In a world where games seem to be getting more attuned with reality almost daily, it is important to remember that they don't always have to play by the dull rules of reality. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the cinematic approach to the medium that has been made possible by the latest generation, however much like in other forms of entertainment, escapism can require you to not be so challenged on occasion. If there is one franchise that has never forgotten this valuable lesson, its Saints Row. Starting life as a more than competent GTA clone, this franchise has seemingly got crazier and crazier with each new addition, and Saints Row IV is no exception.
Set against a backdrop of an alien invasion, the story simply serves as a device to allow some truly weird and wonderful scenarios but after the almost perfect balance shown in Saints Row The Third, has the latest edition just taken things a little too far? Despite pushing it almost to the limit in many instances, the answer thankfully is not quite as Saints Row IV still manages to feel like a Saints Row game, despite some significant power-ups.
Following on almost directly from the absurdly brilliant 3rd instalment, Saints Row IV seems to accomplish the impossible by amping things up significantly early on. Within the opening 30 minutes, players stop a nuke, become president of the United States and contend with an alien invasion, and things only get crazier from there. The story is self aware, reference fuelled writing at its best, and although it's hard to say that it is coherent, it still seems to make sense in that strange way that only Saints Row games can.
Before long you are thrown into a virtual Steelport and tasked with once again overcoming adversity. The difference here is this time you are able to bend the rules of this virtual world, enabling superpowers such as speed, strength, telekinesis, fireballs, super-leaping and much, much more. This in turn changes the whole dynamic of the game from its predecessors whilst retaining their charms. It's still Saints Row, but now it has a healthy injection of Infamous or Prototype 2 to amp it up and the result is a surprisingly successful one.
As fans would expect, there is also plenty to do here outside of the 15-20 hour campaign. Some new side activities appear and many familiar to fans are also present. However, much like a lot of the content seen here, the fact that it is recycled a little from Saints Row The Third will not factor as a negative due to the augmentations to how you can play that content. Trust me when I say, events like insurance fraud or Professor Genki's game shows are so much more fun with super powers and the same can be said for the campaign missions.
Despite so many positives however, there are a few inherent problems with this new structure. For starters you often feel very over-powered, taking a lot of the challenge out of many aspects of the game’s design. This new power level also seems to render much of the familiar content from Saints Row IV's predecessor pointless. After all, who wants to upgrade a pistol when they can shoot fireballs from their hands or throw cars with their mind? Luckily, there are enough new weapons that this only seems a minor problem and one quickly forgotten.
This level of power also causes a minor disconnect in many of the non-virtual world based missions. You tend to feel like you are underpowered when not in virtual Steelport, especially after the many hours of almost invulnerability that may have preceded it.
Another inherent problem with this franchise that unfortunately makes an appearance is the level of bugs and crashes. Saints Row IV crashed on me several times and without the game’s handy auto-save feature I could have lost a lot of progress.
When all is said and done, Saints Row IV is a blast. This new take on the formula gives rise to many new and interesting ideas and it allows the game to sink further into the realms of the weird and wonderful. Sure it has a few issues, and doesn't come together perfectly, but when you are running at super-speed and leaping over buildings, it's difficult to care about its flaws. There is truly no other franchise around like this and I for one am happy to see it back. It provide escapism like nothing else and genuine laughs throughout. For a good time, call on the Saints.