Saints Row 4 is a boisterous, bacchanalian open world game assembled from the very best parts of every other open world game in existence
Saints Row IV is to video games as hip-hop is to music in that it’s completely and unapologetically cannibalistic. Like rap music, Saints Row 4 is assembled from the component parts of anything its creators have taken a shine to.
If they’ve liked something, they’ve nicked it and incorporated it into their game. For the first hour, players may smile wryly as they tick off references and mechanics they’ve seen in other games and elsewhere in pop culture.
Saints Row 4: Features
In the opening three hours, players will spot references to The Matrix, Star Wars, Halo, Pleasantville and even The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. They’ll also notice mechanics lifted wholesale from games like Prototype, Crackdown, InFamous and even (while taking the piss out of it) Mass Effect.
Saints Row 4 is a huge treasure trove of pop culture and it shamelessly borrows mechanics, features and even quotes from a huge selection of games and films.
In a way, it feels like Saints Row was always heading this way. After all, this is a franchise that began by shamelessly cloning the Grand Theft Auto series (check out our GTA 5 preview).
When Rockstar decided to take its killer IP in a more mature direction, Volition headed instead, to the roots of GTA’s success and cartoon violence, witty toilet humour and larger-than-life characters became the order of the day. Now having scraped the last it can from Grand Theft Auto’s barrel, Saints Row has started pilfering from other open-world playgrounds.
All the more impressively, everything here has been adapted beautifully. Volition may have taken a lot of inspiration from other open-world titles for its new Saints Row instalment, but it hasn't forgotten the key draw of their IP – to provide players with hours upon hours of addictive fun.
In the first three hours we spent after the game’s utterly bonkers opening – which involved dismantling a nuke mid-flight as our NPC mates sobbed down the com-link and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” thundered on the soundtrack – we barely scratched the main plot’s surface. The reason for this is because we’d been turned loose in the city of Steelport, which as ever, is filled to bursting with activities.
Saints Row 4: Story
Well, a computer-generated version of Steelport at any rate, which the player has been plonked in by some aliens, who are hell-bent on harvesting the best talent earth has to offer. Sound strange? You have no idea. The pitch for Saints Row 4’s plot sounds like one of the most preposterous ideas we’ve heard for ages – and thankfully, the game is all the better for it.
The game kicks off with the leader of the Saints installed as the USA’s President (yes, really). No sooner has the game started, then aliens invade earth and after a brief resistance, the Saints are all kidnapped along with Vice President Keith David – played by Keith David – and their leader is plonked in a computer generated version of Steelport because… well, who cares?
Plot has never been the strong point of Saints Row and it isn’t here. The only thing you really need to know is that you can now set a group of enemies on fire and then drop a tank on them as ‘The Touch’ by Stan Bush hammers away on the soundtrack.
Saints Row 4: Gameplay
The open-world urban GTA template is still the dominant DNA, but Saints Row 4 has decided to throw super-powers into mix. Players can still wield guns, drive vehicles and customise their avatar with tons of outfits and tattoos, but now they can also leap tall buildings in a single bound, run at super speed, hurl fire and ice and even use telekinesis to chuck cars (and other items) around.
There are clusters of data scattered on rooftops all around the city and the more the player collects, the more points they have to boost their superpowers when they level up.
There are also some new and amusing weapons available to the player. Sure, there are new alien weapons and customisable fire-arms, but there are also items like the Dub Step gun, which fires Dub Step at crowds, forcing them to dance themselves to death.
There’s the Disintegrator, which does pretty much what it says on the tin, and the Abduction gun, which tags the target for aliens, who then beam them up into the sky.
Saints Row 4: Missions
As much fun as all of this new stuff is to use, it can’t detract from the fact that in Saints Row 4, you sometimes find yourself in repetitive situations. The main story missions are, for the most part, great but side missions have players performing a lot of the same types of tasks over and over again.
It also doesn’t help that some mission types – Fraud, for example, which requires the player to throw themselves into traffic – are carried over from the last game. It’s almost as though Volition concentrated so much on the new weapons and gameplay mechanics, that it forgot to arrange a lot of new missions to use them in.
Saints Row 4: Verdict
Saints Row 4, then, isn’t stratospheric in its ambitions and this is a genuine shame, because it’s quite clear that this is a game that is standing just outside the cusp of greatness.
While it borrows a lot from other games in the open-world genre, it puts its own stamp on things and, aside from the side missions, the action in this game hardly ever sags. Saints Row 4 isn’t a contender for game of the year, but what it is, is stylish, funny and consistently fun to play.
It’s also the only game in which you can use telekinesis to pick up a tank, run up the side of a skyscraper and then hurl it into space as Damon Albarn yells “Woooo-hoooo!!!” in Song 2. Yes. You are going to buy this game.
Saints Row 4 release date: 23 August 2013
Saints Row 4 price: £34.99 (on Amazon.co.uk)