Saints Row IV
Developer: Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1, 2-player online co-op
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Saints Row IV continues Volition’s bizarre collective journey into just how weird and over-the-top you can make a city-based Grand Theft Auto clone. What do I mean? Well, unless you’d done something terribly wrong by the end of Saints Row the Third your character was so powerful and literally indestructible that they were basically a superhuman, and bullets, explosions, fire and even falling from tall buildings couldn’t kill them. For SR IV they dispense with any remaining vestiges of reality or logic and give us a full-on “simulated” version of Steelport, complete with a nutty plot that sees your character (you can design your own, pick a randomly generated one or import your Saints Row 3 character) saving the US from a nuclear terrorist attack and subsequently being elected president (hey, if G.W. Bush can do it, anyone can!), which is followed by an alien invasion, and you spending most of the game in a virtual reality in which you are bestowed with superpowers (which are added to and upgraded throughout the game.)

You eventually acquire 5 Special Powers; Super Sprint for getting around like a superhero, and Super Jump, Blast, Telekinesis, Stomp and Buff for dealing damage like a supervillain. Each of the weapon powers has three element-related versions, some of which you will use a lot more than others. Being able to freeze enemies is very handy, and there are other possibilities like being able to control the minds of enemies and make them fight for you. Telekinesis (you can pick up enemies or even vehicles and throw them) can be imbued with lightning, Stomp made to shrink enemies and Buff can envelope you and your bullets in Fire! Experimenting with the effects is great fun, and as more and more enemies get called to attack you it can be truly spectacular, and shooting, blowing and beating the crap out of a screen full of enemies is very therapeutic. Having 4 different powers with a total of 12 different effects does get overwhelmingly complicated, but, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll find your favourites and the best ones to use against particular enemies or groups of enemies in certain situations.

Playing through the story mode you’ll notice homages to allsorts; various games get the Saints Row treatment, including Metal Gear Solid and Streets of Rage. As with SR3 Tron is a heavy influence and Volition’s wrestling fixation continues unbounded with former WWF/WWE wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper becoming an ally, and a Hulk Hogan soundalike also makes an appearance as a commentator.

At one point Johnny Gat says “Is this getting a little weird for everyone else, or just me?” And it may be the understatement of the year. SR IV is one big festering lump of weirdness, with a constant stream of incomprehensible sub plots, in-jokes and quips that I can only believe are mildly funny to the people who wrote them-and once at most. The fact is that as addictive and cathartic as the game may be, it has all the depth and quality of Miley Cyrus’ infamous MTV VMA performance, but that doesn’t make it bad, or evil, or that you should avoid it, just don’t go expecting a memorable, life changing gaming experience or a game that you’ll want to go back to after you’ve finished what truly is, the MOST bizarre campaign mode I’ve ever played.

As in previous Saints Rows apart from the main story missions the city is dotted with a large number of Activities (mini games), most of which play reasonably well and offer a distraction from the tiresome campaign story, by way of either wild destruction or tests of timing and skill, and there are related challenges for just about every weapon and enemy for those of us with O.C.D. These would have been more fun if you got the feeling that they’d actually been tested by someone before you played them. I say this because the required Gold, Silver and Bronze scores and the way they are graded Hard, Medium and Easy have absolutely NO bearing on the ease of completion. Mixed in with good old, bad old Insurance Fraud (throw yourself in front of traffic and try and keep hitting more vehicles for combos) there are races, telekinesis throwing tests and vehicular and weapon or ability specific rampages there are a series of, what are frankly awful, arena survival battles that will have you trying out all your superpowers against a stream of virtual enemies. These could have been great fun but they don’t play very well because they’re repetitive as hell and the camera keeps messing you about. The designers even thought that bringing Genki bowl (a bizarre survival/shooting gallery) back for a (thankfully) brief appearance was a good idea. If this is what Volition think gamers want then they’re wrong. Some of the other challenges actually feel broken, and I even suffered from a Genki-related telekinesis challenge that demanded I throw cars, people and Genki heads at targets when ALL THE cars and people in the city had disappeared! (This required reloading a previous checkpoint to sort it out.)

