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Top 50 Challenge – Saints Row IV

When Saints Row was first released by THQ back in 2005, I thought it was a shameless Grand Theft Auto III ripoff intent on riding the coattails of Rockstar's open world masterpiece. As the years went by and Volition further fleshed out its fantastical vision, my opinion tempered. While Rockstar took its flagship series in a more serious direction with GTA IV, Saints Row embraced the absurd, content to let its players punch pedestrians in the crotch, wield deadly dildos, and perform wrestling moves on the populace.

I appreciated this commitment to slapstick, but still had a hard time enjoying the game. Almost the entire Game Informer office vouched for Saints Row: The Third, but after a few hours, I once again put the game down. The comedy was hit and miss, and the open world felt repetitive and lifeless. When I have no impulse to explore the open world, I rarely want to keep playing. After all, I can perform many of the exact same missions in more interesting environments like Los Santos, New Austin, Tamriel, or even Renaissance Europe in Assassin's Creed.

When Futter threw down the gauntlet in support of Saints Row IV, I vowed to set aside my preconceived notions of the series and give it another chance. What I found surprised me. 

Saints Row IV doesn't feel like a Saints Row game to me. Instead, it feels like a long-lost cousin of Crackdown. Armed with superpowers, I had no use for traditional modes of transportation or weaponry, and I spent much of the early part of the game collecting data clusters to unleash new powers. This gameplay loop reminded me heavily of Realtime Worlds' Xbox 360 debut. 

Running and jumping across a simulated Steelport is fun for a while, but after a few hours that same sense of boredom set in. Collect-a-thons get old quick, too many side missions have repetitive gameplay loops, and the story missions lack the creativity of the best open-world games. Once again, I found the Saints Row open world uninspired and lacking diversity; I had déjà vu several times while jumping across the rooftops because so many areas of the city look so similar. 

The combat, while competent, also fell flat for me. The aliens are such poor combatants that I had all the time in the world to line up headshots or get them grouped together for an effective blast attack. I also felt hamstrung by not having melee attacks at the ready. I'd rather have a quick melee button when I venture into close quarters fighting instead of having to put away my weapon. 

These shortcomings look all the more glaring when you put Saints Row IV up against Grand Theft Auto V, which in my opinion offers superior graphics, combat, missions, characters, and humor.  

My Vote
I can understand Futter's appreciation of Saints Row IV's super-charged gameplay, but the game failed to strike the same chord with me. With so many great games vying for a spot on the Top 50 list, I can't cast a vote for an open world game filled with busywork and lacking interesting places to explore. Not even superpowers or an absurd plot about an unlikely president vs. alien invaders changes that fact for me.

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