If you’re partial to open-world games and think that the genre has been taking itself too seriously*, then you need to turn off your computer, and RUN – RUN, don’t walk – to buy yourself a copy of Saints Row 4 (SR4). Right now. It’s that good. I’ll wait. Back already? SR4 could be best described as the lovechild of Prototype and Crackdown, while drawing inspiration from the madcap combat in Just Cause 2. This isn’t the GTA clone the first Saints Row game was; it’s the cocky younger sibling out to have a good time. Not too long into the game, you’re endowed with super powers that render driving obsolete: it’s faster, not to mention more fun, to run at super-speed up buildings and then glide across the city. Grenades have been replaced with super-powers too, from predictable things like freeze blasts and telekinesis, to the altogether more fun shrink-stomp. Series staples like dual SMGs are joined by alien weapons like the abduction ray and black hole generator, which do exactly what their names suggest. Combat is fun and flows naturally with all these new toys at your disposal, though this is an open-world game, so there are only about 8 different kinds of enemies. Superpowers get unlocked by story progression, and are upgraded by collecting data clusters from around the city. It’s a lot more fun running up the side of a building than figuring out some rock-climber’s path of jumps to collect the shiny orbs in Crackdown. That said, there are weapons that would probably offend some people, so consider yourself warned!
The story missions are a love letter to video games past and present, running the gamut from text adventures to Streets of Rage and Mass Effect. As an older (ahem!) gamer, I remember a fair few of the referenced games from my childhood, so my trip down memory lane was a good one. Younger gamers might not necessarily appreciate all the subtle nods, but go into it with an open mind and you might just discover a ‘new’ old game or two. Side missions seem harder in this instalment – hello, Professor Genki’s Mind over Murder – but staples like Fraud (formerly Insurance Fraud) and Mayhem are as enjoyable as they have ever been. What other game lets you ragdoll your character into fast-moving vehicles for fun and profit?
Gamers who have stuck with the series will find many – but not all – loose ends tied up. It’s especially satisfying to come across the pre-recorded wisecracks between various characters when they’re in your (active) crew, and there is the occasional sing-along that’s truly epic. The two scripted ones, Biz Markie’s 'Just a Friend' and Paula Abdul’s 'Opposites Attract', are very immersive and almost had me singing out loud. Music choice in missions is pretty much spot on, the standout moment being a chase/escape sequence set to Haddaway’s 'What is Love' that has to be seen to be believed. Tracks from the game cover a wide variety of genres, lasting somewhat over an hour on each of the 7 radio stations. That said, on an extended bout of mayhem through Steelport, you might find yourself having looped through a station’s entire playlist, which says more about the addictive nature of the game than any deficiency in the audio department.
Visually, the game runs the same engine as Saints Row 3, but the environments are more varied because of the setting. Don’t panic when you see visual artefacts – scripted in some missions – or citizens going all Twilight Zone on you near “rifts” – there are plot-related reasons for that. Customisation is the name of the game in SR4, with most of the paid DLC from SR3 available out of the box, and weapon skins (new to the series) that let you look the part from gun-slingin’ cowboy to space bounty hunter.
Co-op in SR4 is similar to that in SR3. All missions and activities are available, including a versus-type Cat and Mouse mode. Steam matchmaking was pretty straightforward, though there weren’t many players in the middle of the night when I tested it.
SR4 is the kind of game you play when you’re really stressed, because it’s incredibly funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is madcap fun. But above all, SR4 is about empowerment. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise – if only for a few minutes, you can escape the drudgery of essays and become king of the world.
*and you’re not too easily offended!