Saints Row IV: a legitimate rival to GTA?

Saints Row IVTHE FOURTH instalment of Saints Row, a franchise that started off life as a very derivative copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, feels like the natural conclusion for the series. Everything is so bombastic, so ridiculous in a multitude of ways that it is hard to think of where the developers Volition can go next.

The story is a loose continuation of one of the endings of Saints Row The Third where the ‘Boss’ – who, if you go through Volition’s website, can be your character from the previous game – has become president of the United States Of America. Only to be abducted by aliens and connected to a machine that transports the character into a “cyber-Steelport”.

Cue roughly fifteen hours of shenanigans and hilarious riffs on pop-culture; from Mass Effect to The Matrix to all open world games. Humour is a very difficult thing in every medium, especially video-games, but it seems the writers at Volition are experts of their craft. There are moments in the game that made me guffaw with laughter at the crude yet  intelligent comedy that permeates almost every facet of the game. Its stupid humour done cleverly.

When it comes to game-play the game hasn’t come too far from its roots. It plays similarly to the other games in the franchise; the gun-play, melee combat and the driving all feel solid. What is brand new in this game, however, is the inclusion of superpowers for the main character thanks to him/her hacking into the alien program. He/she can fly, run up walls, launch fireballs and use telekinesis to hurl people through the air. Traversing Steelport with these super powers is a blast as the controls are tight and responsive (although this does make cars rather pointless). The super powers are also fun to use and become absurdly over powered as the game progresses, the ones you receive later feel rather perfunctory due to the earlier abilities becoming so powerful.

As hinted at in the previous paragraph, besides the fact that the graphics and the map haven’t really changed since Saints Row The Third, the main problem with the game is that it is just too easy. You become the human embodiment of a god roughly half way through the game, trivialising the latter portions. It is a brilliant power fantasy, sure, but when you can annihilate an entire group of dudes with a single press of a button – no matter how awesome that looks and feels – ennui sets in as you end up playing the game just to see the conclusion, not because it’s particularly challenging to play.

Saints Row IV is a great game. Perhaps the best open-world game ever, in terms of writing and playability, and easily the best in the Saints Row series. It does, however, suffer from a bit of sequel fatigue due to the iterative nature of the graphics and gameplay.

Is it better than Grand Theft Auto V? Well, that’s a pointless comparison. Rockstar and Volition have gone in completely different directions, and have produced two very different results. I just prefer the one that is more enjoyable to play.The  comparison is pointless as Rockstar and Volition have gone in different directions and have arrived at different results. I just prefer the one that is enjoyable to play.