The Saint of sandbox gaming
I have absolutely no clue what Volition is going to do with Saints Row V.
Going into Saints Row IV, I had some level of similar feelings. To be fair, its predecessor—Saints Row: The Third—did some pretty crazy stuff and took players to some very unexpected locations. And yet, even with that in mind, Volition promised things like space aliens and virtual-reality simulators and fantastical superpowers. I mean, how do you introduce superpowers to Saints Row without totally breaking the game?
And that’s the thing: You don’t. The powers do break the game, and Volition lets them. For example, if you would expect that cars might seem near useless when you’ve got the ability to run at blistering speeds and can go bounding across the city via your inhuman jumping abilities, well, they kind of are. It doesn’t take long for you to get those two powers, and they’re just the first of the new techniques you’ll have available that turn you from the hero-yet-still-human gang leader you were previously to the demigod of virtual Steelport that you become here.
Saints Row IV is a tale of empowerment—and I don’t just mean in the way the game lets you be whoever you want to be. Though, do let me touch on that for a moment. Whatever reason Volition had for first incorporating this into the Saints Row mythology, it’s clear that now the team’s goal is to make sure no player feels unwelcome in the game’s world. We’re never, ever told that who we want to be or what we want to look like is wrong—even if that choice is a hulking woman with reflective silver skin who sounds suspiciously like that Nathan Drake fellow.
No, the type of empowerment I’m talking about goes far beyond all of that.
Saints Row IV’s story—you, as the leader of the Third Street Saints, become President of the United States, which is then attacked by Zinyak, an alien commander who imprisons you and the rest of the Saints in a computerized alternate reality that you struggle to escape from—doesn’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t have to. Giving players those previously mentioned superpowers doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it doesn’t have to, either. Many of the gameplay, storytelling, and stylistic choices initially don’t seem to make a lot of sense, until you realize that they all come back to one core goal: having fun.
One night, while EGM associate editor Josh Harmon and I were talking about the portions of Saints Row IV we’d played up until that point, we got onto the subject of games that are afraid to be games. As much respect as I have for projects such as Tomb Raider or The Last of Us, I feel like they’re striving more to be experiences. Saints Row IV is a game, and it’s damn proud of that fact. Even if it means having a narrative that, at times, can be broken due to player choices or ambitions that sometimes feel too ambitious or situations like a person downing a UFO with a gun that sprays dubstep beats, everything here is designed to make sure that every hour you spend with Saints Row IV is an hour you won’t regret. It exists to empower you—not just you, the character, but you the player.
Volition did something it seems few developers are brave enough to do at this point: They were willing to reinvent the Saints Row series instead of just reiterating on it. The result is a game that I had an absolute blast with from beginning to end, but also one that—due to the escalation it exhibits—left me dumbfounded on what they’ll offer as a follow-up.
So, I have absolutely no clue what Volition is going to do with Saints Row V. And, you know, I’m glad I don’t.
|Developer: Volition • Publisher: Deep Silver • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 08.20.2013|
Saints Row IV is a videogame. A videogame that wants you to have fun. That might seem like the simplest of explainations, but a lot of games these days can forget those basics, or how to really bring them to players. Saints Row IV never forgets.
|The Good||Wiping out an alien horde while “The Touch” plays in the background|
|The Bad||Call me crazy, but I’d still like to see competitive multiplayer|
|The Ugly||The characters of the other members of the EGM crew compared to my sweet-yet-sassy Southern belle|
|Saints Row IV is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|