Here at The Digital Fix we had a real soft spot for Saints Row: The Third Saints Row The Third - open world sillyness at its finest; loud, lewd and for the most part just plain bonkers, heck it even had giant purple dildo bats! A lot has happened since the release of Saints Row The Third, not least of all the liquidation of publisher THQ and the subsequent selling of the developers along with the franchise IP to Deep Silver. Would this move change what was planned for Saints Row 4? Fear not, the vision appears to be still intact: lewd, loud and as funny as ever.
In fact, just when you thought the series couldn’t be anymore bonkers the team at Volition pull out all the stops, creating arguably one of the most ridiculous open world experiences ever created on any platform. For all its silliness though, my word is it fun. Odd these days that we are able to talk about an 18 rated game as being both fun and funny, usually the 18 rating is reserved for childish sexual innuendo (Suda 51 I’m looking at you) or sawing a guy in half with a chainsaw gun (love you Cliffy B) but Saints Row 4 is actual fun, like really fun. The tone is perfect, the sense of humour is balls out crazy and for the most part everything hits the mark perfectly. Humour in games so frequently falls flat but right from the get go Saints Row 4 will have you laughing out loud. Not the usual Skype type “lol” which is typed after every sentence, actual outright laughter.
The game begins with a prologue which sets the tone perfectly within the first twenty minutes. It looks and feels like a serious third person shooter but ends with your character scaling a bomb; a bomb which is soaring towards it’s destination, Aerosmith’s ‘Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ is at full blast and you are taking “OMG! I will miss you so much” calls from your entire crew. It’s funny as hell and creates feelings that are so rarely felt when playing ‘games for adults’ these days.
Fast forward and you have been promoted to the President of The United States (POTUS), the White House is now your playground and the Saints form the majority of your staff. If you have played previous games you will realise this in itself is ridiculous but just go with it, this is just the beginning. No sooner have you strutted your way through the White House when masses of aliens appear Independence Day style and all hell breaks loose. Cue a series of random action sequences which help familiarise you with the controls (the same as SR3), culminating in a big fist fight with the leader of the enemy aliens (known as the Zin), Zinyak.
Following the inevitable defeat you are placed inside what is clearly a giant The Matrix rip off - this is perfectly fine though as it knows it’s one and plays up to it at every opportunity. Glitching buildings, agents of the system, system hacking, it’s all there for you and it’s likely fair to say that after playing Saints Row 4 quite a few people will feel like revisiting the sci fi trilogy on DVD or Blu Ray. Naturally as your character is now effectively ‘The One’ and you are inside The Matrix, the gloves are completely off. Remember all that babble about not being restricted by the controls within the matrix because the one is from outside, free your mind Neo etc etc, well, in Saints Row 4 this is completely brought to life and in fact Saints Row 4 is actually the best The Matrix game to date...unofficially of course. Mixing in gameplay mechanics from Prototype, Infamous and most notably Crackdown, Saints Row 4 is intent on you using everything at your disposal to just wreck everything within the city, using whatever means you fancy. This leads us nicely onto the biggest change to the series, Super Powers!
Yes, you read that correctly - as you are pretty much Keanu Reeves in Saints Row 4, albeit possibly as a large black women dressed up in a purple gimp suit carrying a massive dildo weapon (due to the huge amount of comedy customisation the game allows) but yeah, Keanu all the same. Jumping Superman style, flying through the air, running up walls, throwing people over buildings and running through a city at lightning speed are but a few of the superpowers that are acquired in your first few hours of gameplay. Cars are now simply something to run through or to pick up and throw, this is Superman stuff with a massive dose of silly.
