Saints Row 4: Pixelized Presidency

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The Saints Row series, a comedic action-adventure shooter by Volition, has always been criticized for being too close in concept to Grand Theft Auto, with the street gangs and organized crime quests in a city setting. In it’s 4th installment though, Saints Row finally decided to really step away from what causes it to be called a GTA clone by adding…aliens, of all things.  Saints Row 4 then becomes a comedy-riddled, superpower-fueled turf war against fiends from space.

Key Features

Writing

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The Boss: As the player character, you are the self-proclaimed “puckish rogue” Boss of the international sensation street gang, the Third Street Saints. The Boss does whatever they put their minds to, even if everyone else tell them it’s horribly stupid. The Boss wings the most outrageous acts of organized crime consistently without hesitation, and it’s this attitude on top of being king (or queen depending on customization) of hilarious dialogue and memorable one-liners that helps make them so fun to play as. Being in the shoes of such a bombastic embodiment of chaos really adds to the games appeal.

Homies: Through the game’s cutscenes and missions, your Boss interacts with your fellow gang members, as well as recruiting them to help in missions. Saints Row 4’s basic gang is a myriad of characters from across all the Saints Row games. We have enemies turned friends like Benjamin King and Matt Miller, the classic Pierce and Shaundi, and the newly returning Kinzie. There’s newcomers as well, such as the gracefully strong MI6 agent Asha Odekar, and, well, actual actor Keith David. This diverse team meshes and clashes to add whimsy and absurdly hilarious conflict to the game’s story. Alongside this main set of members, there’s a variety of unlockable companions as the game progresses.

World: After the player character, the Boss of the Third Street Saints gang, goes from international sensation to the U.S. President, aliens come and begin to destroy Earth. The Saints, forced into space by the debacle, can only defeat the aliens’ overlord by destroying the virtual simulation he forces kidnapped humans into from the inside out. For the most part, you’re in a familiar setting if you’ve played Saints Row 3, you’re in Steelport, but a little more alien-infested with some weird space tech lying around, as well as some pixelly graphical glitches because it’s all virtual. There’s also a bit of time on spaceships outside the simulation as well.

Story & Missions: Saints Row 4 takes some time in it’s story to address the Saints members’ personal problems, especially since we haven’t got to know all the team members as well in past games. The simulation traps built based on member’s memories and in several missions, you often have to confront embodiments of past problems or current feelings.This includes subjects such as grief over lost friends, losing control of oneself, the fear of betrayal, and disappointment in the past.

Thoughts on Writing

Despite the story being mostly a bunch of tough people up to work that’s straight out of action and sci-fi movies in a comedic fashion, with a nice side dish of getting to learn about the characters personally, the story is well-balanced with the gameplay. It doesn’t overpower it, and compliments the high-paced fights and the silly schemes you perform in order to take back the world from aliens. There’s enough story to help keep you engaged in the Saints’ world if the reclamation of virtual Steelport starts feeling like a chore, and it helps progress your missions in a exciting yet neat manner.

Gameplay

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Customization: The ability to change your character’s appearance in SR4 feels almost limitless. After the game’s tutorial mission, you design your boss of any race or sex you please. The facial sliders, body shaper, face details, tattoo, and makeup options give a lot of room for an individualized character. Clothing has to be bought with in-game currency earned while you play, but even so, as shown in my screenshot above, there’s lots of choices to make the ultimate badass, freak, or joke out of your character.

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Weapons: The silliness and power of the weapons went out the window in comparison to your average shooter, and one-upped the joke weapons from SR3. You’ve got your basic guns, then your high-end explosives, but SR4 takes it a whole league further with a gun that shoots knives, a superpowered bouncy-ball gun, a lazer sword, and more. After all, it is a modifiable virtual world you’re set in, you and your team make the limits.

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Superpowers: Since, as mentioned above, your team can modify the world you’re in, Saints Row 4 introduces superpowers to help you tear up and navigate the virtual world to make it yours. Super-speed, super-strength, and other explosive and world-bending powers are granted to you as you surpass the missions the game gives you.

Activities: Throughout the game, you have to do more than just finding the bad guys and killing them. In both main quests and side quests, your team mates send you out to perform activities, which help you regain control areas of fake Steelport. Activities are minigame-esque timed set-ups where you use your superpowers or weapons to disrupt the peace in an assigned neighborhood through certain methods. These methods could include blowing up a million dollars worth of things with a certain weapon, getting hit by as many cars as you can to meet a certain insurance money goal, or something weird like telekinetic categorized basketball.

Thoughts on Gameplay

Saints Row 4 took that sandbox gameplay feel that it’s predecessors and GTA, and practically blew it out of the water. While there’s a structure and missions that tell you what you need to do, you’re often given the ability to complete a task with violent creative freedom. You have to take out an alien patrol with just fireballs and bodyslams? You have to go up against a gang of glitched-out NPCs but want to use just a spiked bat with help from 3 strippers? Go right ahead. Want to steal a glowy sci-fi motorcycle and ride it to your next mission location? Consider it done. The gameplay keeps you drawn in as you gradually unlock wilder means of destruction, and every time you’re given a goal, you may  decide to test to see what is the strangest, most absurd way you can achieve it.

This time, because of a lack of spoilers, the Bones to Pick section will not be under a cut!

Bones To Pick

Too Easy Too Fast: Playing on Casual or Normal difficulty can sometimes result in the game getting to a point where some missions and activities feel like a knife through butter quickly, specifically if you know how to navigate open-world shooters. The game gives you weapons and superpowers at a rather consistent pace of after almost every mission has been completed and turned in to who assigned it, and the pushback of the difficulty might not be enough to overcome how you use your new powers and weapons. Due to this, you can end up often blowing your way out of big attacks or activities in little time.

Chores: As mentioned before, steps in the reclamation of Steelport neighborhoods, specifically the repetition of certain activities, can feel tedious. You hack a store so it’s your property, you fight a patrol, then you blow up the city with some wacky gun or superpower to disrupt peace, rinse, repeat. The only thing that really keeps you invested is the introduction of new activities, the rewards, and the story progression. It can turn into a droning cycle if you’re not fitting it main progression quests enough.

DLC For What?: Let me start this by saying I’m okay with the Christmas and Dominatrix DLC. Unlike some games these days, they’re just extra content, not pieces the game needs to complete it’s experience as best as possible. (I’m looking at you, Bioware.) But the weapons and clothing DLC packages that cost actual money are kind of stupid and unnecessary. You really want me to pay you an extra dollar or two for 2 pieces of 3d clothing or 2 weird guns?  No thanks, make them difficult unlockables next time.Worst part is, they implement these overpowered DLC weapons into your inventory from the start, you don’t have to go find and earn them. Once again possibly making the game too easy to get through.

Conclusion

Want an open-world, action-packed shooter game with the creativity and silliness factor turned up to 11? Like to have a virtual destruction playground? Like Grand Theft Auto but wish it was funnier? Then Saints Row 4 is your guy, especially if you already played past Saints Row games. If you haven’t played any of the Saints Row series before but are okay with getting dropped into the middle of a game series, SR4 does a pretty good job of moving you in without leaving you too lost on what happened in games past.

That’s it for this review! Thank you for reading Pond Reviews! Please follow for more content like this!

Saints Row 4 © Volition Inc.
Official Art © Volition Inc.
All ingame screenshots collected by me.
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