Saints Row IV: The Best Game You Don’t Want People Seeing You Play.
When the Saints Row franchise came on the scene, it was apparent that the creators wanted to supplant the “Grand Theft Auto” series while sharing their take on gang culture and all the tropes within. It kind of reminded me of the “2K Sports NFL 2K5” vs “Madden” days, with the newcomer trying to take the crown from the wily vet. Gamers were given an actual choice between two very similar and well-made games and each had a very distinct style and flavor.
At the end of the day, “Saints Row” lost the battle of the gritty hood open-world games, but as history has often shown, losing the battle does not mean you’ve lost the war. In fact, I would say their loss is both their and our gain.
“Saints Row IV” provided one of the most fun experiences I’ve had playing a game in a very long time. It is sophomoric, crass, and many times—okay, most times—gleeful and slathered in immaturity. It is the ultimate in guilty pleasures and I’m so very happy that it exists.
SR IV picks up with the Saints now in control of the White House, with you playing President of the United States. You’ve got the world at your beck and call until an alien attack during your press conference kills your vibe. Zinyak, the leader of the alien race introduces himself and his plan for world domination. He kidnaps your friends, destroys the earth and places you in this Matrix-style world called “The Simulation” both to punish you and to feed his need for entertainment.
This is the backdrop of your 20+ hour homage to everything pop culture. Everything from the Aerosmith “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” Armageddon sequence to the Robocop-skinned pistols tells you that the folks from Deep Silver understand what they’ve inherited from Volition and understood how to improve upon it.
YOU KNOW WHAT THIS GAME COULD USE?
The gameplay foundation of the Saints Row games has been about driving and shooting. In SR IV the latter of that equation will be immensely important while the former is pretty much unnecessary. Why? Because you now have SUPER POWERS! Being in the Mat— er, Simulation means you can do anything. You want the ability to glide, sure. Want to throw fire and ice from your hands? Why not? Feel like slamming your body into the ground so hard that the shockwaves rippling from your being miniaturize all those around you? Ya got it. Nothing is out bounds and it makes both locomotion around the world and combat extremely fun.
Adding to the mayhem, you can enjoy an array of weapons that only could have been conceived in the minds of people on a diet of lead paint chips. For example, the Dubstep gun fire music at enemies to make them dance themselves to death, and the ‘Merica gun comes with the Presidential Pack DLC. You have to see it to believe it but in short: if Ron Popeil and Ted Nugent ever went into weapons manufacturing, the ‘Merica gun is what you would get.
I thought the addition of super powers would hamper bits of the game, but honestly it just makes the game better. There is nothing like the first time you leap over huge swaths of the city or run at super speed down the highway. It achieves the goal of making you feel like an undeniable badass.
The only thing that might be a drawback is that you are totally overpowered by the later third of the game. You have such an arsenal of both physical weapons and powers that when you add new ones you kind of feel like they aren’t necessary to the dispatch of baddies. Weapons and powers alike end up being used more for style points than anything else, which is kind of disappointing but not worth giving demerits.
TRICKS UP THE SLEEVE
The activities are back and they are both more fun and more varied. Tank Mayhem is ramped up even more when you swap out the tank for a Mech. Using your super speed to run races around the world is actually more fun than driving. The addition of narrative driven mini-games reminiscent of Battle Tanks, Tron, and one of the best Streets of Rage clones ever to grace a console/PC add to what is already a feature-filled game.
WHAT YOU SAY?
First, I want to say that the voice acting in the game is outstanding. From SR vet Keith David to Troy Baker, they deliver their punch lines ever so deftly, while solid guest appearances from Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Dorn, Roddy Piper, and Terry Crews taking over from the late Micheal Clarke Duncan round out the cast. Also, the performance of Zinyak by J.B. Blanc is utter genius. His snark is on a whole other level of dopeness.
Secondly…I HATE YOU NOLAN NORTH. When I made my Carl Weathers/Black Dynamite fighter for truth, justice, and the Negro way, I specifically didn’t choose the Nolan North voice option just because of the glut of games that he has voiced. I was totally fine until I downloaded a character from the Saints Row website that had an awesome crimefighter suit. I did this during the last third of the game and DAMMIT! Whoever created him gave him the North voice! The problem is that Nolan North is just too damn good. My character acquired a new level of awesome with his voice, during both the cut scenes and incidental parts. Nolan North, you’re ubiquitous, and powerfully awesome, and I just wanted to say I hate and love you.
You really don’t get to see videogames delve into slapstick humor much but the cast seemed to really get what Deep Silver was trying to do with this game. That is so evident in the voiceover work.
MAKE ME A MIXTAPE
One of the things the Saints Row franchise has been known for is its radio stations, both for their genre and song variety. SR IV gives you numerous choices for your mayhem soundtrack, everything from Bach to Kendrick Lamar are yours for the picking. My personal favorite is the combination of a waffle-cone-skinned rocket launcher and OutKast’s B.O.B. Beside the background radio music that you can listen to both in and out of cars, there are some great soundtrack moments, when specific songs are timed to pair up with your action. Some of these just hit the spot, showing just how nerdy the creators are.
END OF AN ERA
Deep Silver had stated that this game is the end of the Saints Row franchise, as we know it. That makes me a bit sad but I understand why they are moving in a different direction. Plus it’s always better to go out on top. Saints Row IV is the culmination of a wild, wild ride. It’s been refreshing to play these games over the past couple of years. They provide a kind of a lemon sorbet from the heavy post-apocalyptic and military shooters that we are inundated with every season. For as much as I feel like the gaming medium has to grow up, I believe games like this absolutely have a place in adult spaces for us to romp and lose ourselves in as long as we don’t take the games or ourselves too seriously. SR IV made me want to dig out my old “Amazon Women On The Moon” DVD, it’s that good and you owe it to yourself to play it.