By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’ll start this with a little pre-cursor; I’m coming at Saints Row 4 (SR4) as a fairly big Saints Row the Third (SR3) player, but no other Saints Row. I’ve clocked around 126 hours in SR3 and loved the game entirely, which will have altered my opinion on SR4 to some degree. The story around SR4 is that it was originally among the fairly numerous SR3 DLC packages however enough potential was seen in the idea that it sprung into a new game entirely. There’s been some scepticism that the decision to make SR4 in such a manner most likely occurred during the last year or so of THQ as they were hitting some serious financial trouble. Some speculated that this method of just bulking out an already in development DLC was just an attempt at a money grab on one of THQ’s successful franchises. That particular story ends with THQ going bankrupt and its assets being sold off to various parties; in this case Deep Silver (Koch Media) acquired Saints Row and the developers; Violition. Deep Silver don’t seem to have hindered any of their THQ acquisitions too much and as much appears to be true of Violition as SR4 has turned out much as expected. SR4 is a fairly big game and does not entirely deserve any notion of being just a ‘beefed up DLC’, however there are still a lot of reused assets although I think it remains a significantly different game to SR3.
SR3 focused on the stretching of the gang themes of the previous two games to levels of comedic ludicrousy. It was and still remains the wackiest GTA clone that exists and it was a huge amount of fun for that reason, it took existing tropes and mocked them, it then took itself and mocked that as well. SR4 has a different feel, it’s abandoned much of the gang focus and has shifted its target of mockery away from GTA and its ilk. Instead SR4 focuses on a far more sci-fi theme, appropriately drawing from and mocking the genre in equal measure, SR4 is to SR3 what Blood Dragon is to Far Cry 3. This is a zany tip of the hat to countless sci-fi references and it’s damn funny as a result. I appreciate that some players may not appreciate such an obvious and blatant comedic style however for those willing to abandon notions of pretension its funny and fun. Yes, there is a great deal of asset reuse and yes it does look much the same, however there is also a great deal more: New mini-games, new challenges, new weapons and skins, new vehicles and a whole new story. This game is intended to be the last of the Saints Row franchise and as a result I feel that they’ve thrown in everything and the kitchen sink.
The gameplay itself is very superhero orientated, based around a Matrix-esque plot. This is a great combination and the superpowers have been done very well. Super-running is satisfying whilst a combination of super-jump and glide make getting around quick yet interesting. These are upgraded with level, as in the previous game but must be unlocked with Clusters rather than money. These Clusters are scattered around the world and must be collected by using your superpowers, with some requiring just jumping and running but others requiring the use of different powers. I won’t spoil what the other superpowers are here but I will say that they scale well and feel appropriately powerful whilst not becoming overpowered before the right time. (This is Saints Row). Other elements of gameplay have been brought across from SR3 wholesale; car customisation has seen some improvement and there are a few new vehicles. Weapon upgrading has now been expanded with different skins available, many of them reminiscent of weapons from various sci-fi; we’re talking Mal’s pistol from Firefly, Deckard’s pistol from Bladerunner… that kinda thing. There are also a variety of new weapons with crazy and new effects, weapons like the Dubstep gun, Tentacle bat, Abduction gun… that kinda thing. These are entertaining and surprisingly effective when used functionally and upgraded. Character and clothing customisation has been brought across almost unaltered apart from expanded options, this has the advantage of allowing the import of SR3 characters. The gameplay can be like SR3 but it can also be like a superhero game and in reality it becomes a satisfying blend of the two and whilst some of the SR3 elements may seem to become redundant eventually it’s still nice to have them there anyway.
Graphically the game is much the same as SR3 only with an alteration in aesthetic towards a Martix-esque look. This is then given more heft with a dark red pallet interjected with neon colour, much like Blood Dragon. There are also some really nice pixelation shader effects as well as some cool effects around various interesting points in the simulation. In short this is a refined SR3 graphics engine with a shift in aesthetic towards the cyber-punk. The music is of particular note as in SR3 the finest radio station ever to bless any game ever; The Mix 107.77 is back with a new batch of classic songs. The Mix was my jam in SR3, with some fantastic but cheesy music blessing the airwaves and SR4 does not disappoint either presenting a great selection of 80s and 90s pop and rock. Also of note here is that radio stations are now not limited to cars and can be listened to on the move too. Also of particular note on the music front is the Classical station as it is hosted by none other than the games chief antagonist and presents a brilliant portrayal of him as a cultured and intelligent bad-guy.
SR4 has a fairly hefty system requirement, much the same as SR3. Whilst I’d imagine its been tuned a little compared to its predecessor, it is still the same engine. On my old Core2 Duo with an Nvidia GTX260 I could get SR3 to a barely playable level but that really is the low end of what you’re looking at here. The Steam system requirements agree with the actual recommended spec being a Intel i3, 4GB RAM and Nvidia GTX 560. I’m afraid that this isn’t going to be a game that a toaster or non-gaming-laptop could even hope to contend with. SR4 is also Windows only and due to DirectX requirements and Microsoft’s arbitrary DirectX-OS restrictions it’s Vista and up only. That being said if you’re still on XP then you really really shouldn’t be.
SR4 is available through Steam and as a box copy which will then activate on Steam. It’s also available for the console boxes. Pricing is going to be AAA standard box pricing across the board, looking at £40.00 or $60.00. Whether it is worth that is down to you, personally I’m very happy with it but then I entered pre-convinced. The game won’t take long to go on sale however, it’s predecessor became a DLC platform and as such the base game went on sale often and I see much the same trend happening here, so if you can wait I have no doubt that you’ll be able to appreciate this at a lower price point.