After hard work and the game pretty much being refused classification in Australia several times, All Interactive Entertainment and Deep Silver have finally managed to bring Saints Row IV to the Playstation 3, Xbox One and PC platforms in the region. Due to some content that some people may consider questionable, Australia has received a slightly edited edition of the game with a mission edited out of it due to it having drug use related to incentives and rewards (A big no-no when it comes to classifications). It also received a later release date which pushed the games launch closer to that of Grand Theft Auto V which I am sure was not the ideal option for the company considering the anticipation for their competition. However pushing that aside reviews are all about the experience, and while the genre might not have been near the top of my list of preferences…. Saints Row IV proved to be a highlight.
Saints Row IV continues the chronology of previous games, where after managing to prevent Washington D.C from being destroyed by a Nuclear Missile (By climbing upon it post-launch and dismantling to to the song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith), the unnamed player character wins the admiration of the public and becomes the President of the United States – with several of the Saints becoming members of his cabinet. All sounds pretty normal here right? Well Volition seems to agree and decided to throw in a major plot event right from the start of his presidency.
Upon giving a presentation to the press, the Zin Empire and its leader Zinyak invade planet Earth with the intention of abducting the greatest minds of the world – including the Saints and keeping them in Matrix-style captivity. Initially trapped in a virtual world based on the 50′s complete with expletive censor and over the top events / actions, the President is contacted by Kinzie Kensington (Computer Expert and now Press Secretary) who informs him that he is trapped in a simulation. Getting wind of this, he or she is then trapped in another simulation based around Steelport and from there they work towards getting out, setting their allies free and going up against the Zin Empire.
The initial premise of the games storyline feels very similar to that of 1999 film ‘The Matrix’, and the experience to some extent feels like its online game ‘The Matrix Online’, only much further enhanced. The storyline itself however while having a serious side to it, it filled with pop culture references, mentions to past events, comical dialogue and frequent direct and indirect fourth wall breaking. Given that the Saints Row series has had competition from similar games in the past, its approach to delivering an enjoyable experience is its strong point and has been further enhanced in this release. While Saints Row IV by itself is a pretty short game in itself (I completed it in around 12 hours), it is supported by a number of side missions that also has dubbed dialogue.
A particular highlight I would like to give mention to was the character creation system. In the game you are able to produce your own custom “President” and give them one of three gender voices – Male (3x voices), Female (3x Voices) and Nolan North (Yep, Nolan North has his own gender. Each of these seven voice actors/actresses had unique lines written and recorded for each of them and actively converse with the characters and respond to the events that surround them. While this doesn’t mean replay value for seven runs through the game, it does mean that if you play through a second time you have an opportunity to hear a whole different set of dialogue. While dialogue recording must be costly, I would love to see more games do this in the future. For record…. I chose the Nolan North voice.
There are a few limitations with the storyline of Saints Row IV in that the writing itself is nothing award winning (Instead relying on a more “out there” experience to deliver the experience) and aside from a few exceptions the events that take place are fairly linear with any deviation pretty much leaving you with a “Game Over” screen. That being said, I won’t deny it was enjoyable.
The one particular issue with any video game set in a virtual world is that it is hard to differentiate if graphical glitches are part of delivering the “glitchy virtual world” experience or legitimate visual issues – such as shimmering walls and weird limbs on general civilians. Either way the virtual world of Steelport and other simulations / areas accessed through the game do help deliver a visually appealing setting for the game and was evidently designed to take advantage of all the powers, weapons and encounters you as the President will have during your stay in the simulation. If I were to half one major qualm, it is that in the main Steelport area, it is evident that they have rehashed building designs such as the front of stores and potentially other buildings (I can’t say that I just wasn’t running past the same building several times – running at fast speeds doesn’t leave much time to look). The map size may also seem a tad small to some given your access to super powers, but I felt it was just right for my preferences.
