I may be in the minority, but I’m one of those people who cared more for Saints Row: The Third than Saints Row 2. Sure, the atmosphere and story in Saints Row 2 were great, but the controls were very bad, and overall, was not very fun to play.
Its inability to deliver a quality open-world sandbox game has been a series curse since the very beginning. The original Saints Row, was dubbed a middling GTA knock-off by almost everyone I knew, obviously clinging tight to the coattails of (the now obsolete, but no less riveting) GTA San Andreas. Saints Row: The Third was the game where the series finally found its footing, relishing in a stew of outlandish set-pieces and stylized ultra-gore, with updated controls and level-up system to boot.
Whatever similarities the series had to Grand Theft Auto were gone by the time Saints Row: The Third was released, so Saints Row IV is a reminder that when Volition sets out to do something (in this case, punch similarities to GTA in the gonads), they aren’t screwing around.
So, unless you’ve been completely blocked-out from the media coverage for this game, then you obviously know about how you’re the president, with superpowers, and set to kick alien teeth in. What’s interesting about this tale is not in the alien and robot mishmash, but the surprisingly deep emotions and collection of continuity porn, there for no special reason other than as a gift for the fans who stuck around since the first game. This time round, your boss is no longer a fully-fledged evil human being, but instead the final hope for the human race; surely the exact opposite of your SR2 boss.
Through audio logs spread throughout the game, you come to learn about fellow pals and antagonists from the series’ past, as well as yourself; the playa, the boss, the President of the United States. These, along with the vastly entertaining Zinyak (the villain of our tale) text adventures, can be found pretty easily once you unlock the “Collectible Finder” ability after you free Matt Miller, and after you complete The Pledge Side Quest.
The gun and vehicle controls (the latter of which is, for the most part, useless) here are, like the gamespace of Steelport itself, carried over from the previous entry, and are precise (more so as you level up your weapons with the enormous payload you’re nothing less than guaranteed).
But, like every sequel ever created, there has to be a gimmick. Here, that involves the use of virtually-granted superpowers, which, for the most part, work quite well; though, it can get overwhelming having so many powers, making it a bit of a hassle switching between them during the heat of battle especially in the late game.
It’s in tight spots (size and scenario) the controls turn into mozzarella; the wonky camera, and imprecise super-jumping coming together to form what can only be described as… well, mozzarella. The camera, in particular, can turn many of the newly-added side-missions (the very few that aren’t held over from The Third), into total nightmares to try and accomplish with any kind of dignity. Worth special mention is Genki’s Mind Over Murder, a nightmare to go through with its many narrow alley ways and fences.
Speaking of Genki’s M.O.M., it houses what is quite possibly the highlight of the game: Zach and Bobby’s commendable commentary. The duo are no strangers to the series, having provided colorful commentary for the previous game’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, and even physically appearing in said game’s crappy Genkibowl DLC. But they have never been such an unadulterated joy to listen to than when Zach pours his heart out to Bobby about how much being Zinyak’s slave sucks, and how lonely he is. Definitely worth a rental, just for the commentary alone.
Back on the subject of powers, while they alone make the premise immensely more absurd than The Third, once the novelty wears off it is just another game mechanic. There is a serious lack of memorable appeal unless you were to dig deep and find something there.
While the story is about as long as The Third’s, most of it is very similar to missions you’ve already done, making a lot of the middle game feel very repetitive. I gold-ed every side-mission before I ever reached Shaundi, making the open-world environment feel useless. This is the kind of game that you won’t really care about after everything has been completed.
While I’m not too sure about the 360 version, the PS3 version is curiously flawed, framerate-wise; a far cry from the flawless performance of The Third on PS3. It also crashed on me 5 times during my 35+ hours of playtime; most likely a side-effect from the short development time and/or the switch from DLC to being a full retail game.
On the subject of the game environment, Steelport is ripped straight from The Third, just without daylight. I can understand why they reused it (players are familiar with it, developer cost, developer laziness), but it still begs the question: is this just DLC padded to justify a $60 price tag? While that isn’t a question I can answer with certainty, I can tell you that Saints Row IV is worth a weekend rental from Gamefly (for the Zach and Bobby commentary alone).