The lights are on
When Saints Row emerged on the scene on the Xbox 360, I barely paid any attention. Volition and THQ aped Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series and added in some customization features, but it followed the formula without really differentiating itself. It wasn’t until Saints Row: The Third that I took notice.
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Instead of the first two titles' silent anti-hero, we got voice actor Troy Baker (Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us) and others. Instead of a street gang, we got a multinational corporation on the rise. Instead of mimicry, we got something fresh and fun (like being turned into a "walking" and talking toilet in cyberspace).
When THQ fell apart last year and auctioned off its top tier properties in January 2013, a beautiful match was made. Volition and the Saints Row property were acquired by Deep Silver, a publisher with the swagger of the Saints and equally on the upswing.
It is not an understatement to suggest that Saints Row IV was one of my favorite games at E3 this year. The absurdity of Saints Row: The Third was getting dialed up even further with an alien invasion, Matrix-like simulation, superpowers, and actor Keith David (as himself, rather than the character he played in the series’ first entry).
I was not disappointed when the title arrived in August. Sure, the ability to run at superspeed obviates the need for cars, and the Hulk-like jumping and accompanying glide ability means aircraft are unnecessary.
In exchange, there’s a set of exciting superpowers like fireballs and powerful stomps. Alien weaponry juices up the arsenal, and there’s a dubstep gun. Yes, a gun that shoots out dubstep lasers that make victims dance until they die.
The city of Steelport from Saints Row: The Third is largely reused, but smart visual tricks make it feel fresh. Glitches in the simulation often lead to absurd sights (like distorted human beings and mascots lumbering down the street), and as you wreak more havoc, police offers will distort as aliens take over their bodies (in a nod to the way Agents step into slaved humans in The Matrix).
Saints Row IV is filled with referential humor, tongue-in-cheek jabs at other titles (including Splinter Cell, Call of Duty, and Mass Effect) and clever winks at popular movies (including Predator, Armageddon, Air Force One, and Star Wars). The side activities, which all feed into getting your “homies” their own super powers are largely enjoyable, especially the super-powered insurance fraud.
For those that loved Crackdown’s orb-hunting metagame, the 1,200 data packets scattered across the simulation will feel familiar. If Microsoft isn’t going to give us another Crackdown any time soon, I’m glad for Volition replicating part of the experience.
The story of Saints Row IV is straightforward, but the characters are memorable. The dialog is smartly crafted, and I delighted in the quips, absurd situations, and the return of Daniel Dae Kim’s Johnny Gat (after seemingly dying in Saints Row: The Third). The entire package was fun and kept me engaged, and I’m looking forward to sharing that with my colleagues who haven’t played it yet.
The Top 50 ChallengeThis year has been great for open-world crime fans. First, Volition and Deep Silver delivered Saints Row IV. Then, Rockstar bounced onto the scene with the long-awaited Grand Theft Auto V.
Matt Bertz is one of our resident GTA experts, and handled a lot of our coverage of that title, including the review. I know he’s spent countless hours in Los Santos, but I’m interested to hear his take on a simulated Steelport.
Saints Row IV doesn’t have the same grit as Grand Theft Auto V, nor is it rooted in any definition of the word “reality.” I’m curious to see if the tight combat and fun superpowers are enjoyable enough to get a thumbs up from a hardcore GTA fan.
Matt was given one day to play Saints Row IV. Come back tomorrow at 10 AM CT to read his impressions and see if it’ll get his support for Game Informer’s Top 50 Games of the Year.