Saints Row IV Preview

Crackdown on crack

Saints Row IV is ready to go and in a month’s time we’ll be causing chaos in the futuristic dystopian vision of Steelport as a superpowered president fighting off an alien invasion alongside comrades who may or may not be dead already. If you haven’t been following the progress of SRIV, that might all sound very confusing. Confusing and awesome.

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First off, Saints Row is clearing wearing its inspiration on its sleeve. While the part where you became President as the leader of a law-breaking city-destroying mass-murdering gang might be fairly original, the alien invasion and the virtual reality space you’re trapped in is distinctly not. What we do get with Saints Row is a unique twist on this. They’ve gone all Matrix with the express desire to give us more power. No longer confined to exotic weapons and vehicles, within the virtual reality construct you can glide incredible distances, lift and manipulate objects with your mind, and run at Flash-style speeds around the environment. While this is all happening you also have access to all of those crazy guns and vehicles – if you pre-order on Steam you even get a jet that’s modelled after an eagle. Not the plane ‘strike eagle’ an actual eagle, with a beak.

How these powers will influence the way you play the game and explore the world is yet to be seen but it appears as though they’ve taken some of the best ideas from Crackdown such as upgrade orbs to hunt for and plenty of ways to quickly traverse incredible distances, while also keep Saints row true to its roots, with a variety of madcap side missions, an insane campaign and the return of many much loved characters. It’s hard to imagine how the powers will affect the gameplay. I imagine it will involved a lot more jumping around and super speed than using vehicles, but if that’s the case why are the vehicles even in the game? We’ve seen some spectacular novelty vehicles already but why would you get into a car if you can run faster and shove everything else on the road out of the way? Why do you need a tank when you have a dubstep gun? Why do you need a jet when you can pretty much fly?

Perhaps there’s something missing in what we’ve been told so far, a power bar or some reason for you not to use all your powers all the time, but at the moment it seems we’ll be using our bodies much more than technology and cars to get our dirty work done. The use of superpowers throws up some interesting challenges for the developers. How do you create a secure environment where the player needs to get past waves of enemies if they can simply fly straight to their objective and land in the middle. What’s the point of a race if you have super speed? I imagine these questions will be answered in good time but it’s interesting to note that there haven’t really been many games where you have real superpowers on the same level as you appear to in SRIV. In Prototype you always felt massively overpowered, almost to the point of boredom as there was so little character in the city. In Crackdown one, everything seemed perfect but something huge was lost in the second entry when suddenly jumping over buildings and ploughing through infected mutants became boring rather than exciting. Perhaps you were given too many powers too quickly, but it led to you just going through the motions and using your most powerful abilities over and over again for the sake of effectively dealing with the threats. In SRIV perhaps they’ve found a way to manage this, because a game without challenge isn’t really a game at all.

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Graphically it’s still based on the same tech as Saints Row: The Third, but that is still a good-looking game. Where SRIV jumps ahead is with the weapon effects and details, such as the Dubstep gun that fires a stream of wubwub – turning everyone around into dancing idiots until you murder them with it. The engine holds up beautifully in videos we’ve seen so far, an impressive feat considering the speed at which you can move across the entire map. We’ve not seen pop-in or texture errors at all, and while the developers are always able to manipulate the technology for the sake of a video, I haven’t heard of anyone complaining who has actually played the game. By now Volition know how to get the very best out of the current generation of consoles and they also know the importance of delivering a well-optimised port ready for the PC market.

Co-op mode will of course be back so you can join a friend in mech-stomping furry abusing rocket-fueled American fun an I highly recommend you do so. Everything’s more fun with company and the potential for mishaps involving giant robots and fireworks launchers is simply too good to pass up.

The big question for everybody is going to be: Have they justified the price of a new game? Saints Row IV is the price of a full sequel, and is available with its own season pass, and yet much of the game was originally presented as a DLC pack for Saints Row: The Third, a DLC pack that is now making its way onto SRIV as DLC yet again. While we haven’t had a chance to play it yet, I’m hopeful that it’ll live up to the requirements of a whole new game. It’s going to control very differently and the Saints Row campaigns have always been strong so I see no reason why it couldn’t be different enough to warrant a whole new purchase. I only hope Volition continues the excellent support that they showed Saints Row The Third post-release with regular expansion packs, clothes, weapons and vehicles. If any game deserves some kind of micro-transaction system, it’s Saints Row where each weapon is so unique and peculiar it would be worth a small purchase all by itself.

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Overall, Saints Row 4 is a fitting swansong to the fun side of the generation. It’s sufficiently unique nowadays to avoid parallels to GTA V and all by itself they’ve amalgamated everything that was ridiculous and enjoyable about an entire generation of games into one title. We can’t wait to play it.

Saints Row IV is out on the 22nd August in the UK on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3

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