Saints Row IV Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: August 28, 2013
I suspect just about everyone saw this review coming, what with the Saints Row 2 and Saints Row: The Third reviews published a couple weeks ago. So here it is; a review for the M rated game, Saints Row IV. Curiously I cannot find the criteria list for the ESRB rating, but it will likely be almost identical to Saints Row: The Third with intense violence, sexual content, strong language, and partial nudity, amongst others. Some of this content will be contained in the screenshots present in this review, so if you should not be seeing that stuff, you really should not be reading this review.
Saints Row IV is an open-world, action adventure title with numerous RPG elements in it, and a great deal of ridiculousness. For example, the beginning of the previous title had you diving through a plane, entering from the cockpit windows, and exiting out of the back hatch, but in this game you actually start off trying to stop a group of terrorists. How is that ridiculous? To stop the nuclear missile they have launched, you jump on it, during launch, climb up its side, and rip out components to cause it to detonate in mid-air. Naturally before it explodes you jump off, without a parachute. Fortunately the roof of the White House and chair in the Oval Office are able to cushion your impact. That is in the first fifteen minutes. The next fifteen minutes introduce you as President of the United States, with all of the hassle that can come with such a position, and some of the perks. Enjoy it while you can though, because soon you will be thrown into the simulation!
Does Saints Row IV deserve your vote, or is your ballot best cast for something else? Time to find out!
Saints Row IV spawned from an idea for a DLC for Saints Row: The Third. I mention this here because the engine appears to be the same for both games, and this game's origin may help explain that. Of course in the past two years the developers have made some tweaks, but these changes are not always that noticeable. Indeed most of the changes concern gameplay, but that is another section.
Being an open-world game, the graphics are not the most detailed you will find in a modern game because of how much is loaded at a single time, and a lot is. The draw distance is pretty large, and definitely larger than that of the previous title, with multiple square kilometers being laid out around you when you are up high enough to see it. On the ground though, you will be able to see the pavement and some car panels reflecting the lights of the environment. Also you have some very nice volumetric lighting caused by explosions and fog; mostly the former.
Explosions are definitely beautiful to watch in this game, making you want to cause as many of them as possible. This time there are also different kinds of explosions. Of course you still have exploding rockets and vehicles, but you also have shotgun blasts that shoot out particles upon striking an opponent, the dark explosion from the singularity launcher, and the Dubstep Gun. Not entirely sure how to describe the Dubstep Gun's explosions, other than bright and filled with colorful particles. There are also some nice graphical touches, such as blinking directionals on your vehicles, if you are following a path and are coming to a turn. Because the game primarily takes place within a virtual world, there are graphical glitches that occur quite often, such as objects pixelating, reminding you of the false-world you are in.
Along with these beautiful graphics are some dated ones, from 8-bit gameplay segments, and one classic side-scroller beat-em-up. When applicable, your customized character is recreated in these other graphical styles. Cinematics are also rendered using your customized character, and selected personality, so what you create is everywhere for you to enjoy.
Here are my computer's specs so we can start talking about performance:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
With this build I was able to run the game at maximum settings, in a borderless window, at my monitor's native 2048x1152 resolution at 60 FPS, or at least near it. At times I did notice some micro-stuttering, as though it were dropping some frames, but there was never a serious performance hit. The only actual graphical bug I have noticed is occasionally facial animations will not occur when a character is speaking. There are also instances of clothing clipping through bodies, but generally I forgive games those (except for games that are supposed to offer the very best graphical experiences, but this is not one of those).
The audio follows a similar formula to previous games, with most music being delivered by radio stations, or a mix tape you put together. Occasionally specific pieces are played, depending on the situation, such as a particularly tense mission. As you are a character within a virtual world, the radio can be played all of the time, and not just when you are within a vehicle. Personally I found the radio to be somewhat quiet, compared to the sound effects, at least for the classical channel. Naturally I turned up the music volume, which helped, but then the music that plays at specific times was also louder, almost to the point of drowning out other sounds. I did not notice any volume issue with other radio stations.
Naturally the music and other sound effects are drowned out by the Dubstep Gun, which plays its own music over the worlds.
One audio bug I have noticed is that after loading up a saved game, an audio log will be playing. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but wait for it to finish. Also during battles with the simulation’s wardens, the audio of the warden and myself will become muted. Finishing the battle restores the audio though.
Something I have noticed in multiple games, but never as much as in this game, is a discontinuity between subtitles and what is actually said. Normally what I will see in a game is a word being pronounced differently, or simply being replaced by a synonym. In Saints Row IV though, the subtitles and spoken words can be completely different. Perhaps it is my human preference for my sense of hearing, but I found the spoken lines to typically be more entertaining than what I read on the screen.
In prior Saints Row games, you were a gang leader trying to dominate the city you are in by crushing other gangs. In Saints Row IV though, you are the President of the United States, and instead of having multiple gangs to face, you just have the alien Zin Empire to defeat. When the empire invaded Earth, they took you and other members of the Saints gang prisoner, trapping them within simulations meant to break their will. Of course your response is to break the simulation, which does not go over particularly well with Emperor Zinyak. In response he throws you into a new prison, modeled after Steelport, but he makes multiple changes to demonstrate his dominance over the simulation. With a computer genius like Kinzie Kensington on your side though, the simulation becomes less a prison and more a playground as you acquire superpowers (super user powers?).
The main story is pretty straight forward, with your antics in the simulation eventually enabling you to face Zinyak in reality. Of course there is a twist here and there, along with a fair amount of fourth-wall breaking, before reaching the end, but I would not say there is a great deal of depth to the main story. Instead it is the character exploration that has the more interesting plots. The other characters were trapped within simulations of their greatest fears, and as you rescue them you learn more about how they think and why they do what they do. You are also able to go on loyalty missions, which explore the characters even more, while also granting your friends superpowers, for when you call on them to help you in the simulation. Through collectible text-based adventures, some interactions, and the classical-music radio station you also learn about Zinyak. It turns out he is a student of humanity’s arts, so he comments on the classical music and even performs readings of classical literature from that radio station.
I should probably also mention that the story contains numerous references to other media, including prior Saints Row games and pop-culture. The references to the previous games are given some context within this one, for those that have not played them, but the references will just make more sense and be more meaningful if you have played the games already. The pop-culture references, though, require less explanation. I have spotted some from Star Wars, Star Trek, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Men in Black, The Matrix, and Leave It To Beaver, amongst others. Quite possibly there are more I simply did not pick up on or have not seen yet.
Not the greatest campaign story, but it and the character exploration explains everything and motivates you to keep playing. Actually billions of reasons, but that could be a spoiler. Where it really excels is with the interactions with other characters, as you do missions with them, talk to them, and have sex with them… including the robot. Also, the game has two endings, with the second only being shown if you complete all loyalty missions first. This ending, however, does not include the content of the other, so to see both you will have to beat the game twice. This is not difficult; just save near the end with at least one loyalty mission left to play, beat the game, reload the save, beat the loyalty mission, and then beat the game.
Saints Row IV has a Dubstep Gun. That possibly captures the temperament of the game quite well, as you are empowered to do crazy stuff, because the developers had ideas and made them happen. You can even acquire a superpower that sets off a nuclear explosion, if you are feeling particularly destructive.
Many of the weapons are your standard video game weapons; hand guns, submachine guns, shotguns, and assault rifles. Visit a gun store, though, and you can change them into less standard weapons, such as a block gun, rubber band gun, and Kardak Lasershot with the customization options. For the default weapons there are multiple customizations, but the special weapons; including the Singularity Gun, Abduction Gun, and Inflato-Ray; the only options are to change their coloring and not their structure.
All of these weapons, though, can be upgraded at weapon stores, with the singular exception of the Energy Sword. The typical stats of damage, reload speed, and recoil reduction are almost universally present, but the weapons can also have unique stats, such as explosive rounds, lightning rounds, and increased experience for each kill. This makes it worth experimenting with your weapons, to see if something you had not considered before is actually more powerful than you expected.
Some guns use ammo, which has to be picked up or purchased, but others use energy, which recharges overtime. This includes the Alien RPG, Bounce Rifle, and Dubstep Gun. For this reason, and not the audio-visual experience, I used the Dubstep Gun a great deal. I am a very conservative gamer and am always trying to conserve ammunition, so having effectively unlimited ammunition is great! Of course you can run out of energy and have to wait for it to recharge, but that is what the other weapons are for.
Switching weapons is a little less smooth than I would prefer. Using the scroll wheel to cycle through them brings up a menu, so you can see what is available. That is not particularly uncommon in video games, but in Saints Row IV, bringing up this menu briefly pauses the game and blacks out the screen. When all I want to do is go to the next weapon in the cycle, this break in the action is somewhat annoying.
