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Saved during the liquidation of THQ by Koch Media earlier this year, Deep Silver and Volition have swung true with a grand slam on Saints Row IV.Slathered with lowbrow and risque humor throughout the games’ storyline and design the team at Volition has concocted another hilarious parody of a third-person sandbox shooter with a twist, superpowers. Instead of pitting the Saints against the Saturday morning rendition superheroes follow up to Saints Row: The Third; Volition has gone one dimensional step beyond the Steelport of old.
Set years after the events in Saints Row: The Third, the player finds himself not only in the highest seat of his gang, but also in the highest seat of American office as the President. Despite the wealth of resources at the gang’s disposal, not even the Saints' America can stop the game’s early climactic twist, an alien invasion. Following the invasion, the plot finds the Saints trapped not only within the bowels of the antagonist Zinyak’s ship, but also within his own virtual simulation.
Rather than escaping the clutches of Zinyak, the crew find themselves trapped on-board a small vessel lurking deep within the bowels of a larger vessel. From their small ship the crew can hack into the simulation to free additional gang members and cause general havoc to the simulation. Adding in elements of The Matrix, Shadowrun, and Alien to the parody has been an interesting touch to the game while providing a dynamic of the real world via the ship and the simulated world where most game play exists.
This is Steelport for the game. Instead of the gang-infested and turf-war antics of the last game, the simulation squares the Saints off against two authority figures in Steelport that attempt to keep the peace: the police and Zinyak’s horde. Trapped within this virtual simulation, players will spend the vast majority of their time jacked in as all the quest and side-quest game play resides within the simulation.
From laser rifle wielding henchmen, to mine-chucking murderbots, weapon-mounted hovercraft, or massively armored rolling laser platforms; the assortment of bad guys which the simulation can throw at you is staggering. Not to mention, a full notoriety meter will call down one of the toughest enemies down upon you; a power-wielding Warder.
Borrowing elements and mechanics from the previous title, Saints Row IV is hardly Saints Row 3.5. Respect has been replaced with XP and Cash with Cache to better fit the virtual reality motif, but aside from player progression and quest mechanic, it is surprisingly an unique experience.
Similar to the gang-territory system of the previous game, simulated Steelport has various mini-games and stores scattered throughout the burrows of the city. Previous min-games such as Tank Mayhem and Fraud make a return trip with a twist, as there is also Mech Suit Mayhem. Newer games have also added new concepts to these challenges some of which use powers. Stores are no longer purchased but are unlocked through the Hacking mini-game while the three different Rift games use your Sprint, Jump, and Telekinesis powers.
Despite dialogue playing up the role of these mini-games, the only effect they have on the city is swapping territory control; instead of taking it from other gangs you liberate that portion of the city of Zinyak's forces. Once you have a solid portion of a city in the purple, simulated Saints will begin to occupy the simulation. Outside the simulation these mini-games are frequent objectives for both main story quests and side quests. After saving a couple gang members from the simulation, continuously travelling between the ship and the simulation becomes considerably tedious. If you see an icon on the map close to you representing an incomplete task, you might as well do it then or a spend an hour running around the city completing them all; it will save you some travel time.
Territory control can also be gained by taking out large generator networks, scaling five skyscraping towers, or defeating enemy Flashpoints similar to Gang Activity from Saints Row: The Third.
Powers come in two main categories: active and passive.
Active powers such as Blast, Telekinesis, Stomp, and Buff provide an arsenal of attacks and crowd-control effects. Ice Blast for example will freeze enemies for a short duration during which a single shotgun blast can shatter the enemy to tiny fragments in one shot. Gravity Stomp lifts vehicles and people alike and holds them in stasis around the player while you can quickly mop up enemies as they hang motionless. Their upgrades mimic one another for the most part; increased recharge rate, larger area of effect, long effect duration; some however help increase the duration of a telekinesis hold or it’s throw distance.
Passive powers such as: Super Sprint, Super Jump, Death From Above, and Force Shield provide movement based powers with limited damage impact. Sprint and Jump in conjunction have revolutionized travel for Saints Row IV. Though car mods are still available and relatively cheap, being able to sprint up buildings hurdling yourself off the top and gliding for hundreds of meters across the vast metropolis spread introduced a new perspective to view the world from while saving a ton of travel time.
