Good news, this review is spoiler-free! Obviously whatever has been shown in promotional material will be on display in this review.
Breaking the fourth wall. Saints Row IV doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as it vacuums in all of reality and distorts it into this really dumb-fun thing. When I first started playing Saints Row IV, I was planning on doing it seriously. What I mean by that was my first introduction to SR4 was at PAX East 2013, where I saw a preview build of really cool super-hero-type shit happening. To get an idea of what that was like, I can show you a promo image:
But after messing with the character creation utility and seeing how absolutely bizarre you can make your avatar, I decided to just max everything to 100 on the detail sliders and have the American flag tattooed to my face with some pig-tails. Fun-fact, everything set to 100 with pigtails minus the tattoo pretty much makes your avatar look like Carrot Top.
So, silly. Back to the fourth wall vacuum I was talking about earlier, SR4 does so many things right with the dumbest things ever. Perhaps this is something only I have done, but my cousin and I used to sit down and fill out composition books with game ideas. We’d spit-ball different ideas around until we finally came down to a certain idea. We actually had the idea of GTA3 before GTA even came out, but it didn’t matter naturally because we didn’t do anything with it nor would we have been able to during the SNES era anyway. But for sure, if we kept spit-balling different game ideas, eventually we would have wanted to do more and more until eventually we’d have the idea for Saints Row 4. The idea I’m trying to get across here, is these perfect-dumb ideas you’d have with friends and would want to play in a game is completely present in SR4.
It’s with no stretch of the imagination that pulling off this feat would be incredibly hard. Gags and the like are these one-off things that have to be executed perfectly for them to be effective. Stupid gameplay mechanics have to be tight to continue to make the overall game fun to play. And this is where I have to give kudos to Volition here. Which is going to be a little rough for me because I’ve been held at virtual knife-point if I revealed any spoilers within this review. So, as I’ve said earlier on in this article, I will avoid spoilers.
Licensed music is hit or miss in video games. And I think it’s exactly this tangible thought that makes the licensed music in Saints Row 4 so damn perfect. On multiple occasions, licensed music is used exquisitely, so damn good in fact, it’s use would make a brain surgeon golf-clap at the precision. It was during these moments that in any other game I would be immediately taken out of the immersion, but Saints Row 4 does this inverse wall breaking shit that makes me LOVE it even more.
It also doesn’t end at the sound track either. Like certain other open world sandbox type games that use voice-overs effectively, continuing along the theme of inverse fourth wall breaking dumb-fun stuff, one of the voices you can choose for your character literally is Nolan North. In case you don’t know who Nolan North is, he’s pretty much the biggest voice actor for video games ever. He’s had to have done over 100 video games and it’s to the point that if you are playing a game, you can usually spot his voice that it’s heard so often. But Nolan North does an excellent damn job which is why he’s so often getting gigs even nailing the lead role in the Uncharted series. But because Saints Row IV allows itself to be dumb, you can select Nolan North as your voice option and I very much recommend that you do because there are a lot of great nuggets of dialogue.
Which brings me to my next point. As you can see by the above .gif, in certain other open world sandbox type games, to hijack a car, you’d have to stop them first and then get into the vehicle. It would be much faster if you could just dive through the windshield and kick the driver out but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? In comes Saints Row that not only owns up to the sillyness, but actually embroiders the stupid as a core part of the narrative.
I’m obviously being facetious regarding all the ‘dumb’ stuff but I have to highlight how not only does allowing dumb stuff to take place, but owning it can make the entire game a greased monkey including bits of super hero powers.
Crackdown was an excellent game in that it allowed you to play in the openworld sandbox game in the same way as GTA, but it also gave you expanded abilities so that you could leap tall buildings and run fast and be super strong. And in all respects, Saints Row 4 feels like a really fun Crackdown but with more expanded abilities.
Similar to Crackdown you need to gather clusters (agility orbs, et al) to spend to upgrade certain abilities. The initial set of abilities you get are super jump and super sprint. Two fantastic abilities that not only help you traverse the area faster but also makes the entire game a bunch of fun.
TL;DR: Saints Row IV is an excellent game and easy to recommend as long as you are okay with sophomoric elements. Behind the dumb veneer lies a brilliantly executed open world sandbox game that rewards the player for not taking things seriously and just enjoying the game. Every aspect of the open world’s mechanics are carefully executed to the point of almost being hidden. Subtle cues either directly on game elements or reflected in the mini-map ease any sort of frustration about where you should be going next. Saints Row 4 basks in being outrageous but somehow manages not to be consumed by it and actually propels the overall narrative using some bizarre reverse fourth wall breaking technique. You should expect the game to expect the player to understand the references on pop-culture and find yourself enjoying it. Normally I would expect this to fall flat on it’s face. Ironically, and perhaps uniquely, Saints Row 4 pulls it off in stride.
Verdict: 9/10: Saint’s Row IV sits atop Satan’s Ladder next to that heavenly ambrosia known as Donkey Beer.