It’s hard not to look back and think about how much of a break Saints Row: The Third was for the series. What was once just a technically-proficient and cartoon-y Grand Theft Auto-like became a collection plate for every bizarre game idea developer Volition could think of. Like dildo bats. Since the series has become a race to become the most ridiculous sandbox game ever, I wondered what was left to do – or what could be done – in a sequel that finds itself in storefronts less than two years after its predecessor. The result is Saints Row IV, a game that simultaneously feels more ridiculous and less adventurous.
Sometimes The Same Is Different…
After a black ops mission in a remote desert terrorist complex – more Bond than bin Laden – the Saints find themselves in the White House, you as the leader of the free world. Months later, your approval ratings are on the decline, handling hostile Congressmen boils down to a fist to the crotch, the halls of the historical home are decked out with debauchery and, oh, aliens invade. The bug-eyed and brainy Emperor Zenyak, who happens to be a Shakespeare aficionado, traps the Saints and a huge chunk of humanity in a virtual recreation of Steelport, a slightly modified version of the last game’s locale.
When the game lets you off the tutorial leash, you realize that Volition made the minute-to-minute gameplay very different than previous games. All of Saints Rows’ customization, clothing and vehicles are back, but once you’re given the ability to run super fast and jump super high, the game becomes a pedestrian adventure similar to Crackdown and Infamous. By letting you move anywhere in Steelport lickety-split on foot, Volition created a layer of friction in ever using a car, truck or airplane, despite the fact that the game kept dumping them in my garage and taunted me to use them. There are plenty of collectibles littered throughout the city, but like Crackdown, et al, developing your character’s super powers relies on finding glowing data clusters, some of which are hidden behind barriers only broken with abilities gained through the campaign. You can sidequest all you want, but you’ll still need to advance the narrative to become truly powerful, something that seems better tweaked than previous games, which became cakewalks as you edged toward invulnerability.
Saints Row IV incorporates an extra layer to combat with super powers. While never enough to replace your firearms, which you’ll still need to purchase and upgrade to be an effective killer, these powers supplement your combat abilities well. Endgame missions will require you to juggle between them, so your D-pad will always stays warm. Like the inclusion of vehicles, being able to summon other Saints to assist you around town feels like a vestigial feature considering how powerful you become with icy blasts and telekinetic throws.