Saints Row IV Review: The parody of a generation
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Saints Row IV isn't the "Game of the Generation," but its best moments are more fun than almost everything else on PS3.
- Superpowers are irresponsibly fun
- Laugh-out-loud from start to finish
- Meaningful upgrades
- Hit-or-miss Activities
- Freezes and framerate
- Half of this game is Saints Row: The Third
Deep Silver and Volition would have you believe that Saints Row IV is the Game of the Generation. It's not. Saints Row IV is, however, the Parody of the Generation. That word--parody--has been tossed at the franchise before (perhaps rightfully so), but this installment is different. Saints Row IV doesn't lampoon genre classics and industry mega-hits for mere laughs or well-meaning jabs. The concepts, mechanics, and tropes we've come to love in the last seven years--side quests, romance options, the Rule of Three--are injected with an almost irresponsible dose of instant gratification. The familiar is transformed into something altogether new and exciting. It's impossible NOT to notice where Saints Row IV draws it heritage, but look away for just a moment and you're having too much fun to care.
It's a testament to Volition's vision that all this homage-paying and love-letter-writing is any fun at all. Make no mistake--Saints Row IV is truly thrilling. I laughed out loud as my character cartwheeled through the sky at breakneck speeds. I grinned from ear to ear as I super-kicked an alien to Haddaway's "What Is Love". I watched, astonished, as a single Fire Burst from my hand set dozens of people ablaze--and then those people each exploded in sequence, further devastating an entire city block. It's violent, sure. And unapologetic, which it has every right to be. These are the kind of rare, treasured excitements that stick with you. In that blood-pumping sense, Saints Row IV is truly a roller coaster ride. Except roller coasters don't last for dozens of hours.
In those hours (a shade under 17, for the main story and most side missions), I often found myself looking back on this generation's defining experiences and drawing comparisons with Saints Row. Indeed, Saints Row invites these comparisons and offers subtle commentary. A sprint up the side of a skyscraper would remind me of Prototype's wasted potential--and Cole MacGrath's inability to do the same. The instant romance options--literally, press Square for sex--had me wondering why I spent several extra hours carefully planning to unlock a minute or two of awkward kissing and black screens in the Mass Effect trilogy. Using Super Jump and Super Sprint to reach mission objectives in seconds left me angry at the arbitrary minutes spent driving between missions in Grand Theft Auto IV. And Saints Row: The Third. And Sleeping Dogs. And L.A. Noire. Pick your poison.
Subtly critiquing the best of recent years while honoring their place in our hearts is where Saints Row IV draws its masterstroke. These moments, and much of the game at large, are nostalgia without the inconvenience, equal parts familiar and foreign, reminding you what's considered the best before whispering, with a knowing confidence, "This is more fun, isn't it?"
Indeed it is. Saints Row IV is a better Prototype game than Prototype. It's a better open-world romp than Just Cause 2. Setting aside story, characters, and technical polish, it's a better superhero game than inFAMOUS, and a better third-person shooter than Mass Effect.
Part of me wants Volition to drop Saints Row and make their next project a dedicated superhero game. Saints Row IV is that game in all but name and roots. Stealing cars, buying skills, expanding territory, ridiculous side missions--the Saints Row core hasn't changed a bit from Saints Row: Third. Indeed, at first glance, it's shocking how little has changed. Steelport is structurally identical. Vehicle handling still sucks. Stores sell the same merchandise. But then you get your first superpower, and everything changes. What Saints Row is--or rather, was--becomes old hat. Get your second and third powers, and you may as well be playing a different game. After I learned to combine Super Sprint with Super Jumps and gliding, it was hours before I bothered getting into a car again--and even then, only because a side mission required it.
This makes Saints Row IV a contrast to itself. There's a case to be made that it's just a blown-out expansion of Saints Row: The Third. The forced story, technical problems, and identical city don't help matters. But the way you play Saints Row IV, alongside its moment-to-moment action, pacing, and setpiece design, make for something refreshing. It's the ... (continued on next page)