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In Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Old Hickory Beer | Saints Row IV [Review]

Posted on August 21, 2013 AT 06:59am

Ascending Satan’s Ladder has never been this much fun.

Today the sandbox game genre has been taken beyond over the top, a feat easily accomplished by the team at Volition. The fourth installment of their bombastically fun Saints Row franchise hit shelves yesterday. Volition certainly knows how to set a stage filled with zany insanity. Undoubtedly due to all the donkey beer they drink.

I’ve spent the better part of the last few weeks with a review unit of the game, exploring nearly ever nook and cranny of the great city of Steelport, and I’ve got to say, that is time well spent.

As Our Story Continues…

Saints Row IV brings us back to the wonderful city of Steelport. Our lovable Third Street Saints– led by you, the puckish rogue boss– have not only rid the city of all rival gangs, but have moved on up to the upper east side. They totally got a piece of that pie. Why? Well, the Saints have taken over the nation – literally. You start the game as the president of the United States, cabinet of Saints and all. Once in control of the land of the free, you waste no time enforcing “Saints Law” upon the nation. There have been talks about possible alien invasions, but the president ain’t got time for that. During a scheduled press conference to announce the new war on cancer (or ending world hunger), aliens strike. This introduces you to the game’s antagonist Zinyak and his alien race of Zin. Pomp and circumstance aside, you strap on an assortment of guns and bring the fight right to their faceholes. Unfortunately, Zinyak proves to be too much for you and subjects you to his digital prison, the simulation.

Do you know what pure hell looks like? Zinyak does. And for the leader of the Third Street Saints, it’s fluffy, poofy, and reeks of Leave It to Beaver. When the character comes to, they are back in Steelport but something isn’t right. In fact a lot of things are wrong with this Steelport. Once you right yourself – meaning getting back to being your normal raunchy self– the simulation shows its warped true colors. A disembodied voice breaks through to tell you the obvious –great timing Kinzie. Once you’ve dispatched of a bunch of these fake Steelportians, it is time to bust you out of the simulation and figure out what plan B is. Zinyak makes it painfully obvious that you need a plan by blowing up the Earth after your escape. Payback. It’s a bitch and one hell of a plan. It is here that Saints Row IV truly begins.

At this point in the game you are reunited with your computer genius from Saints Row The Third, Kinzie and your vice president, Keith David. That’s right, Kinzie saved Keith David first. Deal with it. She explains – as best as she can – the situation. Zinyak has abducted all your friends and they are stuck in their own separate versions of hell in the simulation. The only way to take down this flamboyantly foppish alien overlord is to get the band back together and hit him with everything you’ve got.

Saints Row –as a franchise– has never been known for providing a deep, soul searching story. However, Saints Row IV offers a ton of personal character depth that makes fighting along these characters not only MORE enjoyable but meaningful. This character development comes from performing loyalty missions, character specific quest lines and finding collectible audio logs for each team member that will give the player rich backgrounds that supports the critical story. If you are a story hunter you’ll have something filling to digest along with some Frecklebitches. The pacing of Saints Row IV is solely up to you. Blast through the main story quickly (under 30 hours) or take that left at Albuquerque, and really mess with the simulation… it’s totally up to you. For the full Saints experience however, you will want to want to take advantage of every activity, target, store hacking and side quest the simulated Steelport has to offer.

Visuals and Gameplay

The game’s visuals are as dynamic as ever. The world however flickers and pixelates continuously through the simulation. While some would find this irritating the fact is the simulated Steelport is a program as such, should look that way. Outside of the simulations, it doesn’t happen, so don’t let it get to you. Talking about visuals sure makes me want to briefly chat about customization. Customization rules. Fans know it. Volition knows it. The end. Players are given even more options on how their character will look and sound. Compliments and taunts have more going on as well. My personal favorite is Boone Goes the Dynamite. Do yourself a favor and run through the character customization tool thoroughly. Luckily for you, you can this throughout the game via the Image As Designed stores – so it won’t keep you form jumping right into the game when you open it.
Now, about that Gameplay. Volition took the basics from Saints Row The Third and supercharged them. With what you might ask? Superpowers. Along with claiming territories in your personal simulation, beefing up your health and weapons, players now get to be a digital superhero. These superpowers add an extreme amount of fun to the mix. Players will need to master and use these new abilities well if they plan on owning all of Steelport. Owning the simulation takes more than super speed and a kung fu grip. Saints Row IV introduces hacking into the player’s needed skills for success. These mini games consist of completing a circuit with a certain amount of predetermined pieces within an allotted amount of time. Successful hacking attempts give you control over the store. Failures alert the simulation to a security breach, dispatching a bunch of Zin enemies to the location to stop you. Best get hacking.

