Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Saints Row IV review

    To take a brief break from my Infamous and Metal Gear Solid reviews, I'm going to discuss a game which is about the closest thing we have to an adaptation of Cole MacGrath's adventures. No, I don't mean the Prototype games, I mean the heroics of the Boss! No, I don't mean Stalin! I mean the Saint Row series' nameless protagonist who has brutalized the population of fictional cities for three previous games.

    While I haven't done any reviews of the series on my blog thus far, the Saints Row series has always been reasonably close to my heart. Originally conceived as a Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas rip-off, the game came into its own with Saints Row 2 where it's insane comedic style contrasted sharply with the faux seriousness of Grand Theft Auto IV. Saints Row 3 continued its transformation into a crazed supervillain simulator with fights against luchadores and battles on Tron bikes against teleporting anime fans.

Alien invaders are a far cry from street gangs--and a change for the better.
    Saints Row IV completes the series, at least in this incarnation, by abandoning all pretense of reality and having the Grand Theft Auto knock-off become a game about fighting aliens inside the Matrix. Did I mention the Boss has become President of the United States? Yeah, that happens after an opening mission where he kills a bunch of terrorists including a super-patriot boss (small B) from the previous game.

    I have to say I miss the original uncompromising brutality of the Boss from Saints Row 2 as I felt that actually provided something of a contrast to the merry gang brutality of GTA but I didn't have any expectations or returning to it. The game even lampshades the series' schizophrenic tone with the opening narration, "More fun, less mercy killings."

    Thematically, Saints Row IV is a series of parodies coming one after the other. The premise of the game is after thwarting the destruction of Washington D.C. by ICBM (to the tune of Aerosmith's "I don't wanna close my eyes"), the Boss is elected President of the United States and converts the White House into the White Crib.

    As mentioned, aliens choose this time to attack and kidnap the Boss along with millions of Earth's best and brightest. Their leader, the hilariously understated yet hammy Zinyak, proceeds to place the Boss and his homies in a simulation designed to break their spirits. The Boss proceeds to break out and seeks a way to find all of his lost associates before going after the alien leader to free Earth's people.

Superpowers are abundant, fun, and usable whenever you want (with the exception of a few side missions).
    What's amazing about this absolutely insane premise is I haven't even begun to discuss the craziness within. There's a parody of Metal Gear Solid, the Tron series, Streets of Rage, Godzilla, the 1950s, and about a dozen other off-the-wall topics. If I were to summarize the tone of the game, the easiest way of doing so would be to state that Keith David plays himself as the Vice President and his simulation involves Rowdy Roddy Piper beating the crap out of him.


    The gameplay is the real draw of Saints Row IV. I did the vast majority of sidequests in the game before the main plot as well as dozens of challenges just because playing around with superpowers was so damn fun. Saints Row IV is the best Superman and Flash game to ever come out, giving you the ability to run faster than cars and leap tall buildings in a single bound. While you glide as opposed to fly, the fact you can over the majority of the city is just plain awesome. I even felt okay wrecking mayhem on the city because it's all a simulation.

    Long-time fans of the Saints Row series will also note this game is a loving tribute to every incarnation of the Saints. Old-time characters like Tanya Winters, Maero, and Saint Row 2's Shaundi make their return due to the immense advantages of a simulated world. These references will probably go over the head of new fans but the game does its best to keep it all coherent to the setting. I will say, however, the effect is somewhat dulled due to the fact many of these characters had high-profile celebrity voice actors whose presence is absent from Saints Row IV.

    The main villain Zinyak, Lord of the Zin Empire, is a great antagonist for the Boss. Much like Dane Vogel, Saints Row is at its best when you're facing someone truly reprehensible. As much as I liked Killbane and Cyrus Temple, they don't hold a candle to a psychotic alien dictator with a penchant for quoting Jane Austen. The fact Zinyak loves screwing with the Boss using his omnipotent Matrix-controlling powers (excuse me, SIMULATION-controlling powers) gives the player plenty of reason to loathe him.

    Did I mention the musical score to fighting him is Stan Bush's "The Touch"? Well, I have now and I bust a gut laughing when they said, "Zinyak must be stopped, no matter the cost." Who knew the Boss was a Transformers: The Animated Movie fan? This is in addition to the return of Saints Row's most popular character, whose identity I won't spoil despite the fact it was used in a trailer.

The changes to Steelport are minimal in some places and huge in others.
    I could go on about the game for hours and hours. Even the weapons are more interesting in this game with a skin to provide the Boss with a lightsaber, a bunch science-fiction energy guns, and things like the Dubstep Gun which kills opponents with the power of electronic music. There's no end of fun to be had using things like the Inflato-Ray and Black Hole Gun to eradicate waves of enemies or property. Even the Rampages feel more authentic with the opportunity to use a UFO and mech-suit to unleash the power of your Boss' wrath.

    The activities, as mentioned, are incredibly fun too. There's enemy bases to destroy, AI contract killings, and other fun bits. The absence of base-jumping, sewage-spraying missions, and other bits from the previous games but these were enjoyable on their own. As a result, I think Saints Row IV is awesome.

    Honestly, it's a pity they never did a Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2077 game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. The combination of The Matrix with Saints Row makes me think there's an excellent cyberpunk game underneath here. The series has had hints of this since Saints Row 2 and the cyberpunk gang in Saints Row 3 dabbled in the genre. As a result, it has quite a few treats for fans of the genre.


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