Saints Row IV Preview – Apocalyptically Fun

I’m going to be honest with you; I didn’t like Saints Row the Third. When I heard that Saints Row IV had been re-appropriated from DLC intended for The Third, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it as a game.

Throw in the dissolution of THQ and I thought there wasn’t any hope for the game at all. Now that I’ve played Saints Row IV I think it’s safe to admit something:

I was wrong.

I loved Saints Row 2 but just couldn’t get behind the sequel to it. It was the wrong kind of silly. The gameplay didn’t seem exciting. It wasn’t boring, but it just wasn’t the kind of game I could get behind.

The story had merit, and I enjoyed watching other people play it, but I didn’t want to play the game myself. So when I started playing Saints Row IV I was apprehensive, and worried that I was wasting my time.

Saints Row IV starts off with a kick-ass sequence of events that ease you into the gameplay and involve riding a nuclear missile whilst Aerosmith plays in the background. Through this sequence your player character becomes the president of the United States of America.

It’s fast paced, but it’s all the right kind of absurd; when the writers are very aware that what they are creating is something that doesn’t have to adhere to the rules that reality is governed by. Normality is out the window, and it is incredibly enjoyable.


Chillin’ in the White Crib, rollin’ with my crew

So a few years pass, and your tenure as the president is going strong. You pass a few bills, you get to solve world hunger or cure cancer, you punch a guy in the face (or in a more sensitive area, should you wish). Y’know. Normal president stuff.

Everything is basically awesome (and why wouldn’t it be? You’re in charge of basically everything, and you’re awesome), but Sod’s Law dictates that something must go wrong eventually. Your ‘peaceful’ world is visited by the Zin Empire who have other things in mind for you and the human race.

Your peace is the wrong kind of peace, and their peace is better than your peace, so they immediately start abducting humans and placing them into a simulation akin to The Matrix.

The simulation is another example of the hilarity that you can only achieve within the structure of a video game, as it’s set in a super cliche 1930s/40s home where everything is super perfect and there are pancakes on the table every day.

As you amble around the new world you’ve been subjected to, the character completely oblivious of the simulation they are in, things begin to go wrong. Your homies are already working on getting you out, and tech genius Kinzie manages to get you a rocket launcher in time to break up your simulation for long enough to piss of the Zin.

The Zin retaliate by dropping you in another simulation, but this time of Steelport from the previous game. This is where the main game really begins, and it is also why I was apprehensive about playing Saints Row IV, because from screenshots and trailers, it seemed more like a glorified version of Saints Row the Third than a fully blown sequel.

In this new version of Steelport, you’ve not just got your old foes to deal with, but there’s also the ever-looming threat of the Zin Empire who are determined to drive you insane with their antics.

When they’re not driving you crazy, they’re pummeling you to within an inch of your life. Fortunately there’s a whole new arsenal of weapons to deal with them, such as the infamous Dubstep Gun that literally forces people to dance to death, or my personal favorite which you can see below.


Pop goes the weasel

The gameplay remains very similar to The Third, in that both games are running on the same engine, so the controls and general feel of the game are reminiscent of the previous entry in the series.

The biggest change in gameplay is the addition of superpowers. Whilst in the simulated version of Steelport, you can hack the programming to make your character into a superhero, replete with the ability to fly, move at superspeed, and so much more.

When they were first introduced, they seemed to me like an unnecessary over the top addition, but in reality they’re a necessity.

Many of the problems I had with The Third were because the gameplay was a stale repeat of countless other games on the Unreal 3 engine, not to mention the similarities to the Grand Theft Auto series and the many knock-offs that join that.

After so many games, you just don’t want to play that same formula again. The addition of crazy superpowers shakes things up in the right way.

Being able to climb up the towering buildings using your superpowers, or quickly getting from area to area using the nimbleness only afforded to you by being on foot, is a boon that I never realised I’d wanted in a game until I played Saints Row IV. It felt like a real throwback to the old Spiderman games that had you webslinging around the city.

Throw in the open world nature of the Saints Row series with that freedom to explore literally anywhere, and you’ve got a game that truly puts all of the power in the player’s hands.

The new races that make you utilize the superspeed power were one of my favorite parts of the game. It felt like an aberrant mix of the 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games with the franticness of Saints Row street races, and it worked so well.

Dodging between oncoming cars and suddenly switching into sharp corners leading into alleyways, transitioning into running up the walls of skyscrapers, all the while giving you as many options as possible to finish the race.


Screw you, gravity

I admitted to being wrong earlier because what I thought of as ‘not quite done yet’ sequel turned out to be something else entirely. Saints Row IV fixed all the problems that I had with The Third in ways I didn’t expect, and gameplay and story features I thought I would dread were used to such effectiveness that they made the game all that much better than its predecessor.

The amount of customization that is given to you is incredible. You can make your character into an avatar of just about anything (I know I saw someone turn their character into Cortana at the preview).

Weapon customization adds an extra layer to the customization, letting you outfit your weapons as well as your clothes to create a style that befits your creative talents.

I feel that this game offers a lot more than many people are giving it credit for. It retains the humor and style of previous Saints Row games, offering the driving and city exploration that many players will expect. But the added superpowers also give you more options for exploration and causing mayhem.

The fluid transition from flying across the cityscape to stealing a car and going for a joyride is nigh-on seamless. This feels like what so many superhero tie-in games have always wanted to be. You have true freedom to explore, cause havoc, play through the story legitimately or by any means that you desire.

Overall, Saints Row IV is fun in its purest form. There are no limits, no boundaries. Just humor, excitement, and thrilling encounters at every turn. If you enjoyed The Third, then you’ll definitely enjoy Saints Row IV, and if you didn’t enjoy it (like me), then you there is still so much fun to be had in this gem of a game.