All the familiar side mission from SR3 are present like Insurance Fraud and the multiple Mayhem mini games. With a new twist on trailblazing – now just blazin’ and the Rifts. Blazin’ mini games consist of super sprinting through a course littered with cars, people, and firewalls. Rifts are set up by one the newest characters to the Saints crew, CID. His mini games break down into three alternative mini games (Platform jumping, speed trails, and telekinesis trials). Players are slowly recovering simulated Steelport through usurping Flashpoints and Hot Spots (the game’s version of rival gang territories). Players can fine tune their super hand to hand combat with several rounds of Super Fight Training. However the first rule of Super Fight Training is you don’t talk about Super Fight Training. So I won’t. The player will also run into Targets on the HUD. This subset of mini games require the player to steal a simulated car and bring it to another location without getting it blown up. It contains code that Kinzie needs to do her smart people things and disrupt the system. Another one requires the player to survive waves of a particular enemy type until they reach the magic happy number. The last type has the player search out a particular target amongst many decoys. The trick to that mini game is to find the one target that can take more damage then it should, then taking him out Saints style. The Professor Genki’s mini game even gets an upgrade. Now called Mind Over Murder, it focuses on the player’s Telekinesis superpower. Pitching people, cars, and Genki inflated heads into color coded rings against a ticking down clock sounds like a good way to let out some steam don’t you agree?

The Meh, The UGH and the OH NO’s of Saints Row IV

With all the good that is going on within the game, there are some not-so-great things either.
First up are the MEHs. One of the things I loved to do is Saints Row The Third was steal ALL the cars and pimp them out with my own personal style. While Rim Jobs is readily available for you to do this, it is no longer a necessity. With superpowers at your disposal you’ll hardly invest any of that cache you accumulate into a car collection. This is not a horrible thing, but will probably be the thing you neglect the most during your time in Steelport. Another MEH comes in the form of some frame rate issues. There isn’t a current gen game out there that doesn’t experience frame rate problems from time to time. It is really only an annoyance when you are racing a countdown clock. The last MEH I had was during some of the loading screens. During a loading screen an audio track will play. It is one of Keith David’s audio logs. Players may get different ones. Currently I’m not sure that is intentional or not. Initially, I thought I would hear different audio logs during the loading screens. I was wrong. I get Keith David. All day everyday.

Next comes the UGHs. There are only two UGHs in the game for me. At the time this review goes live there has been no resolution to this issue. While playing around with customization –that thing I personally love to do in this game– I found that some of my taunts and compliments no longer worked. At the same time, I realized the ability to hear any pitch changes being made to the character’s voice were also no longer working. Once I returned from the customization station I would be able to hear the result. Needless to say, I was disappoint. The second UGH would happen during long bits of dialogue. Sometimes two or three characters would be trying to talk and ultimately all the audio tracks would stop. This left me unaware of the conversation and annoyed as all get out. I had a sad.

Lastly comes the OH NO’s of Saints Row IV. While the UGHs were enough to get my anger sharks swimming, the OH NO’s put me into a full panda rage. There were several issues where during a huge fight where the character would be knocked into a building or a wall and would be stuck inside with no way out. Primarily, this seemed to only happen during Super Fight Training and one of the super awesome loyalty missions that comes later in the game. (I will not spoil it…WILL.NOT.SPOIL.IT.) So far the only way to deal with these glitches is to restart the mission from scratch.
A similar thing happened during the boss fight with Veteran Child. Fighting any of his clones near his DJ base of operations will knock him off his stage making the completion cutscene for the quest impossible to finish. The only way to avoid that particular glitch is to draw all the heat away from his stage. This glitch isn’t something gamers will inherently figure out. It took me several attempts before I caught on to the solution.

The Rating

Saints Row IV is a massive love letter to video games – chuck full of homages, inside jokes, references to popular memes, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. It is delivered in a way that will make people laugh – at times, belly laugh wanting more when you complete it. Franchise fans will enjoy the new features while being about to revisit mechanics that they’ve enjoyed from Saints Rows passed. Newcomers will discover the ridiculousness, slapstick, button-mashing fun of Saints and love it.

Saints Row IV gets a BUY THIS GAME and a WOULDN’T SUCK AS A GIFT rating. It deserves to be a part of either your XBOX360, PS3 or PC game collection. There are several collector editions out there for grabs if you have the cash. The “Super Dangerous WUB WUB” Edition will cost you 99.99 USD, but the goodies you’ll get with it are worth it. One – if not– two of them will go WUB WUB BRAWM BRAWM WUB WUB. (You get the idea.) The “Commander in Chief” edition will have you wearing the nation’s colors and will give you enough fire power to make Michael Bay jealous in game of course. It will not set you back much either. Make sure you take advantage of the Season’s Pass – which is always a good way to make sure you get the DLC the minute it’s available. You can order it online at places like Amazon, in any video game retail store like Game Stop or download it digitally via the Playstation Store or the XBOX Marketplace for the simple price of 59.99 USD.

It is your patriotic duty…

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