Saints Row 4 preview: all the president's superpowers

I can pinpoint the exact moment during the hands-off presentation of Saints Row 4 that I felt utterly reassured. The prior game was an absolute gem, and I wanted to know that Volition hadn't lost that humorous spark. That point came when, speaking on the new alien enemies, the smattering of games press gathered at PAX East was told: "It's been fun coming up with a new enemy type that's capable of dealing with the president and all of his superpowers."

Because in the world of Saints Row, in which each game dares itself to top the last in terms of utter absurdity, of course the gang member turned leader turned celebrity then becomes the President of the United States. And of course the president has superpowers. Volition has somehow managed to turn this ridiculous premise into the culmination of the Boss' character arc.

In the case of Saints Row 4, these superpowers are granted by a prison gone wrong. The new alien enemies have captured the President and his (or her) cadre of Saints in a virtual world in order to wear down his will, but the Boss isn't so easily broken. He soon learns how to manipulate and twist the code of the virtual world to gain powers far above those in the real world. Though Volition remarked that the game is more realistic for the brief period you spend in the real world -- realistic in Saints Row terms, at least -- once you enter virtual reality the powers come quickly.

We were shown a fast-running ability, in which the Boss plowed through vehicles, which then parlayed nicely into a super-high leap to the top of a building. An ice ability could let you punch an iced car and watch it glide helplessly across the road. Others include super-strength and telekinesis, and stacking the powers together is encouraged.

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Besides the powers, this conceit has also given Volition more freedom to try out new tools and game types that wouldn't make much sense in context of the real world. A mini-game called "Mech Suit Mayhem" lets you cause havoc as a bipedal robot, a step up from the similar tank game from SR3. New weapons include an inflator ray, which causes heads to pop like balloons, and a dubstep gun, which causes people to dance uncontrollably with its powerful wub-wubs. The superpowers are even exercised a bit in multiplayer, as a "Death Tag" mode grants a random power and lets players duke it out.

Saints Row 3 was supported with downloadable content, and Volition says it's already talking about how to continue that in Saints Row 4. The developer had a DLC roadmap laid out with THQ, and is now going through the process of sorting it with new publisher Deep Silver. It seems like a safe bet that we'll see at least some additional content for the game.

As for the lost pack, Enter the Dominatrix, Volition says it isn't entirely gone and forgotten. The company was working on Saints Row 4 and the Enter the Dominatrix expansion simultaneously, and said it would still like to produce a "Director's Cut" of the expansion sometime after Saints Row 4 is finished. It's hard to tell just how this would work, since both the game and expansion had a virtual prison as a major plot element. But Volition excels at one-upping itself, and doubling down on the gonzo school of game design should be a spectacle to watch, if nothing else.