Every now and then, I’ll play a game without any knowledge or expectations of what I’m about to get myself into. Sometimes, that method strikes gold, and I find a new favorite game or franchise that I probably wouldn’t have thought I’d be a fan of. Take Saints Row IV, for example – a random addition to my GameFly queue because I had heard the name being mentioned here and there. Now, I’ve never really gotten into “crime” game – not because I’m against violent games, or mature content or whatever. I just never thought I’d find it interesting. I was wrong. Full disclosure, Saints Row IV is, from what I’ve gathered, not your typical open world “crime” game. Mainly because of the aliens and the super powers, but good lord did I have a blast. This game was so awesome, within the first half hour of playing, I immediately regretted my lack of interest in GTA. So come along with me now, down a path of redemption and discovery, as I review Saints Row IV, and open a new chapter on my gaming career (it’s exciting stuff).
Alright, so I’m going to review this strictly as its own game. I haven’t played any of the previous Saints Row titles, or even GTA (except for a few hours of Vice City, and that was mostly just stealing cars and crashing them). The game starts out with you controlling a person (who turns out to be The Boss) as you sneak around a bunker of sorts, shooting terrorists and chasing some guy named Cyrus. You fight your way through in a typical third person shooter way, complete with quick-button scenarios, until the bad dude launches a nuke. Then, you leap through a window, grab ahold of the nuke, and climb it while it’s launching into space – disabling it’s functionality by ripping out cables and computer parts. The best part? Aerosmith’s Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing is playing in the background. I chuckled. Ok, I laughed.
Needless to say, you save the United States by sending the nuke veering into space, which leads to you being elected as President, because why not? This is basically where the real game starts. You’re The Boss (the leader of the Saints), your homies are your cabinet, and the White House has become the White Crib. And then – of course – aliens invade, they take your friends and many other humans hostage, you fight them, the lead alien defeats you, and you wake up in a 1950’s scenario where there’s no swearing, everyone drives perfectly, and laugh tracks are most definitely included.
From here, you manage to break out of the simulation by overloading it with your vulgarity, escape an alien ship wearing no clothes at all, and hitch a ride on your geeky friend’s hijacked alien vessel where you fly away to safety. Yes, all of this happens within the first hours of gameplay. The story is loaded with hilarious dialogue, one-liners, references to pop culture, self references and enough puns and slang words to keep you laughing for days. I suppose if you feel yourself too mature for such things, you won’t find much enjoyment from the game, but sometimes you need to set that mantle of maturity aside, and just giggle when your character sprints towards an alien and punches him in the balls.
Since the game is still relatively new, I won’t spoil too much, but throughout the course of the story, there are two major paths. The first is rescuing your crew, so that you can defeat Zinyak (the evil alien overlord), and hopefully somehow save humanity. The second path is a series of missions that each of your rescued homies will ask you to do within the simulated Steelport city/prison. Oh yeah, most of the game takes place inside a computer simulation – that’s why you have super powers. The game is insane in the best way possible. As the story progresses, you’ll not only unlock more stuff (powers, weapons, cars, abilities, etc), you’ll also learn more about just what the hell is going on, and a little bit about the history of the characters (which is awesome for people who had never played a Saints Row game, like me). However, the best part of the story is just how gripping it is. I never would have thought that a game which includes the ability to recruit hookers as followers and offers the choice to bang each and every one of your crew to offer such a rich, compelling story. But it did. It uses sly humor, over the top humor, and drama to create a story that’s as close to perfection as anything out there. It’s not going to make you cry, and it definitely won’t make the world a better place with its underlying messages, but it is entertaining as hell.
