Stuff. Is. Happening. Good stuff, that you will like.
Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to talk about any of it yet, so let’s talk about what I did over the three-day weekend when I was supposed to be working: I played the ever-loving crap out of Saints Row IV.
The game has been reviewing…well, though some of the design choices rankled me. The same engine, really? The same city, really? You can easily set up a screenshot in Saints Row IV that would look just like one from Saints Row the Third. The shooting and driving mechanics are practically identical. Most of the activities in the game are recycled from previous games – Mayhem, Fraud, Racing, etc.
And none of that matters one bit once you get your superpowers.
The superpowers mean the gameplay is completely different despite the similarities described above. And they. Are. Awesome. This is one of the best superhero games I’ve ever played and I wish, wish, wish Volition had made a new IP for it.
Of course, if they had, the game wouldn’t have sold over a million copies in the first week, so…economics and all that.
The plot has you and all your homies abducted by an alien race called the Zin, lead by a huge member of their species named Zinyak. He imprisons each of you, linking your minds to simulations that represent your own personal hells. After breaking out of yours with the help of Kinzie Kensington, your hacker, Zinyak puts you in the new simulated Steelport and warns you that another escape attempt means the destruction of Earth.
It’s because this Steelport is a “simulation” that the superpowers work. Remember Neo flying at the camera at the end of The Matrix? The Wachowskis said that they whole point of that entire movie was to set up a “realistic” scenario where humans could have superpowers – they have them because they’re nothing but code, and code can be reprogrammed. Saints Row IV takes this premise and runs with all the way to the end zone. You’ll be super-sprinting, super-jumping, gliding (no actual flight, though), throwing fireballs and ice blasts, picking up things with the POWER OF YOUR MIND and stomping on people from great heights.
The superpowers also mean that the “same” activities play out completely differently. You now use super sprint when you race instead of a car. Mayhem takes a lot of different forms, my favorite being the one where you use telekinesis to throw these huge dodecahedrons at things. Plus, there are tons of new activities that are built around the superpowers. You will have lots to do.
And while having super sprint means you’ll never use a car again, the other superpowers are made to work in concert with gunplay. One of my favorite ways to take out a group of aliens was to hit them with an explosive fire blast, which makes aliens who are on fire explode when they die. Shoot one and he’ll blow up, blowing up the next one, who blows up the next…I cleared entire flashpoints with one blast and one bullet and it made me feel like a complete badass.
The tone of the game, as you may have gathered, is even crazier than Saints Row the Third. Thankfully, the raunch of that game has been replaced with tons of game and movie references. One of my favorites is an absolutely brutal deconstruction of the relationship systems from Bioware’s games. You can mod your pistol to look like Deckard’s from Blade Runner or Malcolm Reynold’s from Firefly. There’s an extensive spoof of the movie They Live. All of the titles of Matt Miller’s missions reference the movie The Prestige. All of Shaundi’s missions are named after Queen songs. Zinyak, who sports a cultured voice and demeanor, will appear on the classical radio station and read selections from Pride and Prejudice and Shakespearean plays.
And as if that weren’t enough, the game seriously rewards people who have been with the series since the beginning by referencing events in both Saints Row and Saints Row 2. Helping your friends fight through their personal hells so you can rescue them from the simulation actually gave me a very Psychonauts feel at times.
Overall, a great game. I almost wish I hadn’t shotgunned it like I did but I just couldn’t stop. If I have a criticism, it’s that the game feels a little short; I 100% the game in about 25 hours. I think a longer first act that forced you to play the game in a more traditional manner before you started getting superpowers would have rounded the game out more. But that’s a quibble. My advice: get it, play it, love it, especially if you enjoyed Crackdown, Infamous or Prototype. And if you hated Saints Row the Third, still give it a shot because this game is basically an author’s saving throw for that one.