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Saints Row IV review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • Incredible superpowers
  • Funny parodies of games, genres, and tropes
  • Just how much there is to do in Steelport
  • Not enough memorable story missions
  • Generic alien enemies
  • Technical hiccups

It's hard to imagine a world in which a foul-mouthed dude with a mullet and neon-green skin would be elected president of anything, let alone the United States of America. Especially when the POTUS in question runs a giant gang empire, wears a panda costume for fun (with a cape, of course), and gallops around the streets, uppercutting male passersby square in the nuts. And yet, in Saints Row IV, such a character is hardly out of place. Volition's latest entry in its open-world franchise is unsurprisingly goofy--but it's also just happens to be one of the greatest superhero games ever made.

As always, you'll play as the leader of the Saints--and, seeing as you've gained a substantial amount of popularity with the citizens of Steelport, you've been elected President. Once Earth is besieged by aliens, however, you're captured and thrust into a Matrix-style virtual re-creation of the city you once called your own. In many ways, Saints Row IV is just Saints Row: The Third with less memorable missions and a few new toys--except this time you have the ability to jump 3,000 feet in the air, run thrice as fast as the speediest car can drive, and rocket toward the ground from the heavens, slamming your fist into the pavement and annihilating anything near the point of impact.

"...[Saints Row IV] just happens to be one of the greatest superhero games ever made."

The superpowers alone are enough to warrant your time. You could sprint around Steelport, jumping from rooftop to rooftop without doing anything else and still have an amazing experience (though you will run into frequent clipping and a few technical issues here and there--nothing too damning). Saints Row IV does a wonderful job of illustrating how the simple act of altering the way you navigate a game's world can transform seemingly tedious tasks, like picking up a hundred collectibles or traveling to a new mission, into incredible thrills. Movement here isn't a pace-breaking bottleneck; it's an expertly crafted mechanic.

Navigation powers aren't the only ones available, though, and you'll gradually unlock new abilities, such as telekinesis and explosive fireballs, as you play. All are delightful, and most missions are designed to accommodate them to prevent you from breezing through untouched. These powers are also the foundation of many of Saints Row IV's new Challenges. From blazing fast sprinting relays to challenging platforming minigames to co-op superhero deathmatches, there are tons of great new ways to gain cash and XP, and the sheer variety prevents any of them from feeling too bland.

"...there are tons of great new ways to gain cash and XP, and the sheer variety prevents any of them from feeling too bland."

The same can't be said for the story missions in Saints Row IV, however. You'll be a bit let down by the lack of standout plot moments akin to the wonderful airplane escape or the Morningstar invasion of the Saints' headquarters in the previous game. Also, a surprising number of primary missions task you with completing a series of comparatively unexciting Challenges. What's worse, you'll often have to visit a mission hub separate from the Steelport simulation to pick up new quests or turn in completed ones, which cripples the otherwise fast pace.

That's not to say there aren't some pretty great things in store for you, though. Saints Row IV is built almost entirely as a parody of other games, genres, and common tropes. Its opening mission looks like it was ripped straight from a self-serious shooter, complete with a slow-mo door breach executed so perfectly that it's impossible not to chuckle. And that's just a precursor. There are plenty of references to Mass Effect (complete with awkward romance options), stealth games, and even Saints Row itself, as you'll hear certain gang members recall the days when they took themselves way too seriously. It all comes across as admirably self-aware, and these tongue-in-cheek nods have the added benefit of creating a good amount of variety when it comes to missions, even if they sometimes feel a bit diluted. But the incessant nudges also have a drawback.

"You'll be a bit let down by the lack of standout plot moments..."

Saints Row IV so frequently pokes fun at various games by emulating their gameplay styles that it muddles its own identity. Once you get used to having incredible superpowers, you'll sigh when certain missions strip them from you and force you to infiltrate an enemy compound just for the sake of making a few Metal Gear Solid jokes, even when the punchline warrants a laugh. It feels less like a game about the Saints, and more like a running series of gags in playable form.

This is most evident in the fact that the Saints play a negligible role, as most of your interaction with key allies comes in the form of radio transmissions. You're not taking over a city and building up an empire for your gang so much as you're wrestling control of a computer program from aliens all by your lonesome--and whenever you leave the simulation to talk to your crew in person, you're reminded that all your hard work is happening in a make-believe place disconnected from the real world. Maybe there's some commentary to be derived here, but really it just makes clearing Steelport's limitless objectives less meaningful, especially when the aliens you have to kill to do so are entirely uninteresting.

"... the aliens you have to kill...are entirely uninteresting."

It's surprising just how generic enemies are (save for Zinyak, the aliens' poetic leader) considering the wacky nature of Saints Row IV. Unlike the muscle-bound Luchadores or the strictly business Morningstar gangs of Saints Row: The Third, Zinyak's lackeys are just kind of there, devoid of personality. Their sole purpose is to stand around in clusters so you can punt them into the atmosphere.

Thankfully that never really gets old. Long after you've completed the main story, you'll still be eager to hop back into the Steelport simulation if only to run a few more laps around its city blocks, destroying everything in your path. With a bit more focus and substance, Saints Row IV could've been a must-play game for the open-world crowd. Still, it's wholly entertaining, caveats be damned, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a game that does superpowers better--you'll just wish the rest of the game was as incredible as the act of running around inside of it.

This game was reviewed on PC.

