Quick Look: Saints Row IV

By order of the President under directive 775, anyone buying this game must do so on PC.

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Giant Bomb Review

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Saints Row IV Review

4
  • XBGS

Saints Row IV builds on the style and sense of humor of the previous game really well, even if it leans a little too heavily on its predecessor at times.

Saints Row IV builds off of Saints Row: The Third's successful break from the open-world crime game norm in plenty of successful ways by giving you new abilities and options set in an increasingly ridiculous world that gets wrapped around some solid, funny writing. In plenty of ways it's all-but-identical to the previous game, but plenty of deviations both big and small make it feel quite different. On the small side, a more-focused track through the game's side missions makes it more enjoyable to see and do everything the game has to offer. On the large side, the developers at Volition effectively created "Lewd Crackdown" by imbuing your cyber-President with the ability to leap over buildings, glide around the city, and collect hundreds and hundreds of orbs. Clusters! Sorry, they're called clusters. Orbs, sheesh, where did that come from?

The story picks up where The Third left off, more or less, with a quick escalation and a five-year flash forward to the point where the boss of the Saints (that's you) is now the President of the United States. Oh, and then there's an alien invasion courtesy of the Zin, your main enemy for the bulk of the game. The alien leader, Zinyak, tosses you and your crew in a Matrix-like computer simulation of Steelport, the same city from the previous game. Since real-world rules don't apply in this oppressive simulation, things quickly spiral out until you can run faster than cars, jump higher than buildings, and shoot freeze blasts out of your fists. This, as you might expect, changes everything.

The developers' willingness to utterly deprecate major parts of the previous game is really interesting. Why would you ever drive or upgrade a car once you can run faster than the game's fastest vehicles? Grenades and other thrown weapons are completely replaced by a trio of super abilities and the weapon tree gets blown out with guns that shoot black holes, alien rockets, or the healing--sorry, destructive--power of dubstep. It makes a game that was already pretty goofy even goofier. And throwing the vast majority of the game into a "dark" simulated version of the city of Saints Row: The Third makes the whole thing feel like some elaborate expansion or mod, rather than a full-fledged sequel. Obviously, that has good and bad baggage associated with it. Returning to the city makes for interesting story setups and remembrances of the previous game, but even if you're gliding over all of it and ignoring most of its structure, it occasionally doesn't feel like something that stands on its own.

Actually, the story leans pretty heavily on your knowledge of Saints Row: The Third, to the point where I'd probably recommend playing that game first if you haven't already. Crazily enough, it also throws back to the first two games in some key ways, but missing these references won't leave you struggling too much--also those games are a lot harder to go back to at this point. The story goes in some interesting directions by occasionally focusing more on the characters around you and giving you some insight into their past and present motivations. These missions are the best part about Saints Row IV, and in many cases, they give the characters more depth than you'd expect from what might otherwise look like one 17-hour Matrix-meets-Mass-Effect gag. Unfortunately, a few opportunities for character building are really squandered, leaving all the interactions with one highly anticipated return character feeling completely flat.

That 17-hour number isn't something I just pulled out of the air, by the way. That's about how long it took me to complete Saints Row IV, including all of the side missions (most of which with silver or gold medals) and with copious amounts of time devoted to collecting well over a thousand of the clusters. The game is shorter, but in a way that comes off as more focused. The side missions are offered up to you in batches, so if you like, you can let the game guide you from one task to the next, with a bonus item or buff waiting for each group you complete. Or you can run around as before and just complete the tasks as you find them, and the game will adjust accordingly and not force you to complete the missions twice. It's a smart adjustment that makes the tasks far more manageable while giving you meaningful rewards for your efforts.

Visually, Saints Row IV has the capacity to look better than the previous game. The moodier lighting of the simulation and the way the walls occasionally swim as the simulation's textures animate across the sides of buildings is a nice effect, and things even look nice when you're flying high above the city. But from a tech perspective, it's mostly on-par with Saints Row 3. The characters models are roughly identical, the weapon effects are often similar, and so on. It's not a huge leap forward, even if the game's engine is better at serving up its polygons and textures at high speeds. Also, I can only say this about the PC version of the game.

Not to sound elitist, but going from the PC version of Saints Row IV to the Xbox 360 version of the game was enough to make me think that they maybe shouldn't have released this game on consoles. The frame rate of Saints Row: The Third wasn't pretty on consoles, and the bigger ask related to your character's speed and mobility make this game run even worse. The frame rate is rarely acceptable and on top of that, the game likes to hitch up completely for a bit when it autosaves. Making precision landings and lining up headshots is more difficult with its rotten frame rate, and the game is, overall, less fun on the Xbox 360 than it is on a proper PC as a result.

