Saints Row 4 Review
The ineffably silly Saints Row series prides itself on presenting players with a menagerie of the ridiculous. Think of Saint’s Row, and the first thing that comes into your mind is likely a grotesquely dressed freak with purple skin running around in luminous sandals kicking people in the nuts.
Well, maybe not exactly that, but you get the picture.
The question that inevitably asks itself coming into Saints Row 4 then, is, how can Volition ramp things up for the latest entry in a series with the dial already turned up to 11?
The answer, it would seem, is to make the player President of the United States, pit them against alien invaders and, most importantly, give them a host of superpowers to play with.
Indeed, it is in ‘play’ that Saints Row 4’s greatest strength lies. The game is best enjoyed flitting swiftly from campaign mission, to side quest, to mini-game, as if played with the attention span of a small child.
That is both a compliment and criticism of a game with elements which, when considered in isolation, leave much to be desired. However, Saints Row 4 provides such variety, that it ends up being a game that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Saints Row 4’s Story – Who Did What Now?
If you’re someone who is looking for a game with a campaign that is anchored by a coherent and engaging narrative populated with well-rounded characters, walk away now, because there’s nothing for you here.
We’re sure it’s possible to follow the rambling mess that is Saints Row 4’s story, we’re just not convinced that it’s possible to care enough to do so. To be honest, it’s not clear that Volition is particularly bothered either, because it doesn’t feel as if narrative engagement is a priority for this game. Rather, Saints Row 4’s story functions as a vehicle to reference and parody other videogames, genres, movies and pop-culture.
At times, the constant references can become tiresome. Even if you’re of an age where you manage to ‘get’ every nod, wink and hat-tip, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed to the point that you cease to care about which movie it is that is being sent-up this time.
Volition might also do well to remember that making a reference is not funny or clever in of itself, because unfortunately the game relies on that being the case far too often.
Nevertheless, it must be said that there are times when the cheeky prods Saints Row 4 makes at other games and movies are genuinely funny. If nothing else, many of the references manage to raise a smile from pure nostalgia and occasionally, those moments even provide an excuse to change up the gameplay a little.
When it comes down to it, the extent to which you enjoy Saints Row’s brand of humour will depend on your own taste. For us, it can be a little clichéd and occasionally strays into the juvenile, but it’s difficult to be too harsh on a game with its tongue so firmly in cheek throughout.
Saints Row 4: Superpowered
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about Saints Row 4 is playing around with the range of upgradable superpowers that are gradually unlocked. These powers allow the player to outrun cars, jump atop buildings, shoot fireballs from their hands and throw cars around using telepathic abilities.
These powers not only open up an element of vertical exploration not available when driving from place to place, allowing the player to whiz around the city with ease and abandon, but they also add a nice bit of variety to the combat.
Combining what eventually amounts to a decent array of powers with a wide-ranging arsenal (including the likes of the dubstep gun) and Saints Row 4’s range of ostentatious melee moves means that there are plenty of options when confronted with enemies.
Sure, Saints Row 4 isn’t a particularly great shooter, but that’s fine. After you’ve popped off a few shots, why not chuck a few cars about, or use your superpowered stomp to send enemies flying? Waiting for your powers to recharge? Fine. Why not run around powerbombing enemies for a bit? Or perhaps go back to a bit of good old-fashioned shooty bang bang?
In a sense, Saints Row 4’s combat mechanics are indicative of both the limits and strengths of the game as a whole. None of the combat mechanics can be described as particularly deep or engaging in isolation, but, by ensuring that each elements is just one of a number of tools with which to play, it makes this fact matter a lot less.
It’s a shame then, that some of Saints Row 4’s campaign missions take those superpowered tools away from you. After getting used to whizzing around at high speed, running up buildings, sending people flying and, well, being a general badass, the absence of those powers is very noticeable. Suddenly, everything feels a little dull and muted and you can’t help but notice that you are basically being forced to play what is, at best, an average shooter.
Saints Row 4’s Missions: Mixing It Up
Thankfully, Saints Row 4 doesn’t rely on stripping away the player’s super powers to provide variety, of which, within Saints Row 4’s missions and mini-games, there is plenty.
Many of the campaign missions introduce one-shot gameplay ideas. There is, for example, a text adventure section. There is a bit where you pilot a spaceship. There is a section where you control a tank in a virtual world. Again, none of these missions stand out as exceptional, but Volition are intelligent enough to understand that repetition is the enemy and ensure that these ideas never overstay their welcome. As a result, these one-offs are, more often than not, fun.
This philosophy is also applied to the various mini-games you can undertake throughout the city. These range from awkward platforming sections, to the oddly compelling fraud game, in which you ragdoll yourself into cars and buildings for cash.
Saints Row 4 introduces you to these mini-games throughout the course of the campaign, but the game never forces to you to play them beyond that initial introduction. Saints Row 4 is a game which constantly says: “Here is something you can do. If you want to do some more of it, you can. If you don’t, that’s cool too.”
And that’s for the best. Delivered in such a way, Saints Row 4’s mini-games become enjoyable little distractions that are there if and when you want them.
Add to that more than ample opportunity for customizing your character, cars, abilities, clothes, guns and powers, and you have a game with plenty to keep the completionists among you occupied.
Saints Row 4 in Summary
In summing up Saint’s Row 4, we find ourselves returning to the phrase ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. There is nothing exceptional about Saints Row 4. Its combat mechanics are all average, most of its missions are fun, but forgettable, and its humour is really hit and miss.
But Saints Row 4 offers such variety, is so schizophrenic in its design, so generous with its content, that’s it’s hard not to have some fun playing it. Saints Row 4 isn’t going to set the world alight, but if those sandbox playgrounds that the series is famed for are your kind of thing, then knock yourself out, because there’s plenty for you to play around with here.
Version Tested: Xbox 360