Saints Row The Third was a favourite of ours here at Codec Moments towers. The game was silly, over-the-top and great fun in co-op, so much fun that we spent enough time on it to platinum the PS3 version. But despite the fun and mostly positive reviews we only picked it up when it went half price on Amazon, just 2 months after it’s launch. With Saints Row IV I’ve not waited till it was half price, I traded in a number of other games I’d recently finished from my pile of shame. So I feel like I’ve not paid anything for it, but have I had the same enjoyable experience?
Originally, Saints Row IV started out as an add-on for Saints Row The Third called Enter the Dominatrix, blatantly a Matrix rip off. The team thought they had more than enough content for another game and moved on to develop that instead, but THQ went under and the company had all the IPs auctioned off. Koch Media (who publish as Deep Silver) got the Saints Row franchise when they bought Volition at the beginning of this year, and saved the game from development death. The end of August arrived and the game gets released on the same day as Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and reading our review post timeline you can see which one we went for first.
The latest Saints Row instalment starts with the 3rd Street Saints taking over the presidency of the United States of America before aliens attack and enslave the human race. In true Matrix style, everyone is hooked up to a simulation of Steelport to keep them docile and break their will (I’m assuming this is so they can be used as batteries, the reason for this alien invasion didn’t seem overly clear, and they must want something from us otherwise what’s the point of expending all that energy to put a few people into a VR world?), but as you can guess, the Saints aren’t happy with this and break free of the code. You play as the leader of the Saints (Boss) who must disrupt the system as much as possible so your Homies can understand how everything functions and work a out a plan to bring the simulation down.
Keeping faithful to the previous two games, there’s a lot of customisation available here, there was even the Inauguration Station released a few weeks before the game so you could get a head start on building a character. You can alter nearly every facet of appearance, colour, hair, taunts and clothing. You can even alter the voice, and it’s good to see Nolan North making a return to games, it’s been a while! Customising doesn’t stop at the character though, there are options for weapons, vehicles and gang member types too, which you expect in an open world game that started out as an alternative to the Grand Theft Auto dominated genre. What you don’t expect is to not use the vehicles throughout the game. The biggest change for Saints Row IV is that you’ve now got superpowers that mean traversing the city is more reminiscent of Prototype than anything else. Running, jumping and gliding are how you’ll get around in this game, cars are only there to trip over.
That said, the biggest change is also the only change. To me it looks like it’s the same map and assets from the last game with a deliberate glitching texture effect added to show that you’re not in the real Steelport. And with the new locomotion methods being quicker than jacking a car and driving, you also get to see how small the map really is. It only takes a few minutes to get from one side to another, and no objectives ever seem to be more than 3,500 in-game meters apart. If the internet is to be believed, the map is about 6 square miles, which is considerably smaller than most others: Far Cry 3 roughly 11.5 square miles, Skyrim around 15.5 square miles, and Red Dead Redemption a whopping 28 square miles. The size of the map shouldn’t matter, but when you have the ability to run faster than a speeding train and jump tall buildings in your path, the play area designed for driving suddenly becomes a bit small.
Deep Silver Volition has crammed a lot of things to do in that small space though. Aside from the main missions there are scores of side quests and challenges to do, as well as a daunting 1,225 collectibles to find (though it will give you a map for this during the course of the game). Unfortunately, these side quests are very repetitive and tend to be destruction or sprint race events. It’s a strange thing to say, because there is choice in the events, it’s just that every Homie side quest has you perform between 3 to 5 of them to open up a weapon or ability, and it feels like a grind when you’re doing one after another. You can skip them and just go for the story missions, but these won’t take you long to get through, and you’ll miss out on some nice upgrades too. It feels a bit of a cop out that the bulk of the game is just repeating the same actions over and over again with no effort to disguise it (one mission is even named “We’re stretching out the gameplay…”).
On the plus side, the actual story missions are brilliant pastiches of game and movie genres, and there’s rarely a moment that you aren’t smiling to yourself as the game takes a pop at itself as well as the most popular games around. References to WarGames, Metal Gear Solid, Tron, They Live! and Iron Man are particularly well done, and some are very subtle which make it all the more satisfying when you notice them. The soundtrack is pretty decent with the usual radio stations being catered for. The tracks selected for certain story sections are bizarre but work with the scenario, and had my girlfriend laughing a lot at them (though she laughs at cats for hours on YouTube so maybe it’s not a massive compliment). The voice acting is good, Keith David is great as himself, and there are some other surprising names in the cast list. The story includes a lot of characters from Saints Row 1, 2 and 3 so the respective voice actors are back for those where they can be. And there’s no shortage of dialogue, very rarely do you hear lines more than once, unless you fail a mission or side quest.
But the audio itself is patchy, and drops out completely at points. I had sections where gun sounds stayed on once I’d stopped firing, cutscenes where the lip sync dropped frequently, and even gameplay where voices disappeared completely. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of slowdown too when you’re causing mayhem, which is very easy to do considering the weapons and abilities. I even had three crashes towards the end of the game where only a reboot would fix it. It’s a shame because it was during these times that I was getting into the rhythm of the game and enjoying the ridiculous hardware (you’ve got to love a dubstep gun that has explosive wubs!). You don’t stop often during gunfights, the controls are fluid and mean you can move with ease as well as mix your powers up on the fly. One piece of advice I have though is that whilst you can leap buildings, you will always get stopped dead by a knee high wall. Graphically, I think it looks dated. The slightly spruced up game engine cutscenes look alright, but if you stop to look at textures and models during gameplay they’re not that great. Fortunately, you’re moving too fast most of the time to care.
It’s difficult to dislike though. It’s charming, amusing and entertaining despite its flaws. Maybe my mistake with this game was not doing what I did with Saints Row The Third and play it through with a co-op partner. That would probably have been messy, but much more fun. It’s an easy platinum (as long as you don’t mind leaving your machine on for 40 hours), but once I’ve done I’ll be trading it back for something with more depth. It really does feel like DLC stretched to fill a full game and I’m glad it wasn’t a fresh £40 I’d dropped on it. And I didn’t even here a single “fo’ shizzle” in it either.