Saints Row IV Review

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Saints Row IV is possibly the most over the top, self indulgent and egotistical game I have ever played, but I love it for that. It’s a game that never takes itself too seriously or boxes itself in, instead revelling in the absurdity of its own concept and pushing it to extremes. The opening has you climbing an already launched nuclear missile to an Aerosmith soundtrack, becoming President, having to choose between curing cancer or ending world hunger, getting attacked by aliens and getting superpowers. Weirdly, the game manages to completely outdo that intro sequence time and time again, constantly amazing me with how creative the design of a single game can be.

The reason this succeeds so well is that it finds a narrative explanation for allowing itself to be absurd and just runs with it. Setting the bulk of the experience inside an alien computer simulation allows for a huge number of gameplay options that were previously not possible. From the addition of superpowers like super speed sprinting, telekinesis and elemental blasts that would have seemed impossible in the series’ earlier games, the weapon selection has also grown to include some hugely satisfying weapon types that were previously not feasible in the game world. The most talked about weapon addition has been the Dubstep Gun, and it completely lives up to the hype. It’s powerful, it has a great sense of power and it’s incredibly satisfying to use. I found myself using it as my default weapon for much of the game, switching to others only when situations arose where its 3-4 second activation time would be a fatal drawback. All of the superpowers and weapons added to the game feel really useful, well fleshed out and have a sense of worth to them that many games fail to capture. The alien bounce rifle for example felt more unique and useful than almost any cookie cutter gun in any other shooter I’ve played, as did the Black Hole Gun, the Inflatoray and the amazingly fun Giant Mech Suit.

Saints Row IV’s story is incredibly well written. It’s a wonderful love letter to late 1980s and early 1990s pop culture, it parodies the video game industry with a very subtle hand that is never overplayed and its over the top slapstick nature is never overbearing. Every line of dialogue feels expertly crafted, the overarching narrative is surprisingly cohesive for a game this absurd. Full of surprising turns that subvert narrative expectations, the story is in many ways a return to the narrative structure of Saints Row 2, in that it’s much more intelligently written and much better paced than Saints Row The Third, which was sorely lacking in that regard. It’s that sense of intelligence to the story that helps keep the absurdity of the gameplay elements grounded and makes them enjoyable and satisfying rather than silly for the sake of silly, like Saints Row The Third.

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The world of Steelport is a truly fantastic love letter to everything great about this generation of open world games. It takes inspiration from Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown, Prototype and Infamous, blending the best parts of those games into a single experience and throwing out the aspects of their mechanics that didn’t work. It cherry picks the best of the best in this regard, with the only remaining issue being the repeated use of certain challenge types. Almost all missions outside of the core story or loyalty missions string together a series of repetitive challenges with some incredibly weak narrative reasoning. I’d advise only doing these outside missions if you’re after certain upgrades or rewards they grant (detailed before you start the mission) and sticking close to the main narrative where all of the creative level design and narrative effort is being focused.

In some ways Saints Row IV does suffer visually. Being based strongly on the Saints Row The Third engine, there are issues with screen tearing, fuzzy outlines to textures and generally visual artefacts. However, the game on the whole looks beautiful, pushing an incredible amount out of the open world engine. I can sprint at high speed across the city with zero loading times and there is no visual dip when flying over the city from the top of the highest skyscraper. No matter how many visual effects are going, that there is never a frame-rate drop really impressed me and made up for the occasional technical issues. The artistic design is also really impressive, particularly within some of the core story mission specific worlds or toward the conclusion where much of the simulation’s visual style changes.

The soundtrack is also top notch. The in-game radio stations, which can now be listened to outside of your car, all feature fantastic tracks that work really well within the established world. There are also some brilliantly crafted moments of the game set to music, like the Aerosmith missile scene mentioned earlier, that make amazing use of music to enhance the experience at hand. These moments are rare in the game, but are always a joy to experience when they do happen. 

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Saints Row IV is a surprisingly amazing game. Besides a few minor technical issues and some repetitive mission design, it is a wonderfully over the top, incredibly well written piece of entertainment that constantly surprised me with how it pushed its premise and how intelligently it was crafted. It’s one of my favourite games of the generation and I can’t wait to see where they take the series from here, as the game ends with an amazing hint as to how a future sequel could be even more outrageous and impressive.

 

Disclaimer: I reviewed Saints Row IV on PC, using a Press Build sent by PR team. This build continually crashed at one point in a core mission, forcing me to re-install the game and loose a few hours progress. I’ve seen other people mention the PC version crashing, but not to the extent I experienced. Be aware of the possibility of crashes if playing the PC version.

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