How much does the world itself matter in an open world game? Saints Row 2‘s Stillwater was busier and more active than Saints Row The Third‘s Steelport, yet I enjoyed the third game more thanks to its focus on a goofy story and fun missions. That said, could Steelport really support two entire games? Is the appeal of an open world game really to explore this massive sandbox? Is that why we play Saints Row games?
It’s no secret that Saints Row IV started as DLC, you could even see the roots of it in The Trouble with Clones DLC, which brought Johnny Gat back and gave the boss of the 3rd Street Saints super powers, albeit temporarily. Given THQ’s financial difficulties and presumably the ambition of that final DLC pack, Enter the Dominatrix, everything was expanded out into a new, full game. And while the budget probably limited them to reusing Steelport and many of the assets from Saints Row The Third, they managed to blow everything else out.
Extremely early in Saints Row IV, you’ll be given super powers. Specifically, you’ll get super speed, jumping, and the ability to throw elemental blasts. As soon as I got those powers, I stopped needing cars, planes, and really anything that wasn’t my character (a surly Vin Diesel, using a pitched down Male Voice 1). It’s crazy that such an important part of the game is pretty much unnecessary, but that’s kind of this game’s M.O: throw in everything you could think of, let the player decide what’s fun. And getting around Steelport is fun. Clearly modeled after Crackdown and Prototype, traversal in Saints Row IV never got old in the 19 hours it took me to 100% the game. The way my character barreled down the street, blasting cars out of the way was always fun.
The powers used in combat, such as blasting enemies with ice or fire, replace grenades. They serve more as an augment for your guns than a replacement, which I was OK with because there are a lot of really fun guns in this game. There’s a gun that shoots mini black holes, one that inflates people’s heads until they pop, and even the conventional guns can be made awesome. You can reskin every weapon in the game, for example, turning conventional pistols into Han Solo’s blaster from Star Wars. It’s a really great new touch.
In this game you’re always collecting upgrades, based on two currencies: clusters and cache. Clusters are orbs scattered around the city that can be collected and spent on upgrading your super powers. It’s really addictive. Cache is money, earned by doing pretty much anything and spent on upgrading everything from abilities, to clothes, to weapons. This is the first Saints Row game were I’ve found every side mission type fun, especially because there’s a narrative wrapper around doing them now.
Oh, right, the story. Basically, through some awesome events, the boss of the Saints becomes president. But that’s largely irrelevant because Zinyak, an evil alien, comes, abducts the Saints, and blows up the earth. Yeah, this game is going for broke. Zinyak traps everybody in simulations of Steelport were they must face their worst nightmares ad infinitum, except the boss breaks out and starts freeing the others. It’s basically an excuse to make a lot of somehow enjoyable Matrix references, and of course to give the boss super powers. I laughed a lot at this game, and I don’t laugh at a lot of games. It’s really good.
Of course it’s buggy too, I experienced a couple crashes and a weird bug during my playthough that made some weapons unusable. And yeah, it doesn’t quite feel like a new game since so much is reused from Saints Row The Third. But you know what? I’ve still got a bunch of games in my summer backlog that I need to get to, but I’ve been in kind of a funk since finishing Saints Row IV. It was just such goofy fun I don’t want to move on.