Once again the game heavily features an RPG-lite element, so everything you do earns XP and levels you up, with you having a limited amount of control on how you upgrade your character’s weapons, powers and abilities. Trouble is, this isn’t very well structured and I found myself level capped at 50 long, long before the end of the game, meaning tons of XP went to waste-another sign of a lack of proper, in-depth game testing.

Another major problem with the game is that as I like driving, and in an even more pronounced way than the Crackdown and Prototype games, vehicles have been rendered virtually redundant by your superpowers and abilities. This means you may only find yourself using them because a mission or activity requires that you do. Garaging your vehicles is also a thing of the past; once you’ve stolen them and scanned them vehicles can be delivered with just a phone call, and requesting an aircraft even places you in mid-air (it’s a virtual reality remember.) The phone means you can also call any of your friends and other Saints for backup, but although you end up with a small army of allies you can still only call three at a time as in previous games, which again seems a bit daft. If you get fed up with fighting there’s also a handy “notoriety hack” phone app that gets rid of the cops (who are also aliens) if you cause too much mayhem.

I heard from many other gamers that the game locked their Xbox up solid on more than a few occasions; it only happened once to me near the end of the game, and I had no such problems at the start when most others seemed to have problems, regardless of how much mayhem I was causing on-screen (which was the suspected reason for the game crashing.) But there are more than a few glitches, and even the last mission seemed broken (I couldn’t pick up the required key), and the only thing I could do is return to Xbox Home and restart the game.

As with all previous Saints Row games there are some horrendously over-the-top “grind” type achievements that will get you mightily wound up if you want your full 1000 Gs or Platinum trophy; these include a completely ridiculous alien ship flight distance requirement and to change the sex of your character and play in the other gender for 2 hours... Whatever the case, the latest Saints outing, as daft, over the top and weird as it gets at times is likely to keep you occupied for 30-50 hours, and that’s certainly getting plenty of bang for your buck by today’s standards.

The game has a full 2-player campaign co-op mode as well as 4 co-op ‘activities,’ and this works quite well and is certainly more stable than the last two SR games that saw frequent lock-ups, glitches and random disconnections from your co-op buddy. I made a couple of new friends playing this, and it’s just even more fun and more spectacular than the solo game.

The 18 certificate the game has is also questionable. Although there’s a lot of swearing and ultra-violence, it’s all done in a very comic book way, and I have no idea why our characters have their genitals pixelated out when they’re stripped naked (this is an in-game plot event and also an option to the player) either, but maybe Volition’s graphic artists can’t do penises, butt cracks or nipples.

The original incidental music is really good and brings several different movies’ soundtracks to mind; including Terminator and Transformers. The GTA-style radio stations have an eclectic mix of tracks, and you can make your own mix tape of your favourites (I only found 4 tracks I actually like) that you can play when in any vehicle.

There are some truly stunning moments in SRIV, but I couldn’t help thinking what the heck they were doing in a game series that was originally supposed to be an open world city-based game about a street gang; “GTA’s naughty little cousin” if you will. Volition seem to have dropped any pretence, taken down any boundaries and produced a rollicking, spectacular yet vacuous juggernaut, the final direction and destination of which I don’t think anybody knows - perhaps it's best if this is the final instalment...

Best Bits

- City-wide spectacular action.
- 50+ hours of gameplay.
- Use your Saints Row 3 character.
- Full online story co-op mode.
Worst Bits

- Repetitive as hell.
- It's repetitive as hell.
- Did we mention it's repetitive?
- A bizarre plot that isn’t as clever or funny as it thinks it is.
- Feels slightly glitchy and under-tested.
- An 18 certificate and yet no nudity?

by: Sloppy Sneak

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