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An hour with Saints Row 4: Inflate-o-Rays, ice guns and parodying GTA

Volition takes "Presidential powers" a bit too literally

Volition has done it. It's topped itself. Saints Row: The Third, in case you've forgotten, was an open-world crime game with a Tron parody, a zombie outbreak, a mission in which you calmed down an angry tiger by doing powerslides, and another in which objectives were handed out to you by an autotuned pimp. It let you choose between battering people to death with a giant, purple dildo, or shooting sea creatures at them from something called the Mollusk Launcher. It was stupid, delirious madness.

Saints Row: The Third worked because it took one look at its dour, po-faced competition in the open-world genre (sorry, Rockstar), and blew a great big messy raspberry at it, happily settling for madcap wackiness and fun in place of polish, original mission design or story. This time around, however, Volition has been facing up to a much tougher challenge: out crazying itself.

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Saints Row IV needed a premise that would let the series fully embrace its new identity as the anti-GTA, the open world where every street corner is a fresh opportunity for the comedic, the silly, or the downright bizarre. And we've got to admit, Volition has hit upon an ingenious solution: in Saints Row IV you're the President of The United States of America. Fighting a war against aliens. And you have superpowers. Okay, so that's technically three solutions. But they're good ones.

"With Saints Row IV, we asked 'You were the leader of a gang. You were a celebrity. You were on billboards. Where do we go from there?'" design director Scott Phillips explains. "We didn't want to just leave it at and say, 'Okay, you're still a gang leader and a celebrity on billboards'. We didn't want to take it just a little step. And so President to me felt really logical. It gives us some cool things we can do narratively."

Presidents, of course, don't tend to get embroiled in turf wars over street corners. Or even cities, for that matter, but in Saints Row IV the fate of the planet itself as at risk. You can tell this by the foreboding, dark red mothership hanging over the city of Steelport. Aliens have abducted the President, and placed him in a weird, simulated version of the city. This was the set-up for Enter The Dominatrix, you might recall, a piece of standalone DLC for Saints Row: The Third that was announced around the time poor old THQ started developing a cough that just wouldn't go away. Saints Row IV is that expansion in many ways, though its promotion to full game has led to some upgrades.

So that's the narrative sorted, then. What about the gameplay? The injection of superpowers into the series makes perfect sense, letting Saints Row IV apply its trademark humour to a superhero-themed open-world game. Still, the series contains bits and pieces from almost every sub-category of open-world game you can imagine, so we can't help wondering if some of The Third's character is going to be lost amongst all the additions. We needn't worry, as our demo shows.

The President is strolling the streets of Steelport. Even if Volition hadn't just told us about his election to the highest office in the land, we could have guessed: he's dressed like glitzy Uncle Sam, in a red, white and blue starred and striped glittery number that makes him look like a patriotic stripper. He's also drop-kicking and kerb-stomping any pedestrian who gets in his way: "The President's greeting his people," senior producer Jim Boone explains.

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Of course, as funny as it is to watch the Commander-in-Chief treat his people with more contempt than a Republican legislating on healthcare, melee combat wasn't really a strong point of Saints Row: The Third. In fact, as far as action was concerned, it was a solid shooter enlivened by some very silly guns. This is one area where Volition has been working hard to outdo its previous work: "We had a lot of fun coming up with strange and unique weapons," Boone explains, before proudly showing off some of his team's creations.

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