That said, I enjoyed it a great deal, and parts of this game almost feel like they've been specifically tailored to my interests. I mean, Riff Raff hosts one of the radio stations. That's a great choice. The game is packed with some great moments that subvert the open-world crime genre even further than SR3 did, it's funny, and its references aren't just lazily tossed off, they're earned. You'll feel like you've played some of this before, but if you're at all interested in Saints Row's brand of weird, it's absolutely vital.

Play it on PC, though.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
175 Comments
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Edited by Joeku

4 stars. Called it. Looks great though!

And by great I mean not quite as good as SRTT but still building on it in a neat way.

Posted by EpicBenjamin

GANGSTER SHIT.

Posted by GalacticPunt

I will do so much presidential gangsta shit on PC.

Posted by Morningstar

Looking good. Looking good!

Posted by jimmy_p

WHENS GTA

Posted by JamieOD

Sounds great.

Posted by JasonLeeson

FOUR STARS? HUGE UPSET!!!


Edited by MrGtD

Sounds like a pretty similar thing to SR3: the gameplay is fantastic, but the storytelling is kind of a mess, and can't help but drag it down. I'm in.

Posted by jimmyfenix

Looks good will have to get it later

Edited by Yummylee

Oh man... reading about these framerate issues on the console version has me strongly considering just cancelling my PS3 version preorder altogether. I don't have access to a PC for games, though, and while Jeff specifically referred to the 360 version, I can't imagine the PS3 version holds up any better -- if it isn't even worse.

Admittedly surprised by the score, too. I thought for sure this would have been an easy 5 stars for Jeff, despite all of the recycled everything.

Posted by SaturdayNightSpecials

...and the bigger ask related to your character's speed and mobility make this game run even worse.

That's not a sentence.

Edited by joshwent

but even if you're gliding over all of it and ignoring most of its structure, it occasionally doesn't feel like something that stands on its own.

Hmm. Almost sounds like this was an expansion that they fluffed into a full length game.

Still, seems awesome despite some clearly expected flaws.

Posted by Droop

Oh man, the console version sounds a bit rough. Nice to see this getting good reviews all around.

Posted by probablytuna

Is the PS3 version any better? If playing it on PC is the best way to go, I might cancel my preorder (if I still can) and get the PC version when I upgrade my computer.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

I'm sure someone is going to call Jeff an elitist over that last bit anyways.

I kind of expected it to be like the third game but with super powers which is enough for me. I'm gonna go preorder on Steam

Edited by Rebel_Scum

Meh

Posted by tehrevel

It's hard to know how seriously to take the comments on the console stuff. Like Brad will occasionally say something like "Far Cry 3 plays like complete shit on the 360" on the Bombcast and then I play it and it feels completely fine/looks pretty good but obviously not as good as the PC version. Jeff usually stays away from hyperbole like that so if he's commenting on it then I'm guessing it's slightly more noticeable. So is this completely unplayable? I can't afford a new PC at this point and am unlikely to in the near future and was quite looking forward to this game.

Posted by Dizzyhippos

Great review, And honestly how high was the bar set by 3 for 4 it would of had to be an all time great to top the last one

Posted by radioactivez0r

The only way I wouldn't play this is if it was flat out broken. But need to play through Tomb Raider first, and then I'll jump in head first.

Edited by MyNiceIceLife

So it's more Saints Row then. That's all I was looking for!

Edited by Winsord

A little disappointed to hear that it's that short, but still really excited to get this next week. Four stars will do!

@tehrevel: Saints Row 3 had a lot of frame rate issues and whatnot on the 360 as well, but it was still totally playable. It would definitely be harder to go back to if you've been playing games on a high-end rig like Jeff has (pretty sure he's got a $500 GPU, the GTX680), but when I played Saints Row 3 on consoles it was still completely fine and enjoyable, I mean, I beat it three times on the console before getting the PC version. It's really easy to be spoiled by the console to PC gap these days is all.

It's hard to tell whether it's really gotten that much worse from the super powers or not without having played it though. Maybe wait for a few days after release and check Youtube for console gameplay first, to see if it's tolerable or not. I'd be willing to wager the great disparity between playing on max settings on PC and then playing the console version has something to do with it.

Online
Posted by SomeJerk

I recommend people wait for DigitalFoundry or other sites to do a comparison before cancelling their PS3 orders, PS3 SR3 performed noticeably better than the 360 one and this is bound to be similar.

Posted by tehrevel

@winsord said:

@tehrevel: Saints Row 3 had a lot of frame rate issues and whatnot on the 360 as well, but it was still totally playable. It would definitely be harder to go back to if you've been playing games on a high-end rig like Jeff has (he's got a $500 GPU), but when I played Saints Row 3 on consoles it was still completely fine and enjoyable. It's really easy to be spoiled by the console to PC gap these days is all.

