Saints Row 4 review: suped up send-off

Saints Row 4 closes out the story in its own imitable style. Our review.

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The trajectory of Saints Row has been watching your player character, "The Boss," fail upwards. He (or she) is not particularly clever or skilled at anything besides causing havoc, but has ended every game at a higher level of power and influence.

In Saints Row 4, The Boss has now risen to the level of President of the United States, and of course, it's not going particularly well. The presidential premise seems to fall by the wayside once aliens invade and trap humans in a virtual prison, but I don't think it was just a silly throw-away idea. It pronounces upfront that your character is actually kind of a boorish jerk. This is an ensemble production, and trouble follows when the Boss forgets that he needs the Saints more than they need him.

That's probably why so much of the time is focused on rescuing and then fostering relationships with your "Homies." Oddly, the end result is an experience that draws many similarities to Mass Effect 2. The bulk of missions involve either rescuing your Saints crew from their own mind-prisons, or helping them wrap up loose ends in "Loyalty" missions. The recruitment missions are especially well-differentiated, predicated on the notion that the alien Emperor Zinyak has constructed a custom reality to trap each Saint.

Once rescued, you can even "Romance" the crew, and each of the vignettes is played for laughs. The romance options are admirably gender neutral, just like the personality of the Boss him- or herself. Only Keith David turned down my Boss--that scoundrel!

Being trapped in a virtualized Steelport is the perfect excuse to introduce a key new gameplay element: superpowers. Immediately, Saints Row 4 sheds its "GTA clone" legacy, by making cars wholly unnecessary: the first powers you earn are super versions of dashing and jumping, letting you traverse the world in a completely new way. As a superhero president, the sense of agility and speed the game endowed was wonderfully empowering, even if some of the later powers are a bit disappointing.

Of course, being an open world, Steelport needs to offer players a variety of activities. Saints Row 4 impresses, although some of them (like Fraud or Mayhem) are familiar from previous games. Secondary objectives are also the primary way to gather Cache for upgrades. Saints Row 4 stacks upgrade systems atop upgrade systems, and it's just on the hair's width from being overcomplicated. You can upgrade yourself and your equipment using Cache, or your superpowers using Data Clusters. In fact, the Clusters are are so numerous that obsessive collectors might have a hard time making it to the next mission objective in a timely manner, as glowing blue baubles tempt exploration around every nook.

As a franchise, Saints Row has never been as refined as some of its competitors, and that hasn't changed. It's still a B-tier open world game, and while that grants it some lovable qualities, the world and characters do lack some physical presence. The rag-doll effect when the Boss is knocked down looks particularly old-fashioned, which I found strangely charming. On Xbox 360, SR4 also suffered the occasional stuttering during some large-scale action sequences.

But what it lacks in technical prowess and budget, Volition makes up with humor. It can be a little hit-or-miss at times, but the hits keep coming when the game relies more on the studio's own sense of comedic timing than a referential bit. The writing is still a standout, with laughs coming within seconds of starting the game--and the less said to spoil the punchlines, the better.

Saints Row 4 doesn't do anything particularly new or revolutionary, and it certainly won't be remembered as a generation- or even genre-defining event. But it is a thoroughly well-executed absurd empowerment fantasy, and a fond farewell to its peanut gallery. This might not be the game to evoke essays on meaning and artistry, but I haven't had more fun this year. [8]


This review is based on early retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Saints Row IV will be available at retail on PS3 and Xbox 360. It will also be available digitally on PC on August 20th for $49.99. The game is rated M.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 14, 2013 6:00 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Saints Row 4 review: suped up send-off.

    Saints Row 4 closes out the story in its own imitable style. Our review.

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:04 AM

      WHY IS IT NOT NEXT WEEK NOW

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:08 AM

      The new numerical scores look almost guilty.

      evoke essays on meaning and artistry, but I haven't had more fun this year. *cough* 8 *cough*

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 6:09 AM

        8 - A leader of its genre, offering fresh interpretation of the form

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 6:33 AM

        I don't mind this at all.

