When I was younger, I played Enter the Matrix but was left disappointed by the experience for a few reasons.
Chief amongst my complaints was that without using cheats, these games didn’t feel like accurate portrayals of what running around a virtual reality would be like, especially if you’re aware you’re inside such a reality and have the power to control it.
Call it wish fulfillment, but I wanted to be an adrenaline fueled super god, taking advantage of this false world and all the power that could be routed to me.
I never thought I’d have to look back on that experience, but playing Saints Row IV took me back to those carefree teenage days of staying up until 4AM to play video games, because I had so much fun playing Saints Row IV that I stayed up until 4AM every night until I’d managed to finish it.
It’s the kind of game that you will have a lot of trouble putting down once you’ve picked it up. This latest installment in the series holds the flag of lunacy that defines the Saints Row games even higher than ever before.
Considering that the early days of Saints Row were as a gangbanging GTA clone, they’ve gone far to define their own legacy within the genre. Whilst Saints Row 2 was delightfully tongue in cheek, and The Third was brilliantly sarcastic.
With every addition to the series it has gotten slowly more wacky whilst trying to maintain an aura of personal seriousness, so it’s not surprise that Saints Row IV has thrown convention out of the window in favour of sheer, unadulterated fun.
As I mentioned in my preview, I was apprehensive about playing Saints Row IV originally because I was afraid that the series had gone too far in terms of crazy.
Fortunately for me, Volition proved that crazy can be a good thing. Once you’ve created your character and become President of the United States of America, everything goes to pot and awesomeness ensues.
If you’re interested in video game culture at all, then you’ll love all the little nods and references to great games such as Metal Gear Solid, Minecraft, Metroid Prime, and some that don’t even begin with the letter M.
It doesn’t just reference other famous games, it also celebrates the entire Saints Row series, having you re-live crucial parts of the previous titles and has plenty of references to the events of those games.
Spoiler alert: Alien invasion happens and you and your crew want to take the fight to the xenos menace. It’s a big step up from the crime syndicates and gang violence of previous titles, but Volition managed to write up a compelling storyline that ties everything together incredibly well without sacrificing the staple humour.
The invading aliens throw your character into a Matrix-esque simulation that is designed to mentally break you whilst they go about abducting humanity’s best and brightest so they can do the same to them.
Fortunately, you have a genius hacker on your side, and homies who would do anything for the Saints and their Boss (you).
You go about freeing your crew and hacking the simulated world that the invading Zin Empire has subjected you. Through the manipulation of data, you give your character ridiculous superpowers that let you run faster than a speeding car, and leap over tall buildings.
Throw in the telekinetic powers, ice blasts, and super ground stomps, and you’ve got a recipe for fun. The combat of previous games was all about simple gunplay, but now it’s more about making use of your superpowers for crowd control.
There’s also a bigger focus on melee combat now that you can better survive the onslaught of enemy guns.
As you progress through the missions, you’ll get access to more and more powers which you can in turn upgrade to make even better. After a while your super sprint ability begins to work on water surfaces and walls, and your super jump can gain a glide function. These kinds of abilities sort of make the cars irrelevant, since you can run faster and navigate sharper whilst super sprinting.
As you hack more and more of the simulation, your area of influence and reputation grows and gives you access to more activities and increases your income, which is spent on upgrading your weapons and abilities.
Weapon upgrades are no longer the simple four levels that was seen in The Third, but now have multiple stats which can be individually upgraded like vehicle upgrades.
Earlier in this review I brought up Enter the Matrix and wish fulfilment. Saints Row IV managed to meet the expectations that teenage me had for a game set in a virtual simulation on pretty much every level, and then went above and beyond those expectations.
The story has a lot of substance to it, despite my initial impressions that it would be more about being crazy. The superpowers are satisfying in terms of actual power and ease of use; you always feel like a complete badass and rightly so.
The ability to fly over the tops of skycrapers and then land with a nuclear blast atop a group of random enemies, throw around some ice blasts, and then telekinetically fling the survivors far out into the ocean is the exact kind of absurd ability that I always imagined in a Matrix style game, and that’s what was delivered.
Not everything is perfect.
There are a lot of bugs that need to be sorted out still, such as game freezes when you sprint into activities, or the infinite loading screen loop that crops up when you’ve already finished side-quest objectives.
There are portions of dialogue that only make sense if played form a male perspective, and some of the humour is too crass. Fortunately Saints Row IV manages to outshine these flaws on many other levels.
Saints Row IV takes everything that’s awesome about video games and then celebrates them in the best possible way. The game is an excellently deployed power trip from start to finish.
As far as open-world games go, this game manages to be the best open world game, the best superhero game, and the best Matrix game that I’ve ever played, and it’s not even part of that franchise.
I’d lost a lot of love for open-world games in recent years, but Saints Row IV changed all that. From the best execution of superpowers in a video game that I’ve seen in a long time, to the fantastic humour and dialogue, it can only be described as pure, undiluted awesome.
Same gameplay as The Third, but with oodles of extra abilities thrown on top of it, and much better control than before. The superpowers added on top of that are satisfying and tons of fun to play around with.
Graphically, Saints Row IV hasn’t evolved much past its predecessor. It keeps the cartoony flare that’s great to look at, but there are quite a few issues when you get up close to things.
With so much to render and process all at once, it’s no surprise that the smaller details aren’t as high a quality as you might expect.
Great soundtrack, great radio stations, great dubstep. Yes, there is such a thing as great dubstep.
The dialogue and set up was all great, but until you’ve beaten the game you’re trapped in a perpetual night cycle. It gives everything a nice gloomy feel, but after a while the darkness just starts to get annoying.
Just completing all the main quests and side quests will eat up hours upon hours, and all that is the fun stuff. Beyond that there’s all the collectible to find, statues to destroy, and more and more of the simulation to hack.
I’ve got about 30 hours of gameplay logged already and I’ve only found about half the collectibles after beating all the missions, and I can’t wait to play more.
I can’t think of any better way of describing Saints Row IV other than fun. It manages to deliver everything you’d expect and so much more, it should keep anybody entertained for days.