Thanks man. I posted that before I watched the QL (only 10 minutes in now) and it looks good enough for me. A good PC is on my list of things to buy but it's soooo expensive.

Edited by Asmo917

@colourful_hippie: The funny thing is, Jeff has been honest since the inception of the site about how much framerate matters to him. I've been listening to the old Bombcasts and I think it was the first or second one where he mentioned that. If someone's just looking for reviews or scores with no context for what the reviewer looks for in a game, they've made a terrible mistake.

Posted by Hassun

@jeff A word or two on the PS3 version would be appreciated. Not that I am going to play this on consoles at all but it would be handy.

Then again I guess you probably have not gotten that version yet with review copies often defaulting to the 360 version.

Edited by Itwongo

Aww dammit, I already preordered for the 360. I doubt my PC could run it well anyway, judging by how it handled SR3.

Edited by RonGalaxy

@yummylee said:

Oh man... reading about these framerate issues on the console version has me strongly considering just cancelling my PS3 version preorder altogether. I don't have access to a PC for games, though, and while Jeff specifically referred to the 360 version, I can't imagine the PS3 version holds up any better -- if it isn't even worse.

Admittedly surprised by the score, too. I thought for sure this would have been an easy 5 stars for Jeff, despite all of the recycled everything.

The ps3 version of sr3 performed much better than the 360 version (which also had a lot of issues). Doesnt necessarily correlate to the performance of sr4, but its something to consider

Edited by ptys

Feels too early especially with new console in a few months.

Posted by Qwert

For some reason looking at the trailers it always felt like an expansion pack rather than a full game. It seems like that isn't too far from the truth.

Just like SR:3, I'll wait for this to be free on PS+ in a year. Free beats shitty framerate :)

Posted by InfiniteGeass

Framerate issues and it's short? I guess I'll wait for the price drop then. Thanks for the review.

Posted by Y2Ken

I feel that given the troubles they've had to deal with thanks to the whole THQ debacle, it seems like they've made a pretty good job of this all told. Glad to hear it's still just as much dumb fun, I wanted more of what SR3 had to offer and it sounds like that's exactly what this is.

Posted by AuthenticM

What about the PS3 version ?

Edited by MildMolasses

@hassun said:

@jeff A word or two on the PS3 version would be appreciated. Not that I am going to play this on consoles at all but it would be handy.

Then again I guess you probably have not gotten that version yet with review copies often defaulting to the 360 version.

I would guess that he flat out hasn't seen it. Otherwise I'm sure he would have mentioned it.

If I were to guess, based on SR3, it will perform better than the 360 version, but still miles behind the pc

Posted by whatisdelicious

I'm probably going to just wait for a PS4 port, if that even comes. I don't have a good enough PC to run this but I don't want to play a compromised console port either.

Thanks for covering this aspect, @jeff. I've read three reviews today so far and this is the only one that's even remotely touched on that, which was also my biggest concern going in. Awesome review.

Edited by Hailinel

Sorry, Jeff. PS3 for me. But nice review!

Posted by SycoMantis91

Yeah, my PC struggles mightily with Saints Row 2. I'll Gamefly or Redbox it, like I should have done with The Third. These games are so much fun, but they just don't have that replay value. And it definitely seems fun enough to get over framerate issues. Besides, I've been playing Skyrim on my 360, I can handle some seriously annoying shit.

Edited by Trilogy

Well, I guess I won't be playing this game at all since it's "unplayable" on console. It's really unfortunate since I loved the last game. This is like Far Cry 3 all over again. Still haven't played that game and I wonder if I ever will.

Posted by RonGalaxy

@hailinel said:

Sorry, Drew. PS3 for me. But nice review!

Drew didnt review, he posted the QL that is on the top of the screen. This is jeff all the way

Edited by illmatic19

Giant Bomb: THE place for video game reviews.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel said:

Sorry, Drew. PS3 for me. But nice review!

Drew didnt review, he posted the QL that is on the top of the screen. This is jeff all the way

Ah. You're right! This is what happens when you read reviews before 7AM.

Posted by DharmaBum

Saints Row: That's The Joke

Edited by CapnThrash

im excited for this game!

Posted by Video_Game_King

I should really get around to playing The Third, shouldn't I?

Posted by Brewmaster_Andy

I'm curious what Jeff would have given Saints Row: The Third, since Alex reviewed it originally and it also got four stars. I still think it sounds great, and four stars is no joke anyway.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

@sycomantis91: Saints Row 2 is a shitty console port with bad optimization. I wouldn't benchