Once, Saints Row was a series of sandbox games that were mildly parodic of street crime, hip-hop culture, and the gangster genre in general. Subsequent entries became steadily less serious, and by the time the third game was released in 2011 – painting the eponymous gang as global celebrities and gifting players such dubious delights as a giant purple dildo weapon – the series was positioned as pure, anarchic debauchery.
Not to be outdone, Saints Row IV finally does away with any lingering, trifling concepts such as ‘sense’ or ‘reason’. You’re now the President of the United States and aliens have invaded, and plugging you into a Matrix-like digital reality where you have ridiculous powers. The result is Saints Row by way of inFamous, a world where you can catapult yourself around the virtual Steelport City at super speed, steal alien jet craft, and unleash carnage on a level rarely seen. It is, of course, tremendous, stupid fun, coupled with a character creation tool versatile enough for Empire to create ‘Prom Queen Red Hulk’ as a playable character. Because why not?
Humour is Saints Row IV’s greatest strength, something made instantly clear by its opening riff on Call Of Duty, culminating in a play from Michael Bay’s Armageddon notebook. Nothing is spared from the game’s lampooning, be it 1950s sitcoms or American foreign policy, and while many of its gags are blunt and unmissable, there’s also a sharp satirical edge to be found if you look closer.
However, the origins of the game as an expansion for Saints Row the Third are clear. Although hugely expanded from what was planned, the overall look and feel of the game are alarmingly similar. The HUD and menu system are largely unchanged, navigation remains the same, controls unerringly familiar. Anyone returning from the previous entry may feel short-changed by the lack of real progression. There are also encountered several glitches – enemies disappearing through floors, bullet hits not registering, finished objectives not registering as completed.
Despite its flaws and a sense that the finished product is a super-powered paint job over the last game, Saints Row IV remains hugely engaging, if not terribly original. Perhaps one last guilty pleasure for this console generation.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen