In the first hour of Saints Row IV you punch a rocket out of the sky, become the POTUS without a vote, cure cancer or world hunger, and get abducted by an effete alien and dropped into your personal simulated hell - a peaceful mid-American town in the 1950s. Your innate psychotic chaos disrupts that scenario, so then it drops you into an alien-infested simulation of Steelport. You can then subvert the code to give yourself superpowers.
Saints Row has long transcended its GTA influences to be a worthy - if disposable - parallel series. One that's fun, sexy, stupid, and more concerned with self-parody than social commentary. This sequel sheds the Rockstar inspiration altogether. Cars are redundant, when you can sprint ten times faster. You leap, glide and dash up skyscrapers, because it's awesome, and it never gets old.
So other influences rush in to fill the GTA gap. The glut of collectible data shards is pure Crackdown overkill. The superpowers are straight outta Prototype. Your mission hub is a Mass Effect parody, complete with loyalty missions that give your crew special abilities, and romancing options that are cut brilliantly, sexily short. Power is an aphrodisiac. Superpowers give you sex at the tap of the X button.
Your crew have been spirited away to their own personal hell simulations, and busting them free is your top priority. For reasons that make a surprising amount of sense, considering, your superpowers don't work in these missions. Instead, we leap cheerfully from fantasy boss battles in the Saints Row III crib, Tron tanks, Metal Gear spoofs and a Double Dragon homage.
The main storyline is a fantastic and relentless blitzkrieg of imaginative hat-tips, and the loyalty missions are a great, optional way of adding a flash of comic humanity to the broad cartoon characters. Shaundi confronts her younger, funner self. Matt Miller comes out as a writer of fan-fiction. This is all good - but the other side missions are seriously lacking. As far as plot goes, they're all, "We need to test the simulation. Can you do a few arbitrary map missions?" Well, yes, we can, but we were kinda doing them anyway. Have you got anything more interesting?
Combat in the simulation is typically absurd: gunplay becomes one string to your bow, as you dash, ground pound, fire blast, and hurl tanks with your mind. Health doesn't regenerate in the sim, but you can win back health by killing aliens and innocents. It'd be morally ambiguous, if it wasn't a simulation.
The "awesome" button from Saints Row: The Third is also your sprint button. So killer takedowns are committed at breakneck speeds that the camera has no chance of keeping up with, and fast car hijacks are normally prevented by the fact you've already obliterated the car with your amazing body. But, like we said: who needs cars when you're an absolute speed demon?
There are faults with Saints Row IV. To put it impolitely, it looks like a low-resolution French Bulldog's arse. It's possible the game is an advert for next-gen consoles, achieved by making this generation look worse than it needs to. But it's so keen to entertain, so knowing, and so relentless with its ideas that you can forgive the odd dodgy texture and a lack of anti-aliasing. It's also so eager to entertain that it sometimes forgets to be challenging. But that just means progress is constant, and there's enough to fill more than 20 hours.
Steelport is a city where fun macho bullshit can co-exist with sexual freedom, zero prejudice and total equality. It's possible someone who doesn't buy into the Saints Row universe with such enthusiasm will find Saints Row IV exhausting and boring. Might we suggest those people attend a local museum, where the paintings of flowers might be more to their taste. If violent psychopathy is the price we have to pay for a world of awesome harmony, sign us up.
You might also be interested in this chat with Volition's Jim Boone about what the developer left out of Saints Row 4. Hint: here be dragons.
A flare of fun that quickly burns itself out
- Pleasingly nuts
- Funnier and cleverer
- Never lets up
- Top-notch finale
- Looks a bit crap