More Info

Release date: Aug 20 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (US)
Aug 23 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Deep Silver
Developed by: Volition
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Sexual Content

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14 comments

  • supersupportsupreme - January 9, 2014 2:51 p.m.

    This is my reason for laughing like a lunatic, the insanity is just enough to keep my therapist away for a month. Enjoyed it, but the negatives that are mentioned...never happened to me, son. Also this game came out 3 days after I was married, which my new wife bought me as a wedding gift.
  • modestcomplexity - September 26, 2013 7:44 p.m.

    I love the ridiculous direction they took this game, it definitely helps the title differentiate itself more from GTA 5 and gives me a legit reason to keep on playing both games. The fun factor for SR4 is off the charts, and really is the perfect thing for when you want just stupid fun. Not in that mood? Then don't play this game, because the it lacks the balance of humor and depth that GTA has. It's a one trick pony but boy what a trick. Last, I loved the soundtrack, only wish it was as expansive as GTA's (it's got about half as many songs). However there were tons of highlights, especially the Mad Decent 106.9 radio station (which is DJ’ed by Riff Raff, a perfectly ridiculous character that fits SR4 to a T) - that station has some great tunes from Diplo, Bonde Do Role, Zed's Dead, etc.
  • ekagrata - September 15, 2013 3:48 p.m.

    I'm not sure if it just me, or if it is just AUS version of the game, it only took me 20:50 hours to complete the game, story line missions and sideline mission. which brings to roughly 80-89% of the game. and some 385-400 of the collectibles, while bouncy from story point to story point, including removal of all the zinyak. I did enjoy it, to the fullest but because of the delay and removal of some of features, I'm yet to think it was best to have paid full price for it. ( that is imho)
  • Pospoon - September 2, 2013 5:31 p.m.

    Excellent game. I never really liked the Saint's Row series too much, but this one definitely hits the right spot. It actually got to the point where I'm hoping Infamous Second Son's gameplay feels as good as the superpowers in this game do. I never get tired of those Super Sprint Melee attacks, it just feels so awesome even after doing it hundreds of times. I was just gonna rent this from Redbox then move on but I went out and paid full price after I was already halfway through on the rental. This may even end up my game of the year, it's just damn fun.
  • The_Ouroboros - August 30, 2013 9:40 p.m.

    To say the story missions weren't memorable is so far from the mark I had to reread that to make sure. Most of them were longstanding characters' own personal hells, which made for so many callbacks to old characters and moments I was consistently pleasantly surprised. Everything to do with Keith David all the way up until getting his Lando Calrissian outfit was excellent. I didn't even know *redacted* was in the game but that made it all the better. The only missions I didn't enjoy (not really spoilers as both were in the trailers) were the MechAssault missions and the Giant Saints Flow Can fight. But even the story behind why you fight that thing is chuckle-worthy. You see Shujinko again, I mean come on! Maero becomes a Homie. There are more homages to the earlier games then there were to pop culture. Not true, but close. Speaking of the Homies... I was hoping that this site, above all others, would point out that the Homies all have independent dialogue with each other any time you take two of them out on together. Whenever you're free roaming, just click two different ones from your phone and even if they're dead, or a gang leader who was brought down, they'll talk with any other character and some of these have been absolutely phenomenal. They'll talk personal shortcomings that lead to their demise, or why they think that the leader of the Saints is the worst problem of them all, or just hear Keith David talking to Pierce about intergalactic peace and the impossibility of it all since no cultures can get along without bloodshed. Definitely fleshes out the little down time there is. If anything, going for 100% is tricky purely because of the challenges you have to farm, like 2 hours in an alien spacecraft, gtfo of here. I'm still doing it though, 99% is bugging me. But if you liked the other games, this game IS for you.
  • muhammad-ijaz - August 22, 2013 12:23 a.m.

    I love this games information and I have just Still waiting for a sequel to SR2. <a href="http://racingtopgames.com">Racing Games</a> <a href="http://www.onlinegamesvilla.com">Online Games</a>
  • usmovers_02 - August 18, 2013 8:37 p.m.

    Still waiting for a sequel to SR2 :(
  • g1rldraco7 - August 14, 2013 2:55 p.m.

    Makes me want to play the games more thanks for the review
  • avedon-arcade - August 14, 2013 10:12 a.m.

    I'd say that's pretty much on par with how I felt when I initially played it at E3. It's a shame about there not being such pivotal moments in the game though. This is low on my list though but will eventually pick up.
  • rainn'sgaydar - August 14, 2013 10:03 a.m.

    I held off on SR3 until it was free on PS+, so it's really fresh for me. And I'm loving it so much that I was considering buying 4 at full price, which I rarely so anymore. This makes me a little more hesitant, but I'm sure I'll love it when I do eventually buy it. After all, 8 is great. 8 just also means I don't have to play it right away.
  • antiAntag0nist - August 14, 2013 8:24 a.m.

    You know what they say, 8 is great. It's a little disappointing to read that the story missions are a bit lacking. One issue that I had with SR: The Third was that there weren't as many story cutscenes compared to the previous games; I also didn't like that Activities were made to be regular missions for part of the game. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to playing this.
  • Talvari - August 14, 2013 6:35 a.m.

    Awesome. Very much looking forward to getting this. You know the devs have confidence in their game when the reviews are let out a week in advance :D Sounds like everything saints row 3 was...but better.

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