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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.
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