Saints Row IV is an over the top, open world over the shoulder shooter set in a virtual world similar to the Matrix. After quickly becoming the president, aliens take over the planet and lock everyone away in their own virtual world. The city is the same city from Saints Row: The Third, but now since its a virtual world, its always night and everything has neon lights like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It plays the same as previous Saints Row games or any over the shoulder shooter, but with a big new addition, super powers. It might be the same town, but you play it completely different. Why steal a car and drive, when you can run faster than any car and super jump up tall buildings to wall jump even higher. You’ll even get magical powers like telekinesis, fireballs and ice to dispatch enemies. These spells replace the throwing items like grenades. Each spell has a cool down, but its infinite.
To start, you’re the same character from previous games, which is to say yourself. Your own customized character that I created a drunken 80s rock star with a mustache and a gritty accent. You can even chose Nolan North as a voice. The entire crew from the previous game is back and you’ll need to save them from their own virtual Hells. This is where the game pulls from the past history of the franchise and puts a nightmarish spin on them. You’ll get to hear some of the franchise’s greatest cameos like Neil Patrick Harris and Mila Kunis. Not to mention Kyle David plays himself as the Vice President.
The game walks the line between over the top comedy and action with great gameplay. Comedy games never really hit home for me, but this one managed to strike a chord. The humor isn’t like the sexual comedy of Saints Row: The Third. Instead, there’s some excellent parody of other games, like a Metal Gear Solid mission, complete with box crawling and shooting 2 lights when 1 bullet would take out a guard. Even movie parodies like a Ghostbusters 2 giant energy drink can fighting a giant statue. The entire game is its own version of the Matrix movie. You get rescued like Neo, into the real world on a spaceship where you’re free to hop into the virtual version of Steelport or romance some of your crew. Its all part of the comedy. The licensed 90s music really heightens the experience and really clinches some of the moments. Climbing a rocket headed for space, you’ll hear Aerosmith’s “I don’t wanna miss a thing.” Visiting a club full of blow up dolls, you’ll hear “Insane in the Membrane” from Cypress Hill.
Its not just visual gags and parody. The dialog is another strong point. I think that because the characters are less distracting and gimmicky, the dialog stands out that much more. Your crew feels believable, while still making fun of one another and themselves. I felt they’re still a big crazy family / street gang / presidential cabinet.
The story missions offer a diverse array of activities. You won’t just be fighting and shooting. As an example, you’ll first hop in a car to get to a location. Then fight your way through corridors, fly a spaceship, man a turret, walk around in a giant suit of power armor and finally face a boss. The game really keeps it fresh doing things unique for the story missions that you won’t find out in the open world.
In the open world there is a lot of side quest fluff that you can complete to control more of the city. Things like street races, assassinations, vehicle theft, super jump accuracy, and a fight club to name a few. You can liberating areas from aliens by taking out three points and then a central point in the middle. You can get more cash by owning businesses around town. Instead of buying these, you participate in puzzle mini games. You get a specific amount of pieces, then place them on a grid of 5×5 and connect the left entry point to the right entry point. Fail and the police come. When you own businesses, the money accumulates and you collect it by going into your phone / PDA. I am happy that you don’t have to go to each location to collect the cash.
Since this is an open world game, you’ll be doing a lot of the same things over and over again, but in different areas. The game raises the difficulty with each success that you have. You start out facing mere aliens, but then it soon escalates into orbs that shield the aliens, hover bikes and even portals that need to be closed before new waves of enemies come in.
Committing a crime will get the police called on you. There seem to be four tiers of police that come. To get your wanted level to go down, just hide from them until it cools down. The cops aren’t the only ones after you. With such super powers, the police felt irrelevant. Fighting dozens of aliens, I’d notice one cop trying to get me. Its just another enemy to face I guess.
For the most part, enemies can be quickly dispatched with guns, melee or magical powers, but the bosses are quite the challenge. These bosses are big agile creatures called agents that have force fields. To disable these shields, you need to use a super power and then shoot them. The shield regenerates of course. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well they adapt quickly, move out of range, leap tall buildings, throw cars and shoot red laser orbs at you. When you’re hit, you rag doll, but the game has a recover button that puts you back on your feet again without wasting time. Other bosses do the same and you can fight them across entire city blocks. There are easier bosses in story missions, but those bosses feel more like part of the silliness and not part of the challenge.
The super powers can be upgraded by touching conduits. For the most part, the conduits are blue lights on top of buildings. Some are in walls you need to freeze or in the ground you’ll need to pound. Its just an extra thing to collect and the rewards are nice, but its nothing you’re forced to do. When you get each super power, the game loads up a training program to properly teach you how to use it. These are pretty basic and quick.
On top of super powers, you have abilities, perks that unlock when you level up from experience. You buy the perks with money and its things like dead pedestrians leave health, 25% more ammo capacity, take less damage from small arms fire and much more. Its all just something to spend your oodles of money on. If that wasn’t enough you can visit gun shops to upgrade your arsenal. There are even unique upgrades like explosive pistol ammo and acid bullets. Its all a silly joy to play. Then during the story missions, you find alien weapons like a dub step gun and a bouncing laser.
This is a fun game. Fun to watch, fun to hear, fun to play. The story missions stand out from the rest as enjoyable. While I did get tired of the open world fluff, I’d still stop in the middle of a mission to liberate a part of the city. They were fun diversions, even the puzzles to buy or own the stores could have been their own game. The superpowers made the good gameplay even deeper. I’m shocked that the developer could fit all those powers onto a controller!