Vehicle use, however, has gotten a lot faster, thanks to the simulation. Instead of having to drive vehicles to a garage to store them for later use, you can press and hold a button to have it added. When you want a vehicle, just pull up the Hub, go to your phone, and find it under vehicle delivery. It will appear near you and you will instantly be teleported into it, unless where you are standing is not large enough for the vehicle. This goes for cars, motorcycles, tanks, and aircraft. Any vehicle can be summoned at almost any time, including during a mission. Have to clear out some enemies? Go ahead and call in a tank. You are also able to get homies to join you in a fight at almost any time, which can be very useful when all you need is a distraction or a turret gunner.
While vehicles are definitely useful for getting around and blowing stuff up, eventually their only utility is blowing stuff up as you acquire superpowers by defeating the simulation’s wardens. These powers include superspeed and superjump, which combined allow you to get past just about any obstruction. Demonstrating this is the GPS system, which sets you a path through the streets to your waypoint when in a car. When on foot though, the dotted path is a straight line, because you can scale the sides of buildings and eventually learn to glide for great distances in the air. This can actually be a little annoying though, because sometimes I do not feel like going vertical and want to stay on the streets, knocking cars around as I sprint on the wrong side of the road.
As you play you will unlock access to upgrades for your powers and other abilities. The regular abilities can be upgraded using 'cache' while upgrading your superpowers requires finding clusters, which cover the simulation. In total there are 1,255 of these out there, with some standing out in the open, and others hidden where you need superpowers to reach. To help you find these and other collectibles, there is the Collectible Finder, which displays them on your minimap. You unlock the Collectible Finder not by reaching a certain level and purchasing it, but by completing a specific mission, for which it is the reward. Multiple powers and upgrades are rewards like this for completing missions and challenges. (Finally I can get to the missions; just needed a decent segue.)
To start a mission you have to pull up your Hub, go to Quests, and select it and the objective. Yes, you have to select the objective as well, so just selecting the quest will not initiate it for you. Quests are sorted into Primary and Side quests, which is always useful so you know what you need to do to advance. You are also able to see what the rewards are for the different quests, so if all you want is the Unlimited Sprint ability, just look through the list for it.
By the nature of side quests, you may accidentally complete certain objectives for them before knowingly starting the mission. When this happens the objective is just crossed out as being completed, and you can select the next objective.
Unfortunately you cannot replay completed missions, which is a little disappointing because I find the campaign and loyalty missions to be extremely fun and exciting. They are definitely more exciting than the side quests that require completing activities in the simulation, such as hacking stores to take control of them. While the open world is fun to play in, it is not the same as the missions you play to rescue your friends. However, the activities can be replayed at any time and will still award you with experience and cache.
Before wrapping this section up, I do need to mention health and stumbling. The primary method of regaining health is by picking up drops that fall from the enemies you kill, instead of just regenerating. You will still regenerate health when you are out of combat long enough, but it can be awhile and you cannot upgrade the regeneration. This actually can have the effect of increasing the action of the combat, as keeping distance from your enemies also means you are keeping your distance from health packs.
When knocked down by an enemy, vehicle, or explosion, you have the ability to recover from the fall and get up faster. This is definitely useful as you can take damage when on the ground, and cannot defend yourself then either. Also, if you are in the air when you are struck, you can recover and continue gliding, or just fall to the ground. There is no fall damage, so either option works.
Some games are works of art; others are arenas for virtual violence; and some are just fun games. Saints Row IV definitely falls into that last category (though it does contain the aforementioned arenas). I beat the campaign in just 11:43, and I would be willing to say an hour and a half of that was completing side quests, activities, and finding collectibles. There was still much to do, so I kept playing (after I finished this review but not before I could make these additions) and have put in about another twelve hours to complete every mission and activity, and have found most of the collectibles. However, though the activities are complete, I am not done with them because many have Bronze, Silver, and Gold rankings to achieve, and some of the Golds still elude me. I cannot guess how long it will take me to win them, but that is a little more time.
That puts the total single-player game time at about 22 hours, but the game also sports co-operative multiplayer, which can add even more time by adding another playthrough, or using your completed playthrough to help out a friend. There are also special co-op missions that are actually visible on the single player map, but obviously you cannot play them without being in a co-op campaign. These do not appear to influence your completion percentage.
Additional Gameplay Images:
Is it worth connecting to the simulation, or should Saints Row IV be left to the mercy of the Zin Empire? Definitely the former. It is a very fun game that is well designed to make everything it offers work well together. Some areas could still use some polish, but that is true of all newly released games. What really makes this game fun, though, is its sense of humor, as it references other works and even appears to know it is a video game. This makes it an easy game to recommend to anyone just looking for a fun and crazy experience.
Be ready to laugh and raise an eyebrow or two when playing this game, with the ridiculous antics you will be exposed to.