Dubstep Gun. It fires off blasts of energy in time with dubstep music, destroying all in its path, causing people to break into dance and leaving a trail of explosions in its wake. It’s stupidly satisfying to use and may be my favourite ever in-game weapon from the perspective of being fun to play with. I might find when playing the full game that it’s a little too much and gets boring over time, but right now I can’t get enough of it.

Besides the Dubstep Gun there were a few other cool weapons that jumped out, but none as impressive as the Laser Sword (Lightsaber meets Katana). It is a simple and predictably implemented weapon, but it’s super satisfying to wield and has a great sense of power to it.

As you can imagine, adding superpowers to Saints Row has a pretty dramatic impact on pacing, both when travelling around and when in combat. One of the abilities shown off was an incredibly powerful ‘super jump’ that essentially lets you leap onto skyscrapers from ground level, travel vast distances quickly by throwing yourself and just gliding around the city through the air, basically allowing you to zoom around the whole city with speed and precision. These new movement options completely removed the need to use vehicles to get around, as I could just travel as the crow flies and there was a much more impressive sense of speed to my movement.

You’ve also got the ability to drop from that into essentially a ground pound, allowing you to get the drop on your enemies and earn the upper hand at the start of a fight, freeze enemies and shatter them with a punch and use TK (a form of telekinesis) to throw around even huge enemies like ragdolls. These were all easy abilities to switch between and that gave combat a great sense of weight and force. I always felt inspirational, powerful, capable of anything I tried and all-round exceptionally cool.

I’m terribly excited to play more of Saints Row IV. The increased shift toward all out fun and chaos has really benefited the series and I can’t wait to see how they continue to surprise me and escalate the situation as the game progresses. If the whole game keeps up the incredibly surprising pace then it could end up as one of my game of the year contenders just through the sheer fun factor. If you’d like to get your hands on the game for yourself you can do so at this weekend’s MCM Manchester Comic Con.

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