As mentioned in the previous Saints Row review, when THQ went bankrupt in early 2013 the rights to Saints Row went to Deep Silver. Deep Silver, a subsidiary of Koch Media (a German company, not to be confused with the American Koch Brothers) was known for some rather questionable promotional tactics (hello there, creepy Dead Island bikini bust I’m not going to show here because jesus christ what) and not a whole lot of good games, so there was some apprehension whether or not they would be a good fit for the series. THQ screwed things up with their executive meddling and strange obsession to promote the series with various porn stars, so we didn’t know what to expect from Deep Silver and Saints Row IV. And since The Third was much more insane than its predecessors, would this one be even crazier?
After a brief introduction cutscene that seamlessly references Pride and Prejudice and Conan the Barbarian at the same time, Saints Row IV begins with a sequence that parodies generic military shooters such as Call of Duty, with the Saints helping MI6 take down an international terrorist. After taking down the big bad guy, you find out he has launched a nuke that is about to blow up Washington D.C. This leads to… oh hell, I can’t possibly do this shit justice with a mere text description. Just watch it.
Five years later, the Boss is the President of the United States. This was emphasized heavily in pre-release trailers and sounds like something that could be absolutely hilarious considering how good the writing and voice acting is, but the reality is that you only get to do your presidential duties for about five minutes before the excrement hits the cooling device. Granted, in those five minutes you get to cure cancer, punch an annoying congress member in the junk, and see Kinzie try desperately to spin the President’s ridiculous statements for the media, but the whole president thing is unfortunately squandered in favor of the alien invasion and virtual Steelport storyline.
Yes, aliens from the Zin Empire show up nearly immediately and abduct all your friends. This, of course, isn’t going to fly on the Saints’ turf (no one abducts Vice President Keith David and gets away with it, dammit), and after mowing down a bunch of Zin grunts and shooting down their ships the Boss goes face to face with the alien leader, Zinyak.
Unfortunately, Zinyak proves to be stronger than the Boss and defeats her, sending her into a virtual world to break her will. These worlds — or simulations, as they’re actually called — are designed to make the victim live their worst nightmares over and over until they go insane, and this is the fate Zinyak has planned for the Boss as well. What IS our president’s greatest nightmare, you ask? Well, just like any sane person’s, it is a 50s sitcom:
The Boss eventually breaks out of this hell with the help of Kinzie, only to get thrown in another simulation. This time, it’s a version of Saints Row: The Third’s city of Steelport, with all traces of the Saints’ influence erased and Zin structures and propaganda in every corner. Luckily, you learn very quickly that in this world you are not a mere mortal. You are a superhero. You got the touch. You got the power. When all hell’s breakin’ loose, you’ll be right in the eye of the storm!
Indeed, as a major departure from the previous Saints Row games, SRIV is more akin to an open world superhero game like Crackdown or Prototype. You no longer have any need for vehicles unless you’re in a mission that requires them, you can jump a tall building with a single bound, you can glide, you can shoot fire and ice from your hands, you have the power of telekinesis… once you have upgraded your powers enough, you are basically a god. As such, your objective is to weaken the simulation in order to break yourself and all your friends out of Zin captivity and to kill Zinyak.
Naturally, you won’t have any powers in the real world (except for health regen), but that’s just a minor detail. Superpowers were introduced to the Saints Row series in the Trouble With Clones DLC for The Third, but in that game they were temporary and only available in a single mission, and obviously they were nowhere near as fleshed out as they are now.
To break your friends out of captivity and have them be able to help you out in the main simulation, you have to first help them take down their simulations. These simulations are all very different, and there are times when you feel like you are playing a completely different game altogether. Video game and movie references abound, to the extent that it gets a bit annoying. In the first couple of games, the humor mainly stemmed from the shenanigans you were getting into, but here almost everything is a reference to something. At least it’s still mostly funny and the voice acting is incredible once again, but those who call SRIV the Meet the Spartans of video games do kind of have a valid point.
Between missions, you can explore the spaceship that serves as the main hub and talk to all the characters. They can give you sidequests which are worth doing for the excellent rewards, or you can just chat with them or romance them. Yeah. You can romance every character on your crew (except for Keith David, who has no time for your bullshit), which basically amounts to pressing a button and going “Hey Kinzie, you wanna fuck?” It’s very much played for laughs, obviously.
In addition to the rescue missions and sidequests, each character in your crew has their own loyalty mission which, once completed, gives that character superpowers and a cool (or stupid) new outfit. There are some fantastic character moments in these missions, and if you are a longtime Saints Row fan you will most likely enjoy the writing in this one. While the overall vibe is still way more ridiculous than that of the first two games, they haven’t forgotten to make you care about these characters. Each character also has audio logs scattered around the simulation, fleshing them out even further and tying up loose ends.
Activities return once more, and this time they have been changed around to fit the whole superpowers thing SRIV has going on (with tenuous explanations as to why doing them will weaken the simulation). Insurance Fraud, which was very disappointing in The Third, is now simply Fraud, and thanks to your superpowers you can easily gain infinite momentum and roll around the entire city several times in one dive. I still prefer SR2 Insurance Fraud, but Fraud is amazing and most likely my favorite activity in the game. Trailblazin’ is now just Blazin’, and instead of driving a flaming ATV or Tron cybercycle you’re running at super speed and jumping over obstacles. Mayhem is back in several variations, and destroying fences is still a viable strategy even in this virtual world.
