A good way to describe the Saints Row franchise is visual decent into madness. Apparently, someone on the Saint’s Row team got sick of hearing the term “Grand Theft Auto clone”, because with each installment of the game, it becomes a little less grounded in reality. Sure, the first two rang a little more than familiar when comparing it to Rockstar’s flagship franchise. But as you played the third installment, things start to become unhinged as you basically get airstrikes, attack choppers, and bat that looks like a 6 foot wobbling purple dildo.
Perhaps its indicative to the reasonably short gap between the previous release, but much of Saints Row 4 borrows from Saints Row 3. The game is unchanged from a technical standpoint. The graphics don’t seem to have improved any, it uses the game tried and true gun mechanics you would recognize from the previous title (Which I stand as probably one of the best created 3rd person gun mechanics in a game), most of the clothing options are unchanged too. It still has you do a number of the same side missions you’ve done in the previous games, although the story implementation is slightly different than the cellphone activation system from 3 or the respect system from 2.
However, despite being a very close copy of the previous game the game play is remarkably different. To give a brief story synopsis: Shortly after the events of 3, the Saints go after previous antagonist Cyrus to stop him from firing a nuke against america. the successful mission wins over the American people and the leader is elected president. But after a press conference aliens attack earth and start kidnapping the Saints. After a spat, you are subdued and placed in a simulation of Steelport to be tormented by your alien captors. After a mission or so, your hacker ally Kinzie starts working her magic to help you escape. You then take the fight to the simulation to start saving the Saints and try to save the earth.
So yeah, we’ve jumped completely from realistic gang sandbox to sci-fi superhero sandbox and this is the major reason why Saints Row 4 plays so much more differently. While most of the mechanics play the same, they add a myriad of new abilities. In side a few missions, you gain a super running speed which makes you faster than any vehicle you can drive. Shortly after that you gain a super jump ability, which takes away any need to follow the roads. As you progress you start to unlock battle abilities such as a freeze blast, fiery explosions, earthquake stomp and so forth.
Each ability you unlock basically destroys any of the established conventions you might have known from previous Saints Row games. Before long you will be running up the sides of buildings, super jumping off the top of them and flying squirrel gliding from location to location, power dropping onto waves of aliens, firing ice blasts to lock them in place and unloaded clips of bullets on your helpless foes. It increases the speed of the game tenfold which allows it to move at an incredible pace.
Its story manages to be ludicrous yet relevant to the series. As you move through the simulation and find your fellow Saints, each rescue mission (or at least most of them) apes a parody of another popular video game series. They are fun little breaks that tell me that Saints Row has embraced the parody of their series. Through out the game I’ve seen parodies of: Text adventures like Zork, Call of Duty warfare games, Metal Gear style stealth games, Mass Effect style character interaction, Double Dragon like brawlers, and Atari style tank games to name a few.
Yet through all this goofy parody, it actually does a good job tying together the previous games story elements, with many of the characters from each installment making an appearance. Each rescue mission characterizes all the sub-characters more than the previous titles do, and you can also find a series of audio logs that better describe each characters motivations to the series as a whole. In all honestly, I wish they were fleshed out more because the supporting cast in this game has more back story than the protagonist does, and I would have liked to seen that more developed.
Honestly, I feel this exactly what this series needed. No longer can this be considered a game that’s trying to ape Grand Theft Auto. You can draw plenty of comparison’s to other games, but I don’t know if you can consider it knock off because its so proudly doing so. It’s almost like the Scary Movie of the video game world, only less shit. This absolute descent into comic lunacy seems to fit perfectly in the universe that this game has created and I feel its all the better for it. For some it may be a one and done, for others it will be a nonstop grind for all the collectibles, but either way? I’d go on a limb to say its the best one in the franchise.