Saints Row IV is kisses from a puppy. Saints Row IV is a cold can of Coke after a trek through the desert. Saints Row IV is emptying your Halloween candy out on the floor and not having any tiny boxes of raisins in it.
Saints Row IV is life.
I said before that Saints Row: The Third is where I came into the series and, at the time, I didn’t think it would get much crazier than what went down in that game. Saints Row: The Third took a game series that was grounded in reality but with a foot in the ridiculous and just ripped that realism out from under it and pushed it into a vat of crazy.
For Saints Row IV, imagine that the vat of crazy is an ocean of crazy and as you drown in it, it mutates your DNA and gives you superpowers! Did that make any sense? Probably not, but it doesn’t need to make sense because this is mother-fucking Saints Row IV!
THERE’S AN INFLATO RAY THAT BALLOONS PEOPLE UP AND THEN THEY POP!
THERE’S A DUBSTEP GUN THAT MAKES PEOPLE DANCE UNTIL THEY DIE!
THERE’S A GUN CALLED ‘MERICA MADE UP OF EVERY OTHER GUN AND SHOOTS FIREWORKS AND PLAYS THE AMERICAN NATIONAL ANTHEM AS IT DOES IT!
THERE ARE BONAFIED SUPERPOWERS!
Centre yourself, Amelia. Calm. Composed. You can play it again after this is done.
So what’s the story tying all this together?
Shortly after the events of Saints Row: The Third, The Boss, Shaundi, and Pierce are called upon to assist MI-6 take out former STAG leader and last game’s antagonist Cyrus Temple before he launches a nuclear warhead against Washington D.C. The Boss kills Cyrus but the warhead has already launched.
The Boss has to pull a truly selfless act. The kid that joined the Saints in the first game, a kid that was too scared to talk, is now barrelling towards D.C. on the warhead trying to manually disable it by punching! Punching while an Aerosmith song plays in the background and your friends say their final goodbyes over the comm.
But the Boss doesn’t die. The warhead gets deactivated and they escape unscathed to the adoration of the American people. You know what that means.
Five years later and the Boss is the President of the United States!
While preparing for a press conference though, aliens invade and begin enslaving the best and brightest of the Earth, trapping them within hellish simulations of their own worst nightmares. Not that this stops the Boss. Breaking free from the clean-cut, drug, sex, and swear-free 50s version of Steelport that’s their worst nightmare, the Boss collects up their loyal Saints from within the simulation to end this alien overlords universal conquest.
And it’s all narrated by Jane Austin!
You see? This is what I meant when I was talking about the big vat of crazy! This is how you up the stakes in a game! Saints Row ended with you becoming the head of the Saints. Saints Row 2 ended with you taking over a multi-billion dollar corporation. Saints Row: The Third ended with you stopping the military and, more or less, legalizing your gang’s operations. Saints Row IV begins with your rise to the most powerful political role on Earth and the abduction of your crew/cabinet to be placed in nightmare simulations where you can then harness actual superpowers. Like, forget about how it ends, this is how it begins!
Though if you’re curious how it ends, you obviously become the leader of the alien forces and the most powerful person in the galaxy, if not the universe.
Honestly, where’s the next game going to take us?!
The narrative of Saints Row IV has a ridiculous amount of content that ties back to the three games that came before. Ben King, the leader of the Vice Kings from Saints Row, is back as part of your cabinet and when you rescue him from his simulation, you’re back in Stilwater, reliving exactly what you see in the opening cutscene of the first game. Then there are loyalty missions that are tied to people like Tanya, Cyrus, and Maero, former antagonists brought back within the simulation. You take the member of your team that wants to finish things once and for all with this past enemy and head into the simulation to do it.
Side note, taking out Tanya for Ben King’s loyalty mission involves absorbing a virus within the system that turns the NPCs into sex workers. After you’ve absorbed it, there’s some sort of residual effect on you and when you end up at a strip club, you can’t help but perform. It’s a quick-time event of button pushing that has you gyrating on stage in a tiny pair of underwear, a vest, and cowboy hat. You’re either going to cringe and hate it or laugh and love it. My reaction is always the latter. Especially because of how proud the Boss is of themselves afterwards!
But anyways! The story! Having this game take place in a virtual world was more than just an excuse for superpowers. It’s a way to tie every game together. Unless you’ve played all the games in the Saints Row series, you won’t see how much of a disconnect there really is between each game. Saints Row and Saints Row 2 were pretty similar, but the jump to The Third removed the realism the first two leaned towards, and then the fourth blew up the realism like it blows up the fucking Earth!
