At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo we had the opportunity to go hands-on with Saint’s Row IV, the upcoming continuation in Volition’s hallmark satirical sandbox franchise.
Our time with the game was outrageously fun and I for one was surprised with how far that the developers had come with the new release–they’ve covered a huge variety of topics with the Saint’s Row series, and now they’re throwing superpowers and aliens into the mix as well.
There aren’t many games like Saint’s Row IV; the game’s sheer explosive superpower-infused gameplay compliments the innate freedom of a sandbox game to deliver something that’s refreshing and unique–a game that seems to get better (and more hilariously enjoyable) the more you play it.
The developers at Volition have aimed to break the “GTA-clone” mold with their newest chapter in the definitive satirical crime-parody franchise, and they’ve certainly done so with Saint’s Row IV–but they’ve also kept the hilarity and distinct action-packed gameplay intact.
With the introduction of an amazing array of superpowers, a whole new plot arc, and an array of wacky weaponry, Volition has fabricated a delightfully devious game that melds the enjoyable do-whatever-you-want elements of a sandbox title with the outrageous and ridiculous to deliver a refreshing gameplay experience that’s all its own.
Aliens, Superpowers and the Hustler-in-Chief
In the game, players take on the role The Protagonist, the leader of the Third Street Saints who has actually been elected President of the United States. His vainglorious position as the self-proclaimed Hustler-in-Chief is cut short when an alien invasion sparks off a global war, pitting humans against the Zin Empire who are led by their ruthless leader Zinyak.
Zinyak. the Supreme Overlord of the Zin Empire, is a collector of the finest treasures in the universe, has had his eye on Earth’s resources for some time and finally decides to take the planet for his own.
Zinyak abducts the president and his entire cabinet and inducts them into a virtual reality simulator with the goal of wearing down their psyches and breaking their will. Instead our heroes thwart the Zin Empire’s attempts by imbuing themselves with superpowers and wreak total havoc in the streets of the simulated city.
The patriotic Third Street Gang is still active, even in the virtual confines of the simulator, however in the real world the Zin have all but overthrown the last vestiges of human resistance
Saving the World Saint’s Row Style: Gameplay Mechanics & Controls
Every moment spent in Saint’s Row IV was filled with riotous chaos, and much of the game’s appeal was attributed to the impressive array of superpowers added into the mix.
The havoc that ensued when The Protagonist unleashed his inner Superman and scoured the city with his dynamic superpowers was quite possibly the most enjoyable aspect of Saint’s Row IV. During the playthrough at E3, we sprinted like the Flash across the city’s streets, knocking aside cars as if they were mere playthings, and leaped five stories in the air as if it was just a small jump–just a few of the many tools of destruction at your disposal that really reinforces that ultimate badass theme.
In true sandbox style, Saint’s Row IV allows gamers to do whatever they want whenever they want. Do you feel like freezing a group of innocent passers by and smashing them to oblivion? Go right ahead. Want to leap from the top of buildings and deliver a super smash-kick to the vehicles below? Check. Along with the general mayhem, the game does feature its own dynamic main quest–one that takes players across an entire realm of parody-infused violence and ridiculous action–to partake in, but the E3 demo seemed to be just about inducing as much chaos as humanly possible.
The Protagonist wasn’t given superpowers just so he could terrorize civilians, but mainly to put a serious hurting on the invading Zin Empire. The Zin aren’t the type to just given in without a fight, though: they’re actually pretty tough and use their space-age technology to blast any average human to smithereens. Luckily we’re a superhero, so we can not only dish out some serious damage, but take that same damage in the process.
The Zin also have different grades of strength: there’s your average lance of Zin soldiers that travel in packs and zap away with their rifles, then you have the hulking Wardens, which are actually the Guardians of the Simulation, and have some fierce powers. During the playthrough I didn’t come across any Wardens–just a few scattered Zin troopers, and they weren’t hard to dispatch.
Saint’s Row IV keeps the general third-person view that’s been established by the previous titles in the series, and the fourth chapter also instills that distinct humor that fits right into the game. The humor is quite evident throughout, affecting nearly everything in the game from the immense range of customizable weaponry to the city’s billboards and everywhere in between–just about anywhere you look, that tasty brand of hilarity is there, spicing things up a notch with its wacky flair.
The most enjoyable aspect of the game was the fact that anyone could pick it up and play it and enjoy it. Saint’s Row IV so perfectly captured that signature superhero mystique that wasn’t played out by some epic story arc or led up to with a suspenseful plot: players felt like a superhero simply because of the powers.
From the very beginning I felt as if I was truly imbued with extraordinary powers that were hand-picked from some of the most well-known caped comic characters, possessing such superhuman feats as blinding-fast speed, the ability to leap insane distances, to command the elements like lightning, fire, wind and ice, and, of course, to manipulate gravity itself and soar through the skies. The latter isn’t completely literal, as you can only glide after jumping super high–but it’s still amazingly fun nonetheless.
The powers are wholly entertaining when used in combat, and provide for a huge array of combinations that afford for some pretty interesting results. Players can uppercut Zin warriors into the air, then execute a powerful dropkick to send them crashing to the ground, for instance, or a million other different power combinations.
Although the city in which the game takes place is within a 3-D simulator, it’s still quite expansive and features that living, breathing aspect that can be found in other Saint’s Row games. The environment is a sprawling metropolis that’s replete with plenty of denizens that live out their lives, in true bizarre fashion akin to the series. As always, you can drive any number of vehicles throughout the city, but as a huge proponent of the powers, I spent most of my time gliding, sprinting and leaping across the cityscape.
Although my play-time with Saint’s Row IV was somewhat brief, I enjoyed every moment of it: from the total mayhem that I caused with my superpowers in the heart of the city, smashing cars, freezing citizens and ka-powing Zin into oblivion just to name a few. Volition has created a sequel that’s refreshingly original–even if it does parody about a million other pop culture references–and the developers have found a great way to bring something new while delivering that distinct Saint’s Row flavor that so many gamers have a taste for.
While many gamers may be wary of the new changes and instead favor the series’ gang wars and GTA-inspired mechanics, Saint’s Row IV will most likely win them over with its sheer enjoyable gameplay. It’s the kind of game you can just pick up and play and have a blast with, or you can partake in its objective story arc for some more linear action.
Overall Saint’s Row IV was a surprisingly refreshing experience that felt like felt like a virtual vacation of sorts wherein I was able to play god for a bit and manipulate the world around me with superhuman abilities. One of the things that Volition does will with the new release is fully capturing that superhero feel by making players feel invincible, which can be extremely rewarding–but trust me, things can get hectic very fast and that feeling can wear off, which forces gamers to get creative and use strategic combos to win.
Saint’s Row IV is slated to release on Aug. 20, 2013 in North American and Aug. 23 in Europe for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. For more information please visit the game’s official website.
+ Superpowers are immensely fun
+ Combat is entertaining and rewarding
+ Anyone can pick it up and play
+ Zany, wacky Saints Row style
+ Massive array of weaponry
+ New gameplay mechanics break the mold
+ Infused with its own distinct humor
+ Freedom to do whatever you want
- Felt too easy at times
- Easy to get side-tracked