Superpowered Fight Club has you fighting a bunch of guys with superpowers as the name would suggest, and Prof. Genki’s Mind Over Murder is a telekinesis-based activity that replaces Super Ethical Reality Climax and has you tossing mascots and cars through rings. Snatch, Escort, Guardian Angel and (thank god) Heli Assault have been axed, and instead you can take part in various “Rifts”. TK Rift has you throwing orbs at targets, Platforming Rift features, well, platforming, and Speed Rift is basically Audiosurf where you run through a tube and avoid obstacles.
The survival missions from The Third are back as Virus Injections and feature hordes of crazy targets (how about 100 Professor Genkis or horrible glitched abominations?), but for some reason they are not repeatable after you have completed the game. One of my favorite things about The Third was the fact that even when I had done everything, I could still fire up the game and go blow up some furries for fun, profit and the good of humankind, but here it just doesn’t happen. In fact, the post-game content in general is lacking, as the only things you can do are to repeat activities, gather collectibles (mainly data clusters that are used to boost your powers — there’s over 1200 of them and you don’t need to get them all) or just screw around.
Screwing around, unfortunately, is a bit disappointing because once you’ve built up enough notoriety, a Warden shows up. Wardens are SRIV’s version of the Brutes from the previous game, but are somehow even more annoying to fight and there is a stupid button-mashing QTE you need to do every time you kill one. Once you kill a Warden, your notoriety is reset so you can’t just go on a huge rampage that lasts for an hour. Speaking of notoriety, the main way to get rid of it in SRIV is to catch a golden C.I.D. which is a robot orb of sorts. Flying after a golden orb and trying to catch it. Right, now if only there was a broomstick you could ride (there is in fact a broomstick you can ride in Saints Row IV).
Virtual Steelport itself hasn’t changed too much from its “real” incarnation in The Third. The map is exactly the same and the main differences are the Zin structures scattered around, along with the new lighting that makes the city look like some sort of cyberpunk hell. There are still no real secrets to speak of except for one particular hidden room behind an Employees Only door in one of the stores, and the city still looks rather bland even though the lighting is quite nice. This makes SRIV feel a lot like a standalone DLC or a very ambitious total conversion mod for The Third, which bothers me less than it probably should but if you wanted a new environment to play around in, you’re out of luck.
The player customization is almost entirely the same except for many of the DLC items from The Third now being in the main game, and you can actually import your character from The Third via the official Saints Row website. Car customization is also unchanged, which makes sense considering the fact you will never be using vehicles outside missions that put you in specific ones.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag. While there is once again some fantastic usage of licensed music during missions, most of the actual radio selection is entirely forgettable and gets old very fast with the addition of always-on radio. The Mix is still in and better than its The Third incarnation except for the few requisite genuinely awful songs (the fact it has most of the songs that play during scripted moments doesn’t help), and the classic station with Zinyak himself as the DJ is brilliant as well. Not only does he play some amazing pieces such as Mars from Holst’s The Planets, but he also reads the entire first chapter of Pride and Prejudice and acts out the dialogue. He also reads a bit of Romeo & Juliet with a very special guest (reporter lady Jane Valderrama from the previous games), and when he’s not doing any of this he’s being a huge twat who thinks he’s far classier and more civilized than you are.
Zinyak is actually voiced by J.B. Blanc, who you may know as the voice of Dojima in Persona 4. Makes you wonder if he has a little daughter (Zinako?) somewhere. The voice acting in general is once again fantastic, and Laura Bailey is still the best Boss. The joke voice this time around is Nolan North playing Nolan North. You heard him if you watched that 50s sitcom video I linked earlier. There is also a hilarious southern belle voice (who swears just as much as everyone else) and French lady voice (ditto), as well as Troy Baker, the British voice, and the African-American voice (who has been in every SR game thus far) for the guys. You can adjust the pitch of any voice you pick if you feel like it, which does make them sound overly electronic but I suppose that works if you’re making a cyborg or something.
Saints Row IV has a ton of DLC content, just like The Third did. This time there’s nothing quite as bad as the Penthouse Pets pack and most of it is fairly inoffensive, although there still isn’t really anything you absolutely MUST get. The story DLCs are much more interesting this time around; Enter the Dominatrix is sort of a behind the scenes look at what that expansion was originally going to be like (how much of the content here was actually going to be in the original EtD and how much was made up after the fact is unknown), and it is quite hilarious as a 2-hour DLC. As a standalone expansion like it was originally supposed to be for The Third, though? No thanks. It does feature another great instance of scripted music, and some of the cutscenes are hilarious.
The other major DLC is The Saints Save Christmas, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s really nothing more than another bit of stupid fun where you save Christmas from the evil warlord “Santa Clawz”, but it does do a nice job putting you into the holiday spirit if you play it around that season. Even I almost got into the spirit while playing it, and that is something because my opinion on Christmas is pretty much the same “bah, and humbug too” as that of the Boss at the start of the DLC (and then they played “Jingle Bell Rock” and I was once again ready to murder someone). Naturally, the whole game and the DLC can be played in co-op so you can share the joy with that special someone or at least some random asshole from the internet.
That is Saints Row IV. Another great Saints Row game and a blast to play, although in all honesty it has precisely jack shit to do with the first two games that got me into this series. If/when there is a series reboot for the next gen, I hope Volition goes back to basics and closer to the SR2 style of gameplay, because while the insanity in this game is quite something to behold there isn’t really any way to top this. In any case, this has been said to be the end of the current story of the Boss and her crew, so what happens in the future is anyone’s guess.