If you were to try and think of a more radical change from sequel to sequel it would be very hard to compete with the Saints Row Franchise. However, the core reason this still works is that the progression, however insane it might feel at the time, is simply leaving no holds barred with the universe they have made, and taking each sequel up to 11 each time. From small time street hustler, to ruler of Stillwater’s crime families, to mega media mogul as you take down the bosses of Steelport, to this latest installment, where the ever unnamed and variably appearing Boss is now the president of the United States of America, and has to fight off an alien invasion. And its just as amazing as that sounds. Oh, and you also get superpowers, did I forget to mention that?
Saints Row started out as a fairly generic GTA clone, but whereas GTA then veered off into increasing seriousness and realism, Saints Row decided to go in the opposite direction, and up the humor and insanity more and more each time. I’d say this has worked very well for them, as we now have two great franchises to enjoy on their own merits. Surviving the crash of THQ, Saints Row IV does bare some wounds from this tragedy, but not enough to stop me thinking of it as a very fine game.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, as seeing something for the first time in nearly every situation makes it extremely hilarious. However, the basics are, after the Saints are contracted to defeat an incredibly generic COD-like terrorist cell, they win enough public support to make a run for the White House. This campaign is alluded to throughout the game, but the main point starts at a press conference where your character is giving a speech as president, only for the alien Zin empire to attack, which sets the game in motion. The beauty of this game is its own mixture of outright parodies of serious games such as COD, Metal Gear Solid, and so on, and its own unique, sometimes juvenile, but still incredibly fun sense of humor.
The greatest addition to gameplay is having superpowers, which however sadly they make vehicles almost useless, are so much fun on their own that you will barely notice. Your basic skills are superspeed and superjumping, which mixed together with various combat powers earned later on, might in fact make the superpower elements of this game one of the best in the superhero game genre. The downside of these is that the world does feel somewhat smaller, and being that it is Steelport from the previous game again, it might seem as though this game has a smaller scale than what came before. When you start out as being a demi god from the start, there’s far less room to go.
The characters are all charming and fun to spend time with; worth taking out on missions if only to hear their banter with each other, and everyone is well characterized. The only downside with them is that, again, it seems as though very few new characters are introduced, and we simply spend time with the menagerie collected in previous titles. I did especially enjoy the contrast between the Shakespeare quoting alien overlord and your grunting violent “hulk smash” Boss. As for the missions themselves, they are all still very fun, involving the superpowers in either new or existing schemes, but the player might find themselves feeling like they’re repeating things a tiny bit too much.
There is also still extensive customization on both vehicles, clothing and physical features. The range of what your boss can look like is actually awe inspiring. I had a hyper-masculine Jersey Shore body type, purple dreads, a huge chin, green cats eyes, and a strangely fitting cockney accent for my Boss, and I mostly made him run around in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. And I didn’t even go especially in depth into my character. Literally hours can be spent in the character creator.
The finest point of Saints Row IV is that you’re never sure what you’re going to get or do next. From a gun that kills people by firing waves of dubstep at them, to a fighter jet shaped like a giant bald eagle, that brings “American Freedom” to each person it kills, Saints Row is a game that can be however fun you want it to be, and then even more so. The best part about this franchise is that we are left with 4 distinct titles that can each be replayed for different reasons, depending on what form of Saints Row we want today.