What are we, as the Saints Row playing public, supposed to think the series is? I mean, it’s even quoted in Saints Row IV: are they cold-blooded sociopaths or puckish rogues? The makers of the game wanted fun, the publisher of the game wanted something more akin to GTA. Thank god that phase passed. If I wanted GTA, I’d play GTA! But I don’t, and Saints Row realizes that. I mean, I love Saints Row 2 even though it has the gritty undertone of a GTA game, but there’s also enough craziness to break up the tension and, you know, aforementioned mercy killings.
Oh, poor Carlos. Still not over his death.
My only complaint about the story of Saints Row IV is that there aren’t enough cutscenes. Between all the missions you get briefings with a few short clips of the target or area you’re headed to, but as far as animated, movie-like cutscenes, they’re few and far between. It gets kind of lonely just rushing around with no cutscenes, especially since Saints Row 2 had so many that were downright amazing. It seems like each new game that comes out has fewer to look forward to.
Am I bummed because the cinematic value of the games is decreasing or because this is less times to stare at my sexy punk character? It’s both okay. I’m shallow but I also want a series that’s enjoyable to watch!
Like always, Saints Row IV is an ensemble piece. Your playable character, simply known as The Boss, or this time around, Mister or Miss President, leads the charge against Zinyak and his Zin empire. You still design your character and, if you’ve looked at my last two Saints Row, you know my character: male, Mohawk, tattoos, and the British voice option! How a British man was every elected Preside of the United States is beyond me, but I’m down. He’s better than He Who Shall Not Be Named.
And yes, even though he’s the President, I still give him a black eye. You think being POTUS would stop the leader of the Saints from getting into fist fights? He punches a senator out in the opening bit of the game for threatening a filibuster!
I wonder what the filibuster was going to be? Probably women’s health funding. Isn’t that what most filibusters are about? Denying women access to their own bodies? I choose to believe that the leader of the Saints is a feminist and trusts women to make their own decisions. That’s my head cannon and I’m sticking with it!
Because Saints Row IV pulls from the three games before it, there’s a representation of characters from everywhere. From Saints Row comes Ben King, leader of the Vice Kings, and Johnny Gat’s back for a triumphant return!
Turns out Johnny wasn’t killed on Loren’s plane at the beginning of Saints Row: The Third. He was abducted by Zinyak as he prepared for his Earth invasion because he was scared that Johnny could stop him. You head into his simulation, a 16-bit side scrolling beat ‘em up, and rescue him from seeing Aisha die over and over again. You’ve got your best friend back! And Ben King, but honestly? I don’t give a damn about him. Johnny’s back after a noticeable absence in the previous game!
Shaundi and Pierce are back from the second game. Pierce is pretty much the same as a character. Still egotistical and still the butt of every joke.
His nightmare simulation is pretty interesting. It has him fighting and dying at the hands of the Saints Flow energy drink. You end up fighting a giant, sentient can monster named Paul. The Boss asks an important question at this point:
“How do you know it’s name is Paul?”
And Shaundi’s rescue and subsequent loyalty mission involve the Shaundi that’s cleaned up her act from Saints Row: The Third and the laid-back, stoner girl that we originally met in Saints Row 2. Together. At the same time! They’re two different people in this game and you can interact with both. You take the two of them through virtual Steelport in search of a drug that gives you superpowers. Angry Shaundi hates it, calling Stoner Shaundi pathetic and to get her act together. She’s constantly saying how much she hates herself.
It’s bizarre but also really awesome. The developers heard the complaints that Shaundi changed too much and brought back the Shaundi from Saints Row 2. By the end of it, the two are getting along and excited to have superpowers. It’s adorable!
From the third game, Kinzi and Matt Miller return. Kinzi joined the Saints and Matt Miller ran off and joined MI-6 for protection from the Saints. I liked interacting with Matt a lot more than I did with Kinzi. She just rubs me the wrong way. I think it’s her voice.
And newbies to the Saints crew include Asha, an Indian-Brit with MI-6, C.I.D., a rogue personality within the simulation that you give a small, floating ball robot body to and is always extorting you, and Keith David. Now, if you remember correctly, Keith David was in Saints Row. But he was a character there. In Saints Row IV, he’s just Keith David the actor, selected as your Vice President. And of course, the main antagonist, Zinyak the leader of the Zin. You’ll find him reading Jane Austin on the classical music radio station and generally being a dick. You know, he did blow up the whole damn Earth!
There are also antagonists pulled from past games. Tanya, Maero, Cyrus, Veteran Child, Warren Williams, Jyunichi. You can kill them all again within the simulation! The best is definitely Jyunichi. You’re 8-bit and in a game within this game called “Saints of Rage”. Not only is your little Boss adorable as an 8-bit sprite, but you get some sweet, sweet revenge on Jyunichi for his unceremonious slaughter of Johnny’s true love!
