Saints Row IV GOTC Edition

A Blast from the Past Review

FBT is a Puckish Rogue.

The Past

I loved SR3rd. It was like playing a game by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, at once a parody and a homage, the Blazing Saddles of gaming. And at first I thought SRIV was even better than SR3rd; The Boss becomes The President, aliens invade, we’re stuck in a Matrix-like version of Steelport and Keith David played himself. Best. Game. Ever. But after a while it got a bit too silly and worse, samey - who’d have known having superpowers would get dull? Once I could fly and speed run, I never got into a car again, and a lot of the on-the-ground mayhem that made SR3rd fun was lost.

Plus, it was a little hard to stomach knowing it was originally a DLC for SR3rd. I was paying top dollar for a bloated add-on? Now I think about it, did I even like it? It’s listed on as my number one Guilty Pleasure - is it? I know I had a great time, but was it a great game? With the 'Game of the Century' edition on sale, time to see if the President should get re-elected or impeached...

Still a Blast?

So SRIV throws us into CoD action where the Saints team up with MI6 to take down the leader of SR3rd's villains STAG and The Boss saves the world to the strains of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing, and lands, literally, in the White House as the next President. That’s a hell of a tutorial.

Our presidency is of course dogged with controversy; some accusations, like installing Stripper poles in the Oval Office, may have happened but we should focus on this administration’s efforts to Fuck Cancer or Feed the World. And then an alien force, led by Zinyak - a cape-wearing theatrical luvvie - invades and takes over earth, placing each of the Saints in their own simulated hell for safe-keeping.

Thankfully, Kinzie ‘I told you so’ Kensington has freed herself, along with VP Keith David (“You freed Keith David first?!”) and rescues The Pres, before sending us into a simulation of Steelport to learn how to defeat Zinyak. And how do we do that? By using hacked superpowers to retake Steelport and cause as much mayhem as possible. Well alright then.

Leaping into the air will allow you to glide for periods of time, which is the only way to travel, made all the more fun by us letting out a presidential ‘woohoo!’. Combined with speed run, you’ll never get in a car again; fully upgraded, speed is so fast you create a vortex of spinning objects in your wake, which crashes around you when you come to a stop. Heroic.

And a hindrance; running up walls means you can be staring at the President’s backside for an age when they get stuck, and if you super run toward a mission-critical object, it’ll get damaged or flung into the distance. Meanwhile, Elemental powers weaponise you - telekinesis means flinging folks for miles, you can shoot ice and fire, and create atomic-sized shockwaves. Superpowers in the hands of a President who installed stripper poles in the ‘white crib’? This is gonna be good. Lets not forget the outrageous weapons though ...

Smashing the hell out of Steelport with superpowers is awesome, as is fighting Zinyak’s troops, right up to superpower-resistant mini-bosses, but there’s loads of challenges as well, usually related to a super power in some way - Genki is back too; Zinyak is a fan and has Genki create challenges - a standout is levitating huge balls of yarn to destroy things.

The ‘survive this wave’ challenges are standard but spruced up by the simulation dumping anything from Zinyak’s troops to legions of Genkis’ (Genkii?) to corrupted NPCs at you. This games’ weapon mascot is the Dubstep gun, which does what you'd expect and is as hilarious as you’d expect, but the showstopper is a black hole launcher; when that thing is fully upgraded there’s nothing left standing, not even me because I keep firing it at point-blank range. Still fun.

In fact, SRIV is so much fun I barely grumble about it leaving the tone of SR3rd behind. While it's a slog flying about collecting glitches to upgrade powers, I never stop doing it and it’s too much fun to not fly; when I do periodically lose my powers and have to drive, I moan about it. This is a progression from SR3rd not a sequel and if I want to drive cars, I’ll load SR3rd. I’m happy being an insane Supergirl who can't resist the call of the stage.

While the comedy can be overwhelming, and now nearly a decade on, a little dated, this isn’t the forgettable bit of silliness I first thought; SRIV is a clever parody of overly-serious, save-the-world epics that all games seem to be those days - but SRIV has a focused narrative amongst all the mirth as well. There’s some surprising twists and emotional beats, and while the missions might be ridiculous, they’re as thrilling as they are funny. The final missions as we take out Zinyak are easily as epic as the games it’s teasing.

