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Saints Row IV Review


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On 08/19/2013 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

Follow the white rabbit.
RECOMMENDATION:

For those looking for goofy fun as long as you can ignore some technical hiccups.

For me to properly articulate my feelings on Saints Row IV, I think you need to know a little bit about my taste in movies. I greatly enjoy quiet little indie films like The Science of Sleep, Once, and Closer. I find them to be wonderful palate cleansers from all of the big budget action flicks that come out every summer. However, some of my favorite movies of all time are what I can only describe as “stupid”; stuff like Crank 2 and UHF starring the one and only “Weird” Al Yankovic. While these movies are lacking in artistic merit, they are immensely entertaining to me, and that’s exactly how I feel about Saints Row IV: a game that gleefully throws the “are games art” question out the window.

Like Saints Row: The Third before it, the fourth game in the series does its very best to keep out of the way of the fun. The story is a loose premise to allow the player-created “boss” of the Third Street Saints plenty of opportunity to run around and cause untold mayhem. After saving the country from nuclear attack, the leader of the Saints becomes the President of the United States. While a lot of hype has been put on that plot point, it’s really just an excuse for some funny dialogue moments. The bulk of the Saints Row IV story involves the invasion of the alien Zin Empire, and the enslavement of mankind inside of a Matrix-like computer simulation.

Yes, the bulk of this game is a parody of a movie that came out fourteen years ago, but that is in no way a detriment. The additions to the standard open world running and gunning that the series is known for come in the way of super powers. These are abilities that would make Neo green with envy, and make the moment to moment gameplay a joy to experience. Running at supersonic speeds and then leaping over a building, transitioning into a glide and then plummeting to the ground with a shockwave the equivalent of a small nuclear warhead is something that had me cackling with laughter for the duration of my 20+ hours in the game. Some would call me a sociopath, but I’d consider myself more of a puckish rogue.

Anyone who was worried that Saints Row IV was just a stretched out piece of downloadable content should rest easy. There is plenty of new and fun content to be had here, and despite a couple tasks that weren’t too enticing, I found that I couldn’t put the controller down. I haven’t devoured a game like this in ages, and that’s a credit to how well-crafted the new powers are. Even though the real estate is nearly identical to the “real world” version of Steelport seen in the last game, the new traversal mechanics make the old seem new again. After all, why bother stealing a car and driving on the same highways as before when it’s so much more satisfying to take to the rooftops in search of the addictive, ability-boosting candy known as data clusters? I did every single thing that you can do in Saints Row IV, and I was never bored.

Beyond the absurdly delightful powers and inventive missions, a big part of my love for this game comes from the dialogue. Saints Row IV parodies some of the biggest names in the video game and film industries, but this is parody done right. Instead of the eye rolling referential humor found in movies like Not Another Teen Movie or Superhero Movie, Saints Row IV’s writers take cues from the works of Mel Brooks and the Zucker brothers. It’s as if you are in control of a thuggish Leo Bloom that you get to create.

The options for character customization are far beyond what I’ve come to expect from games that allow for player-created avatars. The seven different voice options (three male, three female, and a bonus) actually change the dialogue for the character, and give a sense of player ownership that rivals the Mass Effect series. I opted for an all-too accurate rendition of British action star Jason Statham, which added a certain level of cheesy badassery to every scene. The cutscenes are all real time, so the story truly feels like it stars “your” version of the President, and that kind of user created input is something I’d love to see more of.

Saints Row IV is a game full of amazing and hilarious moments, but to give them away would ruin a great deal of the magic. From little bits of incidental dialogue to epic, multi-part set pieces, this is an adventure that I think any action lover should experience. This isn’t a game that is trying to make a statement or even make players think very hard, but Saints Row IV has some of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced in a video game this year.

Unfortunately, to get to those moments, you’re going to have to trudge through some really rough patches. I’d love to sit here and bestow this game with a five star review, as it may be the most fun I’ve had with a game all year. Heck, maybe the most fun I’ve had in the past few years. However, that would be glossing over the major problems with Saints Row IV. In a nutshell, this game is just too much for our aging consoles. Screen tearing, erratic frame rates, and wonky animations are just the tip of the iceberg. Considering how quickly the main character can move through the city, it’s kind of amazing that the entire thing doesn’t completely breakdown from the get go. With that said, I ran into multiple places where I had to restart missions because the game simply destabilized, and the most frustrating problem came in the form of a system hard lock in the final mission of the game. While the argument could be made that some of the lesser glitches play into the computer simulation setting, it’s something that I just can’t overlook. If you have a decent enough PC setup you may want to go that route, as my poor little Xbox 360 just couldn’t handle the insanity of Saints Row IV.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I had a blast with this game, but it’s far from a flawless gaming experience. The frequent glitching and rough animations were problematic throughout, and while it was awesome to feel so empowered during the bulk of the game, the final couple of hours try to mitigate that by lazily throwing tons of enemies at you at all times. Instead of adding a challenge it creates some truly annoying moments, and the final mission is one of the most disappointing conclusions to a game I’ve seen in quite some time. However, the fun that I had with Saints Row IV is at such a level that it is easily one of my favorite games of the year. Just realize that this simulation is going to break from time to time.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Nick DiMola Director

08/19/2013 at 01:05 PM

This sounds a whole lot like Crackdown, which makes me really interested in giving it a go at some point.

Pacario

08/20/2013 at 10:40 AM

"I’d love to sit here and bestow this game with a five star review..."

This is good criticism--while many critics would have given this game four or five stars because it was "fun," Mr. Titus tries to be objective and actually provides a critical score. Which is what a critic is supposed to do. Good job.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

08/21/2013 at 07:32 PM

Thanks! It's entirely possible that, had I played on a strong enough PC that my score would have been higher, but there's still the issue of the final parts of the game not cashing in on the brilliance of the rest of the adventure. Still, people should totally play this game!

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