The character creation was once again the strongest part of the games design system. You are given a nice array of customization options for your characters facial, body, clothing designs and even weapons can be customized. Volition doesn’t play it safe with the designs either, often using them actively in cutscenes and even in the games mission complete screens which was a nice touch.
While during my playthrough there were a few bugs in the game – one occasion of being stuck requiring reset and two complete game lock-ups, the game does a good job of handling a considerable degree of activity without lagging too heavily, even with using the Super Sprint ability at the highest speed.
Saints Row IV once again offers a considerable number of in-game radio stations offering a great number of songs that can be listened to pretty much at any time. The variety is good and complements a rather strong tracklist used by the game during events itself.
As mentioned above, the team at Volition in their development process pretty much dubbed the President a grand total of seven times to correspond to the personalities of each voice selection. The voice actors who loan their voices to this character include Nolan North (Nathan Drake – Uncharted), Laura Bailey (Rise Kujikawa – Persona 4) and Troy Baker (Snow Villiers – Final Fantasy XIII). They are supported by an equally strong main voice cast including Yuri Lowenthal as Matt Miller, Natalie Lander as Kinzie Kensington and Danielle Nicolet as Shaundi.
If you have played any modern-day open-world action adventure before, many of the general gameplay mechanics of Saints Row IV won’t stray too far from what you would be familiar with – you undertake quests, get into some gunfights with randomly generated NPC’s (or occasionally a bigger boss), drive cars and acquire bigger and better weapons. But when you add the Matrix-like aspect of Saints Row IV into the mix…. then these elements become lost in the mix of everything else on offer.
Perhaps one of the most obvious additions to the game is Super Powers, where by defeating major “boss” enemies throughout the main storyline the president acquires new abilities that transcend the bounds of reality. The most practical of them including “Super Sprint” and “Super Jump” unlocked in the early stages of the game with future powers unlocked including control of ice and telekinesis among others. Especially with the two first abilities it pretty much makes using vehicles useless despite the presence of a vehicle customization system. These skills can be further improved through completing quests and collecting blue clusters often found atop buildings in Steelport.
As this is an action adventure game there are opportunities to go up against a sizable number of enemies, in this case usually the Zon who are present within the simulation environment. These can come from randomly coming across them in the world (based around your notoriety and actions) or from a number of encounters which require you to either defeat crowds of them or take down a shielded hot spots. You have access to your ordinary range of guns, but fitting to the virtual world you also have access to a number of more unique weapons. While I feel like I am echoing the sentiment from a number of other reviewers, the dub step gun was easily the most out there and entertaining of the weapons, and I will admit I am guilty of quickly leveling it up and using it on a regular basis. That being said, a balanced use of weapons is important – particularly on the harder difficulties (Which never ended up being hard enough to become frustrating).
In addition to the main story and sub-quests surrounding particular characters, the game also offers a number of separate events which offer more mayhem and chaos than you would usually have access to in the game. This ranges from a “Fraud” game where you try to cause as much injury to your character, Speed Rift where you are timed to run around a set course with Super Speed activated and Prof. Genki’s Mind Over Murder where using telekinesis you throw people, vehicles and genki head through spinning rings in the sky. Each have Bronze, Silver and Gold tier ranks with rewards for each of them. To shake up the formula a bit they also do one-off games such as a tank-shooting game, a side-scrolling fighter and a text-based RPG, all of which are only one-off activities unfortunately.
There are other aspects to this game that I think are worth discovering for yourself as you progress through it, but overall while the game might not last you as long as other open-world adventure games on the market, what you are provided with I think gives you enough for your buck.
Final Word on Saints Row IV
For its fourth major installment, Saints Row IV has gone out of its usual comfort zone and offered a considerably different experience from its predecessors or its market for that matter. Considering there was a possibility that this game would never be released in Australia due to it being refused classification, I think it would have been a real shame not to see it released on the market with an entertaining storyline, strong character customization options and some interesting additions to the gameplay mechanics.
Might be worth checking out for a change of pace from Grand Theft Auto V