The Saints are back in Stilwater with chaos and mayhem to spread. In the likely last chapter to be released on Xbox 360s and PS3, the Saints have a new menace and it came from outer space! What is going on here -- isn’t this series bizarre enough already?
Going into this chapter of Saints Row, I have been away from Stilwater for quite some time. Despite thoroughly enjoying the original game, I skipped Saints Row 2 & 3 for some reason. Hell, thanks to the THQ Humble Bundle I own Saints Row: The Third. Too bad my PC will never be powerful enough to play it. Still, I haven’t been completely out of the loop on the series and I was initially interested in the newest entry.
Despite THQ’s shuttering, the men and women at Volition Inc. kept working hard. Their series was picked up by Deep Silver, a studio on the rise that brought us the Dead Island series and has picked up some of the other THQ licenses. Right off the bat, I can dispel any fear that Saints Row IV has suffered from Deep Silver’s influence. There’s plenty of violence, foul language, and trashiness that fans of the series have come to expect.
Off the bat, there are some substantial surprises in the gameplay department. Although I skipped the middle two Saints Row releases, I am avid fan of the sandbox genre -- especially in this generation of consoles. Plus, the capabilities of modern consoles allow these games to be more than just a checklist of items to collect. While Saints Row IV isn’t in same class as GTA IV in innovative storytelling or game design, it is one of the best in the genre this generation. Saints Row IV is a full-bore sandbox experience that looks and feels like a game pushing the limits of the hardware it was released on.
The first big surprise in store was the developer’s emphasis on vertical gameplay. Saints Row IV isn’t really a driving game. Sure, you can hijack cars and customize them. However, the real way to travel through this game involves running at incredible speeds and jumping to incredible heights. Right away my gut response was that Saints Row IV is like Crackdown 1 & 2. And being a huge Crackdown fanboy, I couldn’t be more delighted!
Volition, surreptitiously, lets the player become a super hero in a game that looks like a generic sandbox title. If you’re walking in the street stealing cars to drive around -- you are playing this game all wrong. Saints Row IV is designed for players to launch themselves full throttle through traffic. You should be bounding up buildings with glee and wild abandon. Saints Row IV is built for speed, and not for a stroll through the park
Most impressive is the scale of the buildings and the expansiveness of the city, which feels practically limitless. Much like the Agency Tower in Crackdown, there are buildings in Saints Row IV that seem to ascend for miles at a time. If you have never experienced the joys of vertical ascent in a video game, Volition delivers a wonderful experience that advances on the work done in Crackdown. Not only does it bring the Crackdown experience to the city of Stilwater, it removes the tediousness of climbing. While I didn’t mind the difficult climbing in Crackdown, it is nice to see Volition simplifying the process so it is a more enjoyable experience for the less hardcore.
Also borrowed from Crackdown are the abundant collectibles that can be found in Stilwater. Although almost every game has collectibles to suck up your free time (looking at you, LEGO games). Crackdown presented agility orbs on hundreds of rooftops. Saints Row IV is filled with rooftops of collectibles in the exact same fashion; however, instead of 500 orbs, Saints Row has over 1,000. If you’re obsessive compulsive about collectibles, you’ll fall in love for sure.
For those of you that skipped Crackdown or didn’t enjoy the Xbox exclusive, there’s still plenty in Saints Row IV to enjoy. One of the key selling points in the promotion of this game is the endless customization of your character. I decided to go with a look-a-like Gomer Pyle from Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”. He smiled a bit more than I’d like, but it was a blast to see how close I could get to Vincent D’Onofrio’s iconic character. Just for good measure, I suited him in a bounty hunter suit that looked incredibly similar to Boba Fett. It was an '80s movie mash-up!
Not to be overshadowed by the superb gameplay, Saints Row IV has an extensive story that is highly entertaining throughout. There’s a varied mix of gang members that come into play, including the ultra-talented Keith David and Terry Crews. All deliver strong performances that sound authentic and incredibly funny. It is obvious that Volition spent a lot of time making sure that quality voice acting was of utmost importance.
Saints Row IV doesn’t take itself seriously and there are many instances of inside jokes that gamers and movie fans alike will enjoy. A personal favorite is Volition’s lampooning on the Normandy from the Mass Effect series. Unlike Mass Effect, where scoring with a crew member took endless hours of social engineering, players in Saints Row just have to ask for a roll in the hay and their crew-mates kindly oblige. It’s a fun joke on the series that’s any gamer worth their salt should have a hearty chuckle from.
There’s not much bad to be said about Saints Row IV except that, like most sandbox games, there are some incomplete structures that players can clip through. I only had one instance of getting stuck inside of an empty building that I couldn’t exit. A quick restart avoided repetition of this problem. There are some framerate issues while exploring Stilwater but that can be attested to the abundance of textures, shapes, objects, enemies, and the speed of play. Nothing was a detriment to my experience and it made me feel that Volition was pushing my paleolithic Xbox to the limit.
For fans of the series there is a lot of fun to be had with Saints Row IV. For those of you that may have skipped a game or two (like me), don't sweat it. There will be some characters that you won’t recognize, but the story is entertaining enough, and direct enough, that everything clicks pretty easily. Finally, if you’re a die hard Crackdown fan and you’re dying for a new game in the series, Saints Row IV might be the closest you’ll ever get to a sequel.
This review is based off of a publisher supplied copy of Saints Row IV for the Xbox 360.