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 6:41 AM

        I JUDGE YOUR JUDGEMENT TO BE A JUDGINESS I LIKE NOT

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 7:50 AM

        Work in progress but if they are going to use them they also need to get the reviews added to metacritic. I assume the numerical value was mainly for this reason. Same with exposure on neogaf they have every review listed here but shacknews is missing.
        http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=651619

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:08 AM

      Imitable? Surely that word is not the one you wanted to use.

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 6:29 AM

        Good catch! Inimitable, is what I was going for there. The opposite of imitable.

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:10 AM

      GOTY GOTY GOTY

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:25 AM

      I BOUGHT THIS YESTERDAY USING A $50 STEAM CARD AND TIME TRAVEL WILL BE CROWNING SOON!

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:35 AM

      Shouldn't it be "souped up"? I've never seen suped up. /off-topic

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:48 AM

      Waiting the Splinter Cell review!
      Thanks

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:49 AM

      In fact, every misspelling on Shacknews has been intentional. Always. We swear.

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 6:51 AM

      Question: Saints Row 3 had some pacing problems early on, with a lot of front-loaded "here's how this activity works" tutorial missions. Does Saints Row 4 avoid/correct this problem?

      Not that it really affects whether I'll buy it. I'm just curious.

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 7:10 AM

      make the score bigger, perhaps into an animated gif with flames coming off it

      more reviews here: http://neogaf.net/forum/showthread.php?t=651619

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 7:17 AM

      Ugh, so pumped. I love what's happened to this series since the start, with each sequel becoming more and more absurd. Next week can't come soon enough

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 7:25 AM

      YESSSSSS

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 7:42 AM

      Dubstep gun had me laughing, but I'm buying GTA V.

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 7:52 AM

        Can't get both?

        • reply
          August 14, 2013 8:14 AM

          doesn't work like that mate, you get to pick ONLY ONE

          • reply
            August 14, 2013 8:15 AM

            Then it's Sleeping Dogs if you haven't already played it.

            • reply
              August 14, 2013 9:18 AM

              Of this genre(3rd person, open-world) I've only played the GTA series and Red Dead Redemption. How do Sleeping Dogs and the Saints Row series compare?

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 9:19 AM

                Saints Row 3 was comparable to GTA4. I mean this. I mean every word.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 9:21 AM

                Saint's Row 3 (and 4) are considerable less serious and more about being wacky and having fun, while making fun of itself. Sleeping Dogs is somewhat serious, but still has a bit of silly / over the top-ness to it that rings of action movies. Both are great games.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 9:22 AM

                Saint's Row 3 is like GTA IV, except way more fun.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 9:53 AM

                saint's row is a more entertaining and over the top GTA game. i would argue that it's more fun to play and not as tedious. this is mainly comparing GTAIV to SR3.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 10:55 AM

                I've played both to completion (got them free on PSN+) Neither top GTA, but they both bring something new and/or different.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 11:38 AM

                They're both great games and totally worth playing!

                And this is from someone who ranks RDR as among the best games of this generation.

              • reply
                August 14, 2013 12:05 PM

                SR3 GOTY 2011 hands down best of genre.

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 9:28 AM

        Considering GTA V is never coming to the pc, what choice do we have? ;)

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 9:18 AM

      how the heck did this not get a 7 according to the new rules?

      "Saints Row 4 doesn't do anything particularly new or revolutionary, and it certainly won't be remembered as a generation- or even genre-defining event"

      "..looks particularly old-fashioned"

      "suffered the occasional stuttering"

      "B-tier open world game,"

      "a little hit-or-miss at times"

    • reply
      August 14, 2013 10:57 AM

      Just Cause 2 > all games of this genre

      • reply
        August 14, 2013 11:15 AM

        A game so boring you had to create your own games to make it fun

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