Review: SAINTS ROW IV Ruins Other Open-World Games
If you're excited for the impending September release of GTAV, you may want to hold off on playing Saints Row IV until after – this game is the dessert of all open-world games, and makes such perfect fun of the genre (amongst, well, everything else), that it may actually decrease your enjoyment of future sandbox gameplay.
But let's not compare it too closely. Hyperbolic lede aside, Saints Row IV removes itself enough from the prior games in the series, and certainly removes itself generously from other open-world games, that it's a difficult one to compare. That copious teasing of other franchises brings in comparisons to some role-playing games, movies, shooters, even side-scrolling beat-em-ups. Luckily, each of the parodic sections of Saints Row IV are so expertly (and lovingly) handled, that it comes off as good-natured ribbing and in fact a love letter to video games: one that you get to read and play and write along with the developers.
A lot is said about "choice" in games. While there are customization options in Saints Row IV, the story itself is still linear, and better for it in this case. After all, a story of alien invasion that borrows heavily (and with obvious intent) from things like The Matrix is meant to be little more than window dressing for the gameplay here, and that's fine. I love when games make me think, I love that certain franchises will make me gasp out of emotional pain or shock me with a major turn or character betrayal. Turns out, however, that I also love it when a game just lets me go out and enjoy ridiculous over-the-top action and hours of often mindless running and gunning. The first time you discover your super speed melee attack, be prepared to do nothing but that for the next hour. The same goes for many of the other superpowers, plus all the great weaponry like the black hole gun, which literally shoots out small black holes that suck everything from enemies to cars to flying alien spacecraft in before blinking out of existence.
And then there's the coup de grace, the ultimate expression of everything in the last paragraph: The Dubstep Gun. Yes, this is a gun that literally fires Dubstep, the electronic music known for its heavy sound and heavy use of "wub wub." It's the most ridiculous weapon this side of a chicken gun, and it is just so fun to use. Firing shoots out streams of light (that can be upgraded to explode), and causes everyone in the vicinity to dance in terrible convulsive moves only someone like Miley Cyrus could love. If you fully upgrade this gun, it's also insanely powerful, and makes battles considerably easier, but no less fun. I mean this in all seriousness and no hyperbole, the Dubstep Gun is worth the price of this game alone. That you then get superpowers, hilarious comedy and well-structured, fun missions on top of it is all icing on the cake. Come for the wub wub, stay for the game that happens to be awesome in pretty much every other way.
There are your standard open-world collectibles to grab (an unlock later in the game makes this considerably easier, too), and the gradual nature of receiving your superpowers is handled well. Just when you might be getting tired of one, you'll gain another, which makes everything feel fresh again. There are side missions from hacking stores to rampaging through the streets in a tank and beyond to shake things up, as well. The best moments, however, come in the rescue missions, when you're adding to your crew. Each one is built around a different core idea, with some going into completely different gameplay types altogether. If you're a 30-something gamer and you don't shout in joy when you hit the side-scroller beat-em-up that's in the middle of this game, you should probably just give up games now.
While the main story itself isn't something you'll be talking about much, the individual jokes definitely are. From the very beginning, when customizing your character and having the "Nolan North" option for voice (which will then cause your character to sometimes break the fourth wall and refer to himself as Nolan) to the individual pop culture shout-outs, the crazy weaponry, and even the "romance" options with every member of your crew (seriously - do it with every member, not just for the achievements, but for the comedy), this game will keep you laughing (sometimes while being slightly horrified with yourself).
Saints Row IV isn't going to change your personal philosophy or challenge the way you view the world. It's not going to spark debate or immerse you in an emotional journey. It is, however, going to provide you with a solid 30 hours or so of insanely fun superpowered gun-blazing action that adds laughs and utter ridiculousness to the equation often enough to make this something special. If you've never played a Saints Row, or even never played a sandbox game, this is the perfect entrypoint. A must-buy, this game will tide you over quite nicely until the fall glut hits - and will make a nice pallette cleanser whenever you want to get away from dark and serious and just enjoy a little wub wub.