The majority of the gameplay takes place back in Steelport, the home of the third game, albeit this time it’s a warped Matrixx version of the city. Your mission is to hack, smash and pretty much break the virtual version of the SteelPort, freeing your also trapped friends as you go. It’s completely open world and you can progress a huge amount of quest based storylines in any order you wish - the freedom the game allows you really is one of its key draws. Main quests sit alongside a large amount of side quests, which in turn are accompanied by an awful lot of challenges. New this time around is the way in which quests are grouped and tracked, allowing you to do such things as continue along the path of a certain small side quests that took your eye rather than force you down a path that leads to other main quests. It’s all handled really well through the menus and makes life so much easier when managing so much content.
Missions are for the most part variations on previous efforts and do little but move you through the games’s core narrative - save the Saints and then kick the aliens’ asses - simple. Side missions will take up a lot more of your time and are for the most part tweaked versions of the activities from the previous game. For example mayhem will see you causing it and racing has been replaced with blazing (running really fast!). All activities are scored on a bronze, silver, gold rating and affect your XP and cash rewards, they also form parts of the main story and side missions, usually used in this context to introduce you to them - the game does a really good job of pushing to see everything it has to offer but only on a handful of occasions are you forced into partaking. Activities then appear on your map and provide even more opportunities to gather resources. Add to all of this there are a TON of challenges that range from ‘get x number of gold medals on activities’ to ‘use this gun x times’ and as with everything else in SR4 help you rack up XP. XP unlocks new abilities and upgrades for you to spend your hard earned money on.
There are two main currencies to be found within this new wonderful open world: Cache (see what they did there, it’s like money but as you are in a computer simulation...funny), which allows you to buy upgrades to weapons, bonuses, gang powers, health upgrades etc., while data clusters are the second and can be found scattered throughout the world. Twelve hundred or so can be found and are the main collectible within the game, these can be used to upgrade your superpowers for example, to jump higher and so on. Progression is all important and even after just a few hours you feel like you completely own this digital version of Steelport, mixing up how you deal with the Zin with weird and wonderful results. Want to slam down on a group from a height, no problem, sprint at 200mph into an enemy, kick them in the balls and then throw them across a building, check and a personal favourite fire ice from your hands and then pull out the now famous dubstep gun to shatter them with red hot beats - Saints Row 4 has all these things!
It’s not all a complete hoot though as the game is not without its flaws. The screen can often be filled with an awful lot of action and for the most part during these sequences the engine holds up reasonably well, but it’s not perfect. Unfortunately when doing something as routine as auto saving the game can freeze (360 version) - also for a game so focused on super powers it seems odd that the engine in which it is built to perform on often cannot deal with the speed at which things are moving. This is somewhat masked by the Matrix-style effects, used cunningly to distract the eye but it is unable to stop the game from feeling a bit loose in places. The activities for the most part are also a chore, not helped by the really annoying camera which when in the heat of battle is doing half of the fighting for the enemy. Particularly through the very annoying fight club activity it can feel like a fight against the camera rather than the horde of enemies coming at you.
It is admirable that there is so much content to be found within the entire game, a single playthrough running up to easily twenty hours but you cannot help but feel that there is a lot of padding in there. Granted you don’t have to do all the side quests but if you do like questing the repetition found overlapping from the main quests to the side quests and back can grate a little. Not hugely as for the most part it is fun but if you are not a fan of a specific activity then sadly you will need to endure it over and over and over if you are a completionist.
A game like Saints Row 4 which has so much content, such a good sense of humour and solid enough controls, camera aside can ease you past such imperfections. It’s also such a good game to both play for long periods and for the many people out there with very busy lives, it’s structured perfectly to dip in and out of for short periods. The missions and side missions are all in isolation, usually between five and twenty minutes in length and for the most part present very little challenge - with this sort of accessibility, matched with the usual giggles it will give you along the way, Saints Row 4 is up there with the best open world games ever released.
Saints Row 4 does a fantastic job of moulding adult content with good old fashioned fun. Whilst not at all perfect, it is a game loaded with content, is easy to pick up and play with enough 80’s tunes to keep you smiling and playing for many many hours. Balls out fun from start to finish, you should play, you will smile throughout and don’t forget those romance scenes mocking Mass Effect, they are a delight.