Now, as far as the gameplay goes, I’ll start out by saying this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a video game. No exaggeration. On the surface, it seems simple – run around, steal cars, shoot bad guys (and the occasional bystander because why not), and earn money. That is a major part, but since the game takes place in a computer simulation, there’s really nothing you can’t do. Super speed? Check. Ability to jump over buildings? Oh yeah. Super stomps, telekinesis, and mind control? For sure. You unlock more abilities as the game goes on and as you complete more missions. These missions involve throwing yourself into traffic and harnessing the power of Rag Doll Physics to rack up points, or driving a tank through the city and causing millions of dollars worth of damage, or even using your super speed to race up and down the streets. Then, there are smaller “mini missions” that pop up where you can enter a small area, be ambushed by a squad of aliens, and either run away or destroy them. You can also hack stores to earn money, convert huge tower-things to be under your control, customize your looks and cars and weapons and powers and clothes, and so much more. Just…just so much more. I’m not saying this is Skyrim with sports cars and hookers…but it’s closer than you would think. Actually, it’s a combination of GTA, the movie Idiocracy, a hefty dose of ecstasy, and probably the previous Saints Row titles.
The graphics and sounds were just as awesome. The soundtrack has something like 120 real songs, split into five or six different radio station formats (rap, electronica, classical, etc) that’ll provide the tunes for your destructive ways. There’s also normal city chatter and ambiance – birds, driving, conversations. Additionally, the dialogue was both hilarious and spot on. There is never a dull moment while listening to this game. Visually, it’s as if realism was never a goal that the artists wanted to achieve, but they came close regardless. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t mistake it for a live-action movie, but every edge, particle bloom, light shaft, animation, and model is smooth as silk. I didn’t see one instance of clipping or weird polygon bugs at all. Even the skyscrapers that dominate the city are detailed. Every inch looks “real”, in a slightly cartoonish kind of way.
As far as replayability, there is so much to do in this game. You can focus on the main quest of finding Zinyak while ignoring all of the side quests. Or you can complete all of the “loyalty” missions offered up by your crew, and then go to the main storyline. Or you can do everything, including every little sub mission, completing everything at the top level, and never feel bored. There is a lot of repetition between the side missions (hacking stores, killing waves of aliens, etc), but each one is different enough to keep it fresh (one mission will have you kill waves of aliens, the next one will have you kill waves of biker gangs). And, once you finish the game, you can jump right back into the simulation and complete whatever you didn’t earlier. In addition to all that, there are DLCs coming out over the coming weeks and months that’ll add new missions and hours of awesomness. And, there is a co-op campaign option as well, so you can grab a friend and lose track of an entire weekend together.
This game was basically a catalyst for me. Not only do I now want to play all of the Saints Row games, but I feel the need to atone for my mistakes and pick up every GTA title as well. I have seen the light, and I know not all of them will have aliens and super powers, but the gameplay itself was entertaining on a higher level. I’m sure there are some people who might feel that it’ overly repetitive, or too over the top, but the only aspect of this game that I disliked was finishing it. I wanted it to continue forever. A gripping, hilarious, and coherent story teams up with enough gameplay features to warrant a spread sheet just to understand them all, while perfect visuals and an awesome soundtrack adds polish to a shiny, most definitely insane package. As an added bonus, there is enough to do and redo in this game to extend your play time well beyond the actual story. Saints Row IV brings just about everything a gamer could want, and does so in a way that will leave you laughing your ass off from beginning to end – earning itself a stellar A+.
For this pairing, I needed to find a beer that was off the wall, strong, and full of enough flavor to match the robustness of the game. My choice: Thirsty Dog’s Wulver Wee Heavy. Its 12% ABV is boosted by an oak-aged bite and hugely potent flavors. Chocolate, vanilla, whiskey, coffee, and alcohol will detonate against your tongue from the very first taste, and threaten to kick your ass until you either cry uncle, or manage to finish the beer. Despite that, the flavors are quite tasty, and even feature an edge of sweetness that runs under the massive flavors. Like the game, it’s in your face and over the top from beginning to end, with enough power to take you by surprise, but with a sweetness to match the perfect humor of the game. Finally, it’ll take you hours to finish this beer, which makes it a perfect gaming libation. Give it a shot, but I take no responsibility if your tongue melts.