Still, it’s the funny that makes it; name another game where I can fly, live in a censored 50’s sitcom or watch Roddy Piper and Keith David have a fight in a They Live in-joke? And then there's the insane amount of DLC; other real world folks like Ashly Burch become sidekicks and there's tons of weapons, clothes and additional add-ons to make it all the more nuts, should you want to dress the Pres as a caveman or pirate, complete with Flintstones style car or four-wheeled Galleon. Bless Volition for just going for it. But the larger story DLCs make it even better, if that’s possible.

Saints Save Christmas sees The Pres helping Santa reclaim his grotto - it’s constantly hilarious and loads of fun taking out evil gingerbread men; it even has A Christmas Story references and a warm and fuzzy ending, Saints-style. But the real ringer is Enter The Dominatrix, which has so many levels of meta I can’t keep up. The Saints are interviewed about the original SR3rd DLC that became this game, which means them complaining about SRIV's filler missions, logic and continuity issues, plot holes and jokes about characters (Kinzie’s “so many Mary Sue characters”).

SRIV isn’t all about mucking around in the simulation though. We also muck about rescuing over half a dozen people from their personal-hell-sims; MI6 agent Asha’s is a pure Splinter Cell/Metal Gear parody, while Pierce's nightmare is a giant can of Saints Flow - but a standout is Benjamin King. His rescue from a SR scene is a great nod to its origins, but also features my all-time favourite gaming line; ‘so what’s the plan?’/‘gonna get the band back together then we take out Zinyak’/‘that’s not a plan that’s a goal!’. The team all have Mass Effect-style loyalty missions that not only give them superpowers but also impacts our final suicide mission which includes a terrible, self-aggrandising speech from The Pres that would have made Shepard proud. I can't play Mass Effect without smirking now.

In fact, Mass Effect really does come in for some ribbing; we can romance the crew, although not with the same subtlety or consideration - “I’m looking for rough sex and Kinsie scares the shit out of me”. The Keith David jokes aren’t limited to ME either; he played a character in SR I & II, something the other characters keep noticing, although Keith denies it and The Pres even makes a reference to Requiem for a Dream. The crew are all in awe of Keith, but one of his idle lines is him saying how well everyone is holding up while he’s ‘freaking the fuck out’.

The crew aren’t much help considering I saved them; despite Earth’s fate hanging in the balance, they’re are often found lounging about, playing cards, reading smut magazines that feature Shaundi or forgetting what we’re doing; you can be pestered by Zinyak’s UFOs and all they have to offer is ‘oh look a UFO!’. When we’re piloting a spaceship, Kinzie demands we do a barrel roll - when we refuse, Vice President Keith David yells ‘spin that shit!’ But the real scene-stealer is Zinyak.

The Pres is clearly outmatched but trash talks him anyway, only for Zinyak to dryly say ‘what are you going to do, bravado me to death?’ - His rage quit in DLC Dominatrix is awesome but the petty snides between him and The Pres are amazing; “It’s a quote from Macbeth!/Sorry I don’t really follow Scottish hip-hop”; while driving with Pierce, the two of us start singing along to the radio, only for Zinyak to burst into song too, overwhelming our sing-a-long and leading The Pres to yell ‘Zinyak butchered Biz Markie!’

SRIV is, as Volition often stated, a love letter to their fans and it shows in the same way Mass Effect’s Citadel was such a joy to play; it feels genuine, and for us; and that’s rare in Triple A games now. It’s as different from SR3rd as that was from SR II and how many series’ can claim to constantly evolve and deliver something not only new, but relevant? We end as the Ruler of the Universe, and instead of daft that feels about right for the Saints; its sad that this was followed by the shocking Agents of Mayhem and now the 'more realistic' reboot. Meh.

I’m glad this wasn’t just a DLC - SRIV is no longer a Guilty Pleasure, it’s an absolute pleasure and way better than I remembered. On the surface it’s a daft superhero comedy game where ‘with great power comes no responsibility’, but it is a lot more than that; it might have been released in 2013 but those who dismissed it as just a piss-take comedy are missing out. It’s awesome.