Animations for the superpowers can lead to frustrating circumstances. When ending sprint the character tends to slide for a few feed and spinning on a dime before the camera resets which can be annoying when entering a fight as the delay can allow an enemy to get the drop on you. Though Active powers are less constrictive with their animations allowing for less hindered mobility, Super Sprint and Jump will take getting use to. Eventually you can earn a power upgrade which causes a tornado to surround you while you sprint allowing you to run without fear of hitting debris or an oncoming vehicle, though explosions and fire will still effect you.
Though there aren't many new conventional weapons, superpowers do replace grenades. However, Volition added in tons of new exotic weaponry, the least of which being the arms of Zinyak’s minions. As teased over the last few weeks, many of the weapons’ conventional guns such as the quickshot and heavy pistols have three different skins with three colors or patterns for each skin. The burst rifle can be skinned to look like a Super Soaker or a marine assault rifle from Alien. Even with the skins and colors, Saints Row IV features few conventional weapons with basic firing characteristics that remain the same; the skins only offer visual and audio aesthetic.
The more exotic weaponry includes some zany and outrageous stuff. Aside from the infamous dubstep Gun, other extoic armaments includes; the Minethrower arm Lasergun arm both of which come from murderbots, an abduction gun, a disintegrator rifle, the Inflato-Ray which inflates targets until they explode, a bounce rifle which bounces rounds off surfaces, to a black hole launcher that hurls mini-singularities which such in the surrounding environment. This is where the fun play for Saints Row IV truly lives; some weapons such as the disintegrator rifle and black hole launcher are quite lethal as most of these weapons provide a comical aesthetic rather than a weapon.
Graphics and Audio
Graphically the game is nothing new, for those wondering if Saints Row IV deserves the whole number or 3.5, the graphics are the best argument that the game is a linear successor to the last. Visually much of the old Steelport is found within the simulation. The footprint of STAG is long gone but the same vehicles, stores, and pedestrians from Saints Row: The Third inhabit the latest release. Though the game is still as beautiful as the last, aside from a few minor aesthetic additions little has been changed graphically.
The sounds do not augment dynamically much between indoors and outdoors. Much of the ambient audio has been reused as well with the downtown area echoing with a cacophony of emergency vehicle sirens, car alarms going off, large trunks backing up, chattering pedestrians; the same track seems to follow you as you walk down the street. Most of the audio additions are for powers; once you have the Glide power unlocked you will hear a gentle wind whipping past as you float around the city. If you unlock the vortex upgrade for sprint, you can hear electrically cables snap as you dash past a street light ripping it free of the concrete.
However, the voice acting true to Saints history is yet another knockout. Featuring Keith David as himself, along with other Saints Row veterans Terry Crews, Michael Dorn, and Neil Patrick Harris; the cast plays part in parcel to the return of many villains from the previous titles including; Ben King, Maero, and DJ Veteran Child. Their spirited performances throughout the storyline and cut-scenes makes the journey an entertaining experience.
From inside the simulation Steelport retains the same layout with added visuals that casually and in some cases ostentatiously remind those jacked in that they are imprisoned. Occasionally objects within the simulation will flicker and distort as if they have been blurred. Though the environment is a carbon copy of Steelport, these visual cues provide another consistent reminder that one is in a virtual reality while moving throughout the city.
One aspect the powers do add to the overall experience has been the shift in perspective. Once the Super Sprint and Jump powers are upgraded to their full potential you can witness some extraordinary panoramas of the downtown city space while being able to glide across thousand or two meters in distance jumping from the highest towers and skyscrapers.
In the real world, the design for the mothership and crew vessel design have their own unique elements along with a distinct and demanding color composition which plays well in the regimentation of Zinyak’s forces against the Saints. However, the parody borrows many visual elements from the inner hulls of Alien and the cavernous tunnels found around Zion in The Matrix.
Though the tedious mini-games become a repetitive chore early on, the gameplay has many unique elements which keep you engaged throughout the storyline. Despite it's stale graphics and city setting, powers lead you to newer perspectives letting you navigate into the heights of the game rather than speeding through the streets. With a storyline paved in walks down memory lane for the series, Saints Row IV continually brings back characters and events from the previous three games into the narrative even managing to parody itself by remarking on the physical and vocal similarities between Julius Little and Keith David.
Hopefully this won’t be the last Saints Row title by Volition, with the amounts of blasts from the past that were put into the game one can only wonder if there is a future for the Saints. Either way, Saints Row IV has delivered on another debaucherously funny storyline and game environment coupled with superpowers that make for a more engaging experience as you travel around Steelport.