The Suburbanite
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Saints Row IV Review
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By Cliff Hickman
Cliff is a lifelong area resident and gamer. Cliff enjoys shooters, role playing games, action adventure games and sports games.
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Aug. 31, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Saints Row IV has a ridiculous premise that snowballs into an even more ridiculous story. It also happens to be the smartest-written spoof of video games and pop culture in general that I’ve played this year. This is the type of story that could easily lose steam and feel contrived or annoying after a few hours but it never does. Saints Row IV offers something new (and often times crazy) for you every couple of moments that makes it an enjoyable ride from start to finish.
As I stated above, the story is ridiculous. Your created character becomes the President of the United States after completing a short tutorial level that sees you thwart a terrorist attack in spectacular fashion. The story then skips ahead where the United States is promptly invaded by aliens. You and your cabinet (a mix of old favorites and new characters) are kidnapped and placed into a simulation Matrix style while the aliens take over the planet. The simulation happens to be an exact recreation of Steelport from Saints Row The Third. Your character quickly learns to break the rules of the simulation and gains super powers in the process. The goals of the game become clear soon after. Do as much as you can to wreak havoc in the simulation while occasionally hopping back into the real world to rescue an imprisoned cabinet member from their digital prison. Needless to say hilarity ensues. I’d love to talk about some of the great moments the game has in store but I think it’s better if you experience them yourself. It’s simply some of the most well-written, well-executed satire of the medium you will find anywhere. The overall story sounds ridiculous and generic but as you experience it you will find that it is anything but.
I also wanted to give credit to developer Volition for perhaps the best use of a licensed sound track in a game I’ve ever seen. Recognizable tunes kick in at key moments that brought a smile to my face throughout. They didn’t overdo it and it happens just often enough to remind you how clever the song placement is. I’d love to give examples but its best if you experience those moments yourself. Some of this stuff I’m definitely going to come back and talk about in a month. I just want everyone to have a fair chance to finish the game without spoilers for at least a month before I talk about the key moments.
I found the characters to also be likeable and memorable. The voice cast is incredibly strong with the likes of Troy Baker (default voice of the President), Terry Crews (as Benjamin King) and Keith David (as Vice President Keith David) lending some personality to the project. Old favorites like Shaundi, Kenzie Kensington and my personal favorite sidekick Pierce Washington are also back. Everybody has a distinct personality and fulfills a special role in the story. The characters they chose definitely feel like they are there for a specific reason or to wrap up a specific plot thread from a previous game. I can’t say I ran across a character that I didn’t like which is rare. Even games I really enjoyed like Mass Effect 2 usually have that one character that really doesn’t resonate with me (looking at you Jack). All of the Saints Row characters are flawed but they also all have really endearing eccentricities. They are all fun to talk to and hang out with on missions.
The missions and the various side activities (of which there are many) don’t do anything spectacular from a gameplay perspective but it is the solid writing or the ridiculousness of the activity that keeps you coming back. I wish more games had unique activities like insurance fraud (where the goal is doing as much damage to yourself as possible within the time given). Volition has also tweaked the activity scoring system to great effect. In previous entries, there used to be easy, medium and hard instances of a particular activity where a certain score was needed to pass the event. Anything less than that score and you failed that activity. In Saints Row IV, there are still various difficulties for the activities but now you can get a bronze, silver, or gold medal in an activity. The bronze medals are fairly easy to get so Volition gives players a chance to bypass a particular activity that they may not be good at it and still take over a small piece of the city. There are some really nice rewards and skills that can only be unlocked by getting all silver medals or gold medals in a particular event so there is an incentive to come back and get the better medals once you improve your skills or powers.
Powers are a big part of the game. Early on you learn to break the rules of the simulation and you gain access to super speed and super jump. This makes traveling in vehicles (like you did in all of the past Saints Row games) mostly obsolete. You can get anywhere by sprinting or jump and gliding much faster than you can get somewhere by driving. You can increase the strength of these powers by collecting data clusters (much like orbs in crackdown) or completing side missions. The powers are incredibly satisfying. It feels great to sprint into a crowd of enemies, freeze all of them and then unleash a super stomp to shatter them all to bits before they can react. It never got old for me. You do become overpowered so if you’re looking for a game that is going to challenge you this probably isn’t what you are looking for. After a hard day of work though I’m usually not particularly interested in being challenged so I’m fine with the relative ease of the game. If you want to make it more of a challenge don’t complete side quests or collect data clusters. I revel in being completely overpowered so this aspect of the game isn’t a negative to me. Guns are also an effective way of dealing with situations. Firearms become particularly powerful once you start to spend money to level them up. Fully upgrade weapons pack just as much punch as super powers (especially shotguns) and are also fun to use in conjecture with your powers. There are also some incredibly imaginative weapons (like the dubstep gun which makes enemies dance themselves to death) that are a joy to use upgraded or not. The way the weapons or powers handle isn’t anything particularly new but its not a bad thing. They work and work well.
I think the only negatives you can really find with this game are the fact that the Steelport map is reused and the fact that the graphics aren’t as good as some other titles at this stage of the console lifespan. Being able to run through the Steelport map at super speed or fly above it fundamentally changed the experience and to me it was fun to revisit areas I knew well but I could see how consumers would expect something new on that front. The game does have some rough edges graphically and the Steelport simulation is set in perpetual dark until you beat the game at which point you can set the time of day to any point you want. I could see that be annoying for some. The game is also crude with plenty of swearing. Abide by the ESRB rating if you are a parent. The control scheme is a little different than most games out there and will take some time to get used to.
Those are relatively minor quibbles for me but depending on what you are expecting could be more to you. Saints Row IV isn’t a perfect game or a terribly innovative game from a technical perspective but the writing, activities and mission scenarios are unique. It’s also the front runner to win my year-end award for best comedy writing in a game. I’m glad I played it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a rock-solid super hero game that doesn’t take itself seriously. This is the most pure fun I’ve had with a game in a long time. Saints Row IV gets a 9 out of 10.

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