Friday, August 30, 2013

Saints Row IV review - Hail to the Chief

Trying to describe Saints Row 4 is like trying to describe insanity itself, because for all intents and purposes, that's what it is. Imagine a world where anything you want to do is possible, and anything you don't want to do is also possible. Now take that world, toss it in a blender, add some bananas (K?), a few slices of chaos, and a dash of nud-oops, all of the nudity-, sit back and hit frappé. Once this glorious concoction of gleeful violence, murder, and mayhem settles, toss in some elements of The Matrix, any superhero comic/movie, Crackdown, and Prototype, and you've got yourself the newest Saints Row game.

Starting a game by fighting your way through an enemy entrenched stronghold, doing spinning-heel kicks and fancy over the top awesome moves, only to "sacrifice" yourself by jumping onto a launching nuclear missile, scaling it while it's in midair, to yank out and the controls, causing it to harmlessly detonate, sending you plummeting through the ceiling of the White House into the Oval Office where you casually put your feet up on the presidential desk seems like you just used up all of your story and the rest of the game is just boring. Au contraire, it is merely the first 5 minutes of what is sure to be the most wacky game you have ever played.

Crashing through the White House roof seems to be all it takes to become President these days, as your little stunt with the nuclear missile suddenly turns you from a crime lord pop culture icon into the leader of the free world. As you saunter down the hallways of the W.H., surrounded by your Saints Secret Service detail, through the intriguingly chosen decor, one cannot help but admire the rich, bright purple suit you are decked in. For most President's this would look horrible, but not on you, definitely not. The appearance just fits with the character and your memorable background. On your way to a press conference you also get to decide if you're gonna be the guy who solves world hunger, or cures cancer forever. FUCK CANCER!

Then a few minor details occur. Aliens show up, take millions of people captive, take over the planet, you fire some gigantic laser-guns at them but you get captured and locked into a virtual reality world. Small stuff, really. This is where the truly bizarre and the outrageously hilarious come into the mix. Your first prison is a 1950's version of the world. Everything is happy and jolly, everyone is good-natured and always smiling. You walk with the old sitcom walk, talk the old sitcom talk, even get a large stack of flapjacks all for yourself. It's absolute paradise. And it stinks. Luckily, a friend of yours in the outside world has found a way to contact you in the digital one. Following her advice, you start destroying everything and everyone, causing untold horror throughout the idyllic world before you. Well, that doesn't last long before the alien warlord (who for some reason is distinctly British) tosses you into a modern day virtual prison, Steelport.

From here on, the game gets even more zany, which didn't seem quite possible up until now. Your character gains access to guns, vehicles, and pretty much everything from the original games. Players can customize their appearance via clothing shops or plastic surgery offices. Once you make a small bit of progress, your character will suddenly be granted superpowers. Right off the bat you get super speed and super jump. Jump allows you to climb walls by repeatedly pushing off the walls and Speed can allow you to throw cars and people out of the way while running. You can also upgrade these abilities as you progress and collect shiny orbs placed around the world.

The absurdity of the superpowers you obtain is what makes them fun. You are basically greater than NEO in the The Matrix. You can't fly, but after obtaining maxed jump and speed which allows you to glide across the entire city, you may as well be.Tearing across the streets like Sonic on LSD is amusing, and jumping over a neighborhood would make Superman jealous. Picking up cars with your mind and throwing fireballs from your hands is just some of the coolest things you've ever done in a video game. You are the single most powerful force in that entire digital world. Unfortunately therein lies the problem that Volition may not have anticipated. The game becomes too easy. Why use a car when you can be like The Flash and just zip around everywhere? Why bother meleeing an enemy when you can just pick them up with your mind and throw them 10 stories into the air? The quests are relatively simple when you can just race up the side of a building and dive bomb the enemies on the ground, killing them all with a localized earthquake. On the flip side is the quests outside of the digital world you control. These missions aren't difficult by any means, but you have become so attached to your abilities, that to not have them makes the quests seem annoying. Easy though it may be, running around with these awesome abilities is some of the most fun I've ever had, reminiscent of swinging around NYC in Spider-man 2.

The weapons have gotten just ridiculous in this game. Standard guns can be customized to look way differently. An SMG can look like a Tommy-gun, a rifle can be made to look like a rubber band gun. A blunderbuss shotgun is also available as a design option as is a golden pistol a la Bond, James Bond. Adding to these semi-unique weapons is an entire lineup of alien tech. Where disintegration rays turn your enemies into ash piles, an abduction gun causes them to be sucked up into the sky, never to return. The black hole creator causes a miniature singularity, causing everything in a 50 foot radius to be sucked straight in. However, the favorite has to be the dubstep gun. Colored lights, dubstep music, people and vehicles dancing in the street... it's all so beautiful.

The game is not all that smooth however. There are some bugs in the game that really should have been dealt with before launch. Visual and audio sometimes glitch out, leading to a desperate strain on your patience during cut-scenes. One glitch set me back about 20 minutes, as the game would not progress. Thankfully it was at the beginning and it merely needed to be restarted from the last checkpoint.

While the game is not exactly perfect, it is a large amount of fun to play. Being an overpowered badass in a world that bows down to the worshiped Saints is an exhilarating rush. The superpowers you obtain in this game are some of the best lineups you could hope for, and even though they make the game almost pathetically easy, they also make it so much more fun. The character customization is a great system as well. Using super jump while looking like the Hulk feels like you're an Avenger, racing around the city dressed as George Washington is hilarious, and combining everything as the Fonz is just the best. It's got some issues, but lack of enjoyment is definitely not one of them.


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