And, because Mass Effect hadn’t come up yet in this videogame that clearly loves other videogames, there are romance options for everyone on the ship. They offer no difference in the overall story, they’re just a quick distraction while you’re out of the simulation and on the ship. From Gat to Pierce, to Kinzi, Shaundi, or C.I.D. the floating ball robot, you can romance anymore no matter your own gender. I especially love Kinzi’s.
Oh! And best of all, Zimos is dead! The pimp that called all women bitches and hoes in Saints Row: The Third is dead! Blown up when Zinyak destroys the Earth and literally never mentioned again afterwards! Oleg and Viola (also from the third game) are mentioned in passing, but never Zimos!
Hallel-fuckin’-ujah! The auto-tuned witch is dead!
What’s presented in terms of gameplay is similar to what’s come before. There’s main quest stuff and side quest stuff. However, you no longer need to play side quests to earn respect, which in turn unlocks your main quest. You can do whatever you want pretty much when you want to do it. Though there are incentives for doing it in a certain order.
A huge one being upgrades to your superpowers. As an example, f you finish everything Keith David has for you to do, you’ve now got unlimited sprinting powers. Dash through virtual Steelport like the fucking Flash!
As you race about Steelport killing aliens with superpowers, there’s still regular stuff to do. You can buy new clothing, men’s or women’s clothing with no restriction to the gender you’re playing as, get plastic surgery, or pimp out your ride (to steal a phrase from the early 2000s). Any store you pass is yours for the taking if you can hack it. Once you’re in (to steal a phrase from the mid-1990s), that store is open for you to shop at and produces an income of cache (which is obviously a more computer-y form of cash).
There are also the standard Saints Row side quests with a few new ones thrown in for good measure. Insurance Fraud, Blazin’, Fight Club, Mayhem, it’s all still here, but vastly improved for the fact that you have superpowers! New ones that have come in are Blazin’ (foot races at super speed), Prof. Genki’s Mind Over Murder and TK Mayhem (both use telekinesis), Mech Suit Mayhem (giant power armour), and Rifts (which involve running, jumping, and telekinesis).
By far though, by fucking far, Insurance Fraud is the best time to play. You can just jump into the air and hit the rag doll button and fly over the city collecting money. It sounds like that would be less fun than flopping in front of cars and having them send you flying from being hit, but the complete lack of physics in Saints Row IV as you bounce around like a low-gravity pinball ball is too good.
Think of the best thing you know. It’s nothing compared to Saints Row IV Insurance Fraud, okay? Nothing!
I hated that Saints Row IV put us back in Steelport. There was nothing to Steelport in Saints Row: The Third, why put us back there for the next game? I would have killed to be back in Stilwater, a city that actually felt alive and functioning. Plus, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Boss’ nightmare simulation if they were dropped into a clean-cut Stilwater and stripped of their power? They earned their power in Stilwater. Steelport was just the next city over they happened to be stuck in for a week or two to deal with some business.
Though I suppose it’s not as bad as it could have been. I could have been stuck driving around the lifeless Steelport again. With the superpower options of sprinting, jumping, and gliding, Steelport became a more vertical city. And with it only ever being night, the ugly edges of the city melt away in the shadows and neon. It evolved. It wasn’t as much of an evolution as Stilwater from Saints Row to Saints Row 2, but enough to make it not completely tedious to get around this city and interact with the missions.
And of course, since this is simulation, the setting flickers. You know, to remind you that everything around you is make-believe. And it flickers a lot. The flicker happens whenever you pick up a data cluster, interact with an object, or don’t interact with an object… when you’re standing perfectly still… Yeah, there’s really no doubt you’re in a computer simulation. It’ll be distracting at first, but you’ll block it out pretty quickly. Maybe that’s another reason that Steelport feels more bearable: I’m not looking at it as thoroughly anymore. Huh. Pretty sneaky if that’s actually why the flicker is so consistent.
The music is the same radio stations as the last game (sans the heavy metal station), BUT there’s also some original score and ambience for when your radio isn’t on! And it is some sci-fi synthy goodness! The track “Girls Night Out” that plays during the drug trip portion of Shaundi’s loyalty quest is my jam!
There’s an epicness to the soundtrack. I mean, there absolutely had to be with the scope of the story. What’s not bubbly and fun is sweeping and meaningful. You will feel like the Boss you are come the end of this story and a huge part of it comes from the music.
If you’re curious about the radio selection, there’s Generation X (modern rock), KRhyme (hip-hop and rap), K12 (electronic and my personal favourite), Klassic (classical), The Mix (80s & 90s pop and rock), Mad Descent (songs from the Mad Descent record label), and Four20 (Reggae and dub). You can also pick and choose songs from all the stations and make yourself a mixtape.
And actually, a neat thing this game does is that you can listen to the radio even if you aren’t in a car. Just click the radio on from one of the menus and sprint down the street listening to some dubstep. It was a smart decision since you’ll spend so little of your time in cars. They knew no one would drive the city if they could just run up the sides of skyscrapers and fly where they needed to go!
Saints Row IV has two level pack expansion DLCs: How the Saints Saved Christmas and Enter the Dominatrix. I’ll start with the latter, because I want to get it out of the way.
Enter the Dominatrix opens with a cutscene of the cast of Saints Row IV being interviewed about a lost script. It’s a neat idea, because what’s shown here actually was what they wanted to do after the third game. Problem is… it’s not a very good idea. It shares the same basic idea of the Saints begin trapped in a simulation, but it has Zinyak dying early on and a Dominatrix taking over within the program to cause BDSM/gimp related trouble.
There are some clever bits throughout, like having pop-ups of commentary from the Saints as they “watch” what you’re playing, and having the unproduced bits as animated storyboards. But then there are the not so clever bits. It’s repetitive. It’s immature. It’s got Zimos.
Yeah. Zimos plays a part in Enter the Dominatrix and he’s just as much of an annoying shithead as he was in the third game.
It’s weird though. I hate Zimos, but there’s something else here that I hate even more. The dinosaurs. Yes. You read that correctly. At one point in this travesty of a DLC, Pierce dimension hops (I think, I’m not clear on how he manages to do it) and brings a bunch of intelligent and gentle velociraptors to aid the Saints. You ride to safety on one’s back as it sings the most annoying song you’ll ever hear.
Then you, Kinzi, Pierce, Shaundi, and Donnie (from the first two games because he’s back for whatever reason) meet their king in an animated storyboard sequence.
Shaundi asks to be his Queen. Shaundi wants to fuck a dinosaur.
In comparison, How the Saints Saved Christmas is not crazy at all. Here’s a story that opens with Jane Austin narrating and has a half android Shaundi coming from the future to get the Boss to help her save Santa Claus from Santa Clawz and that’s less far-fetched than the dinosaurs at the end of Enter the Dominatrix!
For whatever reason, the space ship that the Saints crew is inhabiting has Christmas decorations in it and the gang are getting in the holiday spirit. All but the Boss, who doesn’t care at all about Christmas.
“You don’t care about gift giving?” Shaundi asks the Boss.
“I already take whatever I want.”
“I said giving.”
The Boss is made to care about Christmas pretty quickly when future Shaundi arrives and brings word of a bleak future where no holiday spirit exists and Santa Clawz (think the X-Mas episodes of Futurama for reference on this character) runs wild. They have to go into Santa’s hellish simulation and pull him out of it.
This whole DLC pack is pretty entertaining. The Boss is in an ugly Christmas sweater, calls Clawz the c-word, and kicks giant, evil gingerbread men in the dick to save the day. The funniest thing here has got to be the fact that your only weapon (at first) is a BB gun. And you know what happens with BB guns? You put your eye out. And the Boss does just that. Exclaiming loudly: “My bloody eye!” as half the screen blacks out.
I also got a hearty laugh out of the fact that Mrs. Claus is as blood-thirsty as the Boss is. They bonded. It was cute.
How the Saints Saved Christmas is shorter than Enter the Dominatrix by about two missions worth of content, but what’s offered is fun. The last mission has the Boss, now bubbling with Christmas spirit, delivering gifts in Santa’s sleigh before killing evil Clawz.
It ends in the only way it could possibly end: with a montage of Christmas stuff! Snowball fights with Shaundi and Pierce, snowman building with Johnny, snow angels, gift giving, decorating, Christmas dinner, a Love, Actually bit with the sign. It’s weird when it’s between Ben King and the person that way back when tried to kill him, but nah, it’s fine. I ship it!
Saints Row IV is life. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear. It’s a far-cry from the gritty realistic feel of Saints Row 2, and it’s even crazier than what unfolds in Saints Row: The Third. It works though. It works so well! No other series would be able to change itself so much and so quickly, but Saints Row does it nearly every game!
Case and point, Gat Outta Hell is my next (and last) Saints Row game to play. Even though I bought it on release day, I never actually played it. Let’s see what this half-game, spin-off starring Johnny Gat in Hell has to offer!