Remember the days when Saints Row was a fairly standard Grand Theft Auto clone? No, I don’t either, and I’m fairly certain that your protagonist has forgotten a lot of those roots too. He’s the President of the United States, after all!
Saints Row IV heads to pretty much the only places that the franchise could have gone after the ending of The Third, but it’s nice to have a little continuity, so as you wander down the halls of the White House to a press conference, you bump into all your old friends. Oleg is a bodyguard, Shaundi some kind of advisor, whilst poor Kinzie is trying to find a way out of the latest scandal you’ve caused.
This section early in the game is all about the plot, and since the plot is even further off the wall than The Third, it keeps the jokes and silliness coming thick and fast. Some trivial choices to make with amusing results are mixed in with quite excellently cinematic cutscenes, despite the slightly aged engine, and some nice and simple corridor shooting to ease you into the gameplay.
The alien Xen are invading Earth, and in the wake of their surprise attack it’s quite clearly up to POTUS to stop them. It’s the same kind of gunplay which was at the heart of Saints Row 3, with assault rifles, SMGs and rocket launchers all on offer as you reacquaint yourself. This before throwing you a couple of curve balls with an AA turret to shoot down incoming enemy fighters who, at one point, set themselves into a Space Invaders formation, whilst your character smack talks and bounces around crazily in his seat.
A final QTE battle capped off this story chapter, before dropping me into a digitally recreated Steelport. That is to say right at the top of the world, on a platform just floating high up in the sky. There’s no way down, other than falling or using your super powers.
I’m glad to say that the variety of super powers that were shown off a few months ago are absolutely spot on. They are just perfectly controllable in every way and somehow slot right in to the foundations inherited from The Third. Jumping charges up in a few seconds before sending you high above all but the tallest of buildings, whilst gliding down is as simple as holding a button and merges straight into a super-speed sprint when you touch the ground.
Or you can hover in mid air before slamming into the ground and unleashing a more offensive power. Telekinesis picks up pretty much anything and throws it, whilst an icy blast will freeze enemies which you can shatter with a punch, and you can always just set yourself on fire like the Human Torch and run up to people.
Most importantly, these are just great fun to mess around with, but are limited by a cool down so that it’s not too easy to spam your enemies. Whilst you’re waiting for them to recharge, you might like to play with the Dubstep Gun?
It’s just as awesome as it looked in the videos, it has a slightly finicky area of effect which could use a little tweaking. It somehow managed to feel too powerful and too weak at the same time, killing people too quickly, and not making enough people dance for my liking. The dubstep track does loop around on itself quite quickly, but I’m told that the weapon customisation does switch the track out for some other slightly different dubstep, so the novelty might last a little while longer.
While that novelty does last, there’s little quite like it in gaming. Alongside the Dubstep Gun, the Black Hole Generator needs no extra work though, as it pulls everything not bolted down and promptly disappears it from the universe.
As I ran around playing with all these silly toys and accidentally initiating bombastic groin punching attacks on nearby ladies, I was quite impressed by how the city looks. It’s now dominated by the red glow of the alien ships above, but is also transformed further, with some spaces now inhabited by a bizarre anti-gravity haze, with bricks and debris floating upwards, and others blocked off by giant energy fields.
Additionally the skyline also has some alien towers inserted, which piqued my interest when I spotted one. Labelled as a GPS tower on the map, they’re a nice little jab at Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry 3 in one way, but have much more of an inFamous vibe when playing them.
I have no doubt that it’s an addition which will polarise opinions, since it’s far from Mario-esque platforming perfection, but I actually quite enjoyed the fairly lengthy section. Jumping was made easier by being able to hover and aim a slam onto the next platform, whilst sprinting up the walls was suitably disorienting. So they’re quite tricky and challenging, but I found it satisfying to get to the top.
However, this particular tower didn’t get me anything in this build of the game, but I heard rumour of a secret vehicle on top of another tower. So, I ditched the platforming approach, zipped over to the airport, grabbed a plane and just flew over to another tower. Having cheated my way up there, I chanced upon a witches flying broom.
I was all set to hop on and try it out, but unfortunately the game’s build broke at this point, and wouldn’t let me use any vehicles anymore. However, I think that little moment of gameplay says it all about Saints Row IV. Play it however you want, using ridiculous weaponry, super powers and vehicles in a playground full of silliness.
I know that I for one will be gorging myself on its nonsense this August.