Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Saints Row IV

Post-Launch Review
Saints Row IV
Developer: Volition
Released: August 2013
Played: story complete with 96% world progress in 21h


Following the successes in Steelport, the leader of the Saints has been elected president of the United States... just in time for an alien invasion. The Saints are abducted and trapped within simulations, at the mercy of the galactic warlord Zinyak. Hacker Kinzie Kensington and vice president Keith David are the first out. They rescue the Boss, who immediately launches a campaign of destruction and revenge to save his/her crew and all of humanity.

At Launch

Review score averages varied based on platform, ranging from a low of 76% (PS3 and XONE) to 86% (PC). Reviewers praised the "gloriously dumb" humour and were impressed by the character customization and equal treatment of gender. The super powers and characters were highly praised, though the low difficulty was criticized.

Post Launch

I see one patch on Steam for some bug fixes.
A ton of DLC packs were released. A bunch are cosmetic+weapon skin packs that I won't comment on because there are so many. Here are the DLC highlights:
  • How the Saints Save Christmas: story missions where future Shaundi travels back in time to save Santa and prevent the rise of intergalactic warlord Klaws.
  • Enter the Dominatrix: story missions framed as interviews, revealing the Saints' scrapped plans for the plot of the game.
  • Hey Ash Whatcha Playin? Pack: Ash, Anthony, and Papa Burch join Saints Row IV as homies.
  • Element of Destruction pack: adds a new power element - explosion.
  • Dubstep Gun Remix: adds a second dubstep gun with alternate tunes.
  • Executive Privilege pack: adds cheat options.
  • Bling Bling pack: adds a new power element - cache.
I'm going to start off with the downsides, because there's something I want to emphasize later without detracting from the message by turning to negativity afterwards.

I had some problems keeping the game running. There's a common freeze bug that required a full reboot of my PC. I was able to prevent it by setting process priority to high in the task manager but had to do it every time I ran the game.

By going full sci fi, Saints Row IV loses a bit of The Third's wacky charm. In retrospect, with the comparison to IV, a big part of what made The Third's comedy so great is that it was still grounded in a familiar reality. The Third had such fantastic unexpected moments as training to become fearless by driving with a tiger in the passenger seat, fetish pony cart races with vehicles that explode for no reason, and a game show murder arena (IV has Genki but it's less funny when it's not new). The Third also had the great escalation/absurdity of bringing in a literal army to fight a street gang, whereas IV is missing that. In the transition to full alien invasion Matrix-homage last hope of humanity sci fi, Saints Row IV loses part of its charm. With that kind of premise the super powers and robot battlesuit and digital shenanigans are expected and regular rather than occasional hilarious surprises. It's kind of like... you're in a virtual world where anything could be possible, fighting the most advanced alien species in the known universe, and we're just doing The Matrix? However, part of the old charm does shine through in the opening sequence at the White House, especially when all the guns come out.

Re-using Steelport, and the excuse for doing so, feel like a bit of a cop-out. Other characters' worst fears are things like failure, their own creations turning against them, their past self, or a specific era of history. The Boss's worst fear is allegedly a world without the Saints, but in practice it doesn't seem to faze him at all. The Boss seems happy in the 1950s dream world, and seeing Steelport without the Saints

As for the story DLC, Enter the Dominatrix suffers from the same issues as the main story, as well as a new one. The premise of the DLC is to reveal the original plot of the game that was scrapped for being stupid. Of course the big problem there is that the story is stupid. The Saints' interview commentary helps a bit, but I got a pervasive feeling of "what is this, why am I doing this". How the Saints Save Christmas, on the other hand, is a lot more fun. Future Shaundi takes the situation extremely seriously and emphasizes it's the most important thing in the universe, except the mission is to rescue Santa Claus before his evil warlord doppelganger gains the strength to take over the universe, with the Boss making fun of everything because he just doesn't get the Christmas spirit at all. It's an obvious riff on Terminator but has more of that joking self-awareness than much of the main game.

Mechanically, however, the game is excellent. In terms of powers and gameplay, Saints Row IV is a better superhero game than most. The powers require some skill to use and have a lot of upgrade options, and most importantly, the movement powers are fun to use and improve with mastery of the system. You can just run around at street level, or you can sprint to boost your jump speed, then glide and chain jumps together to practically fly across the map, sprinting again when straight lines are available. The movement powers are fun at their base level, but maxed out they really make you feel unstoppable. The moments when you're sprinting past and through cars and leaping tall buildings in a single bound are the times when re-using Steelport feels completely justified - you're experiencing a familiar city from a whole new angle with crazy capabilities. If Steelport was your playground in SR3, in SR4 you are the playground's sociopathic superpowered overlord.

I have to make a shout out to the DLC power elements. You can unlock some extra modes for your powers - for example, ice blast can become fire blast - and there are a couple of extra elements in the DLC. One of these throws money at enemies for extra effect, but the real great one is EXPLOSION. The explosion element is kind of overpowered, but it's so much fun to use.

Side quests and collectibles are well thought out. Side quests are tasks given to you by your friends, who ask you to complete open world activities inside the simulation for a reward. The rewards are better than typical game side quests - stuff like new weapons, costumes, or powers, meaning actual gameplay benefits and new features and not just money. The other neat thing is that by completing all the side quests you'll be at nearly 100% map complete. It's a clever way to get players who normally aren't interested in optional world content to try everything, and provides extra rewards to completionists who'd do it anyway.

Collectibles are clever, too. There's the relatively standard audio logs, but some of them cover the time between games, or, interestingly, provide additional characterization to people from the first and second games in the series (who make appearances here as simulations). The collectible items, clusters, aren't just things to grab - they're also the currency for power upgrades. Not only that, but many of them require powers to find. Much better than the filler you see in some open world games.

And there are some great weapons. Upgrades turn standard weapons into cooler stuff - pistols with explosive bullets, laser rifles with vampiric ammo. Alternate weapon skins (many from DLC) are fantastic - tommy guns for SMGs, a guitar case rocket launcher, Deckard's pistol from Blade Runner. Some of the unlockable guns are fantastic, such as the black hole launcher. But the real standout is the dubstep gun, especially the DLC alternate Ride of the Valkyries version.

It's been a couple of years since I played Saints Row: The Third, so maybe this opinion is coloured by nostalgia, but IV just wasn't as funny or entertaining as The Third. Which isn't to say it wasn't funny, because there are a lot of great moments and ridiculous battles - it's just not quite the same. That said, I have to emphasize that minute-to-minute gameplay fantastic. There are some hilarious weapons, and the super powers and crazy vehicles or power armour are a joy to use. Open world completion can feel like a chore in SR3, but in IV I completed everything because the superpowered running around and blowing stuff up was so much fun.

Recommendation: play it.

DLC is pretty optional. I recommend the dubstep gun remix and the explosion element, and probably the Christmas pack. Everything else is down to taste.

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