It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the President… dressed like Boba Fett and balancing on a bird-shaped plane.
So, the Saints have returned, only this time it’s a little different. You’re back in the purple shoes of the leader of the Saints, but you have a new job title: President of the United States of America. You have moved into the White House and Keith David (playing himself) is now your Vice-President. Oh, and you’re about to end world hunger, or cancer. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately for the Saints, and Earth, a race of aliens known as the Zin invades, led by a 10ft tall, Shakespeare-quoting, amour-clad pink sociopath called Zinyack who doesn’t particularly like you very much. After a series of events that include pancakes, a rocket launcher and a yellow sweater-vest, he sends you back to the city of Steelport from Saints Row the Third. More accurately: you’re sent to a Matrix-style simulation of Steelport that has undergone a fairly radical make-over by Zinyack, who is clearly a fan of Blade-Runner. You can see that something is different in the city. Textures will randomly pixelate, lines of code will drip down walls, pedestrians will blur and shape shift, and you can leap tall buildings in a single bound whilst wearing nothing but a towel and listening to The Boys are Back in Town.
The story that opens the game, while hilarious, is there to give you one thing: Superpowers. This is the big change in the franchise. By collecting pieces of code around the city and completing missions, you will be able to increase your ability to break the rules of the system, which in turn allows you to jump over houses and run faster than a car. You can glide over enemies or freeze them in place, set them on fire or throw a car at them with your mind. With great power comes great fun.
If you’re new to the franchise then Saints Row may take a little explaining. It started out as a GTA clone and while Saints Row 2 improved upon the formula, the game faced the ongoing question; “If you have GTA 4, why settle for less with a copy”? It wasn’t until Saints Row the Third that it finally found its place. Dripping with satire, it gave you a new city to play in, along with a brilliantly written story that made you smile for the entire length of the game, and more toys than you knew what to do with. Taking this new tone and running with it, Volition then began working on a standalone expansion with superpowers and a simulated city that has since grown into Saints Row IV.
You feel the connection with Saints Row the Third from the moment you start playing. The game’s engine is the same, the character creator is the same, the characters look identical, and you spend the majority of your time in a city you already know well from the previous title. This could understandably leave people thinking that they are being asked to pay £40 for an overblown DLC, but Saints Row IV is so full of new jokes, toys, clothes and content that it feels like a full game. Zinyack has removed all traces of your previous exploits and replaced them with neon towers that stretch up to the clouds, alien police cars and, of course, banners and statues of himself. This makes exploring the city interesting. You can see what has been changed, destroyed, or just comically adjusted, which makes a familiar city instantly intriguing again.
The structure of the story has changed too. Instead of an overly purple crib in the penthouse of a tower in Steelport, your base is now a Mass Effect style spaceship. It is here that you go for your main missions that can vary from destroying an army of aliens in virtual Steelport, to completing 1980’s style text-based adventure games or rescuing your “Homies” from their own uniquely hilarious simulation-jails. Each Homie you rescue is then available on your spaceship to give you missions and aid you in Steelport, or you can just talk to them and, in true Mass Effect fashion, “romance” any of them… except Keith David. Keith David is out of your league.
Along with the absurdly brilliant new campaign, the minigames that fill the city have returned again and are more ridiculous than ever. From challenges to see how much damage you can do in 2 minutes with a UFO, to destroying as many cars as you can with a gun that makes black-holes, you will be leveling the city in the most over-the-top ways you can manage. The fan-favourite “insurance-fraud” returns too. The aim of the game is to throw yourself at a car and injure yourself to earn money. As you can now throw yourself over 500ft you are not likely to tire of this quickly. The range of guns has also been increased and you can now customise their appearance so that your pistol looks like Han Solo’s blaster, or your rocket launcher looks like a guitar case. There are also ridiculous new guns like the Inflate-O-Ray, which expands people until they burst, or the now infamous Dubstep Gun, which attacks people with the power of Wub. You don’t particularly need to use any of the crazy new toys because your powers have turned you into a living weapon, but Saints Row gives them to you anyway, simply because they are fun.
The true joy of the game is the dialogue. From the constant mutterings of your character to the wit bursting from the cutscenes, you will be smiling every time someone opens their mouth. The game is fantastically voiced too. The ability to choose your voice has returned with a new addition; you will not regret picking this voice. This is all backed by a brilliantly eclectic collection of music. Varying from Dubstep to classical or 80’s Rock, you can chose your favourites and add them to a mix tape to perfectly score your absurd adventures.
Ultimately, it turns out that having foundations in Saints Row the Third is one of IV’s biggest assets. Spending 40+ hours driving around Steelport in the previous game means that when you start to play this game and gain the ability to leap from one island to the next it feels like you are breaking the rules of the system. You can still use cars. You can still go to the airport and steal a plane. You don’t need to; there is no reason for you to do this other than the fact that it’s great fun. You can upgrade your cars or barrel-roll a jet and none of this has any more relevance to the story than your ability to dress up as a toilet and hover in the corner and listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, it’s just more options in one of the most freeing and ridiculously enjoyable games ever made. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It doesn’t take you seriously. It does seem to take Keith David seriously.
Saints Row IV is all about having as much fun as possible and, by giving you superpowers in a fully functioning city that wasn’t designed with powers in mind, it gives you the freedom to whatever you want to… however absurd. You won’t be thinking this when you’re playing it though. You’ll be too busy standing on the middle of a bridge whilst dressed as Gandalf and trying to let no-one pass.
By Chris Atkinson.