The Saints Row series has had a bit of a tricky ride over the last few years. Constantly compared to Grand Theft Auto it’s been a long haul for Volition to get Saints Row recognised as its own game. Last time round a hefty injection of utterly barking content helped to move away from the old comparisons, and with Saints Row 4 the journey is complete. This is definitely no GTA, but a whole other style which deserves massive credit in its own right.
Starting off with an introduction showing the Saints’ rise up to the US Presidency, Saints Row 4 quickly sets up the theme for the game. An alien invasion led by the evil Zinyak soon turns everything on its head, and after being captured you’re dumped into a Zinyak computer simulation of Steelport, the city last seen in Saints Row the Third. Initial moments in the simulation are bizarre, mimicking a 50s cheesy TV show of sorts, but once things properly get going you’re presented with a dark and dangerous city shadowed by huge spaceships and tinted by enormous red glowing alien domes. With this being a simulated environment though the usual limits of being human don’t really apply, and as you’ll have probably seen in the Matrix films it’s not out of the question to beef yourself up a bit.
This is when Kinzie Kensington comes in, a brilliantly charismatic and slightly gobby colleague who hacks into the simulation and sets you up with a couple of useful abilities. With these initial skills – super fast running and very high jumping – getting around Steelport is far more direct than just stealing a car. You can still nick vehicles obviously, and there are times when it’s essential, but without giving too much away you’ll probably find them more useful when throwing them as opposed to driving them. Other abilities are unlocked along the way such as fire and ice blast, and there’s a huge number of data clusters around the place to collect in order to upgrade these powers.
The abilities will often out-power the weapons on offer, but some of them are quite good fun and worth playing around with. Between shooting black holes around and clubbing people to death with a giant tentacle (no giant purple cock weapon this time, sorry) there’s plenty of fun to be had when combining these with the special inFamous-type attacking options.
Indeed, inFamous isn’t the only inspiration you’ll see here. Before long you’ll be leaping across rooftops at insane speeds, running up the side of impossibly tall buildings before slamming to the ground below, sending a shockwave out which sends anything within a 50m radius flying. If you’ve played Prototype 2, you’ll recognise it instantly. But this whole package is way more bonkers than either of those two titles put together, and although the main story follows a theme of breaking friends out of the simulation to help you out there’s a vast number of hours available just tarting around with the side missions and tasks. Ranging from games where you need to use your telekinetic powers to throw cars and people through specific targets, through the return of the “hurt yourself as much as possible” mode and just running around clearing areas of the town from Zinyack troops it’s the kind of game where you’ll sit down, tell the other half you’ll be up to bed in 10 minutes when you’ve finished the mission, then realise it’s several hours later and you’ve got to get up in a minute. To make matters worse. chances are you’ve made zero progress on the main story, but the Saints now control half the city and you’ve upgraded your rocket launcher to its maximum.
It’s not uncommon though to sit back and wonder if you actually have fallen asleep and are in a weird dream. Did I really just run around trying to kill a floating toilet? Have a actually just escaped by flying my craft out of the mothership, dodging enemy fire and surrounding scenery, all while listening to Haddaway’s What Is Love on the radio? Yeah, that just happened. If it all sounds a bit too nuts already, it’s probably best not to even contemplate the co-op option, which lets two of you do your own things around town, occasionally coming together to complete some of the co-op only tasks dotted around.
There are moments where you might feel like you’re running from A to B a little too much, especially if you’re ignoring side quests for a moment and just want to get on with the story, but that’s a side issue from the game being set up for you to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Want to run around and throw people off tall buildings? Well do that then. Want to hijack a car with a passenger in it and try to escape the chasing police? Why not, it’s your playground after all. The fact that your super-powers occasionally get taken away from you (because you’re back in the real world, or they’ve been disabled for some other reason) only makes you appreciate them even more, even if you do forget and try to jump out of the way, only to hop a metre to your left and still get clobbered by an incoming rocket.
With GTA5 out soon it was crucial that Volition sent Saints Row in the right direction, and by turning Saints Row 4 into a mock-superhero game they’ve hit the nail on the head. While some might be casting an eye in Rockstar’s direction with their promise of enormous variety and endless gameplay, Volition has just stuck two fingers up at that and given us something far more important: fun. The fact that THQ’s unfortunate downfall could have seen Saints Row 4 end up on the scrapheap doesn’t bear thinking about – in terms of value for money, fun and enjoyment you don’t need to look any further than killing a giant cat-headed bad guy with a tentacle bat.
Reviewed on PS3