Developer: Volition | Publisher: Deep Silver | Played On: Xbox 360 | Price: $59.99 | Release Date: August 20, 2013 | ESRB: Mature
We’ve seen discussions about games as art; it’s an important, valid, high-falutin’ discourse that validates our industry. Less so do we talk about the heart, soul, and purpose of the games we play. That’s encapsulated in one very simple word: fun.
While Saints Row IV likely won’t score big on the games-as-art circuit, and its technical limitations, crude humor, and bombastic pretensions can elicit as many eye-rolls as genuine guffaws, it is, unabashedly, unapologetically, willfully and delightfully Fun. With a capital F.
If you’re new to the Saints Row franchise you might see, on the surface, a Grand Theft Auto-style world in which to rampage and cause carnage. While that’s not entirely inaccurate it misses several very important story and gameplay points. The first of which is that you are the president…as in POTUS…the President of the United States. Of America.
And while you may have installed casinos, bars, and strip clubs replete with pole dancers, this is not the White House of Bill Clinton, but of your fine self, however you choose to shape, dress, and accessorize your person. Male, female, tall, short, fat, thin, color blind or styling you get to choose it all, right down to your voice, be it gruff and authoritative, flimsy and fluffy, or Nolan North. Yes, Nolan North is an actual option. And right out the gate it helps establish that Saints Row IV will not merely break general gaming conventions, but also the fourth wall in its relationship and smug-assery with you, the gamer.
Top to bottom, left to right the game throws mile-a-minute one-liners, self-aware moments, and fourth wall-leaping references. What’s probably most surprising is that most of them are genuinely funny or at the very least appreciably clever. Sure, there’s plenty of schlock in the dialogue… “more fun, less mercy killing,” “I was 12 hours into Dead Island when the Zin attacked… I’ll never forgive them for that,” and “hey Kinzie, wanna fuck?” but most times there’s actual purpose hitched to the storyline.
For Saints Row veterans that story might feel familiar. The big difference is that after the success of the Saints you’re now President. Of the entire country. With superpowers. And big-ass guns. And vehicles. And a diplomatic immunity affording the use of crazy over-the-top force that would make even the Patriot Act blush.
Fortunately, for politics’ sake, when you’re ambushed by the police in the city of Steelport they turn out to be aliens. So shooting them without due process isn’t only in the national interest, it’s damn well protected by the Constitution. Somewhere. See, Zinyak and his cronies thing Earth is his for the taking. This reject from Galaxy Quest is taking over the world…blah, blah, blah…even he doesn’t have the enthusiasm to really get into a motivation, instead reveling in his role as the foil that motivates your Presidential actions.
And those actions are way, way more varied than you might expect. Sure, you can speed run and leap around the city capturing cluster points, driving vehicles, and harassing the citizenry for hours and hours on end. Or you can double-down on the main quest path that is so varied that what it lacks in story sensibility it more than makes up with in sheer creativity of endeavor. Text adventures, Tron bikes, mechs, alongside classic action gaming shooting, a bit of stealth, and nudity. (Blurred to protect the innocent, of course).
We know the challenges within the job of President are largely unappreciated, but it takes a different level of awareness to fight an alien invasion alongside early decisions like curing cancer or halting hunger. When I made a choice for humanity and the game ended…literally, it went to the end credits, I was floored both by the shock of the moment and the ballsiness of the game to say “You wanna go this way? Then we’re done.”
I mean, right from the get-go, when you ride a nuke into the heavens with an Aerosmith power ballad perfectly scoring the moment to earn the Presidency, through rote Flashpoint ground battles with bad guys, through learning super powers, leaping tall buildings, and collecting macguffins you have options to play a wide variety of games. Sure, the core gameplay is open-world action game, but the potty humor, hyper-sexism, fake nudity, and over-indulgent violence mask an incredibly well executed satire. It’s laughing at us laughing at it, and all in the name of that three-letter word.
Saints Row IV isn’t a dignified sign-off to the current generation of gaming in the way The Last Of Us is. Nor is it a ham-fisted GTA wannabe. It takes the core creative elements of the last Saints Row game and adds superpowers… not only in your character, now the President, but in its awareness, competency, comedy, and enthusiasm.
It won’t win any technical awards (outside voice-over work) for its engine or environments, but the success of Saints Row IV is how those elements simply don’t matter. You could run this level of unabashed creativity on any platform and garner huge success. The biggest compliment I can give is that Saints Row IV is really, really, REALLY, fun.
+ Varied and inventive gameplay
+ Genuinely funny
+ Tons to do
9 / 10