When it comes to music every artist as that one album. It is their best work, which later albums are always compared but never live up to. When it comes to game developer Volition, their best work is Saints Row: The Third. A natural progression of the franchise, Saints Row: The Third solidified Volition’s place in the gaming industry. Does Saints Row 4 meet the standards set forth by its predecessor? Let’s find out.
An Open World with Limited Colors
Out the gate the first thing you will notice about Saints Row 4 is the color palette. The vibrant colors of the previous games are swapped for a simple red and black combination. There is no day or night cycle or changing weather patterns, only a red sky with dark buildings. It’s hard to gain a sense of scope or density due to the lack of colors. I only know how big the city is because of the map but everything looks the same. Time in the space ship, which is supposed to mimic the Normandy in the Mass Effect series don’t help to expand the universe. The entire time I’m playing the game I’m longing to “escape” to an actual open world, but I never get what I desire.
Powers and Combat
The biggest feature of this game is the addition of superpowers. While inside the simulation the games becomes Crackdown 3. You can run faster than any car or aircraft, jump over buildings in a single bound, and even freeze enemies with an elemental blast. If it sounds like the type of chaos that should happen in a Saints Row game you’re right–but that power comes at a cost. In order to upgrade your abilities you have to collect these ‘anomalies’ within the simulation. Each anomaly is worth one point and they are spread throughout the simulation. You use these points to upgrade the powers. Each upgrade cost a certain amount of points, increasing as you make the powers stronger. The anomalies are easy to find but it becomes a pain in the ass to collect. You have to collect them one at a time, and it feels more like a time-consuming achievement than main feature of the game. Like hunting for feathers in Assassin’s Creed II. At some point I gave up on upgrading my powers because I upgraded the only powers that I felt that mattered (speed, jump, and blast). I only needed the blast power and an upgraded gun to have the advantage in any situation. For example, I could hit a group of enemies with a fire blast and finish them off with a rifle. And the enemies who died would explode, setting surrounding enemies on fire. The superpowers, while a fun addition to the game never feel necessary. The method of upgrading powers will keep many players from fully upgrading more than three powers. It’s a shame because this new feature could have been more than what it is.
When you aren’t saving your homies from their simulations you are hacking the simulation. Taking over enemy turf, hacking stores, climbing simulation towers become the norm. However, after a while the activities become a little mundane. The game does attempt to add variety to the side quests with Genki, mayhem, and fraud events but it falls into the same trap as the other activities. What the game doesn’t tell you, is that they want you to complete the side quests with a homie that you saved. Each homie has their own side quests, which consist of some of the store hacking and take over events. However, I completed 100% of the map without calling in a homie, which was a bad move. Once I saved someone they would give me a mission, but since I completed all the side quests the mission was already completed. Looking back I wish I would have waited instead of completing everything ahead of time. Combat can get lonely and you want to call your homies but you don’t really need them. There was never a point where I felt like an encounter was impossible to complete alone. Which lead to many homies and other people never helping in the simulation.
A Story Filled with History
If you’re going to play Saints Row 4 should have played the previous games in the series. The Saints Row story has never deviated from the events of the first game. Unlike Grand Theft Auto where each entry contains a new storyline and main character, Saints Row has followed your character and the Saints from a rag-tag bunch of thugs to the presidency. Events and characters the previous games will make a return in Saints Row 4. If you never played the previous games it loses impact. For example, the fact that Keith David is in the game as himself will only be funny to people who played the first game. It is a blessing and a curse because some of the references from earlier Saints games are test of your memory. Saints Row was released in 2006 and Saints Row 2 launched in 2009. Trying to remember all the events and people from those games is tough, but when it does click it adds to the charm.
The story, however is a little weak even for a Saints game. If you recall most of the story comes from the cancelled expansion for Saints Row: The Third. In the latest adventure you character has become the president of the United States and the Saints have taken over the White House. However, your reign doesn’t last long because your cabinet is abducted by the Zen. An alien race hell-bent on conquering the universe. In order to get revenge on the Zen leader, Zinyak, and rescue your homies you must survive within a simulation and rescue others from their own simulations. There’s no bank robbery or tower defense set pieces like there was in Saints Row: The Third. It’s like the developer spent more time on the super powers than they did the events within the story.
Kill ’em with Laughter
The overall story might be lacking, but the game makes up for it with comedy. Saints Row 4 does what the previous games didn’t and what most developers won’t–spoof popular video games. Your central hub outside of the simulation is reminiscent of a low-budget Normandy. You can ‘romance’ characters, but it isn’t so much romancing as it is a hilarious invitation for sex that is always accepted. There is a section of the game that plays like Metal Gear Solid–boxes and all. Except in this world, there’s a lengthy discussion about the importance of shooting lights and using stealth. The game even makes fun of itself, with Keith David’s character becoming a running joke. For example, if you bring Julis and Keith in the simulation, the two engage in a humorous conversation. The comedy in this game is so good that I hope Volition takes some time to spoof other genres like military shooters or middle earth adventures.
Is this game better than Saints Row: The Third? No. But no other game, including previous Row games, uses comedic writing like Saints Row 4 does. It is a funny game, which is something that we don’t get often in our industry. The game isn’t afraid to make fun of other games or even itself, which makes this game special. If you are a fan of Saints Row you need to add this game to the collection. If you’ve never played a Saints Row game you should still pick this up. Saints Row 4 trades the wild set pieces of Saints Row: The Third for satire and it is a move that pays off in the long run. There might be some shortcomings, but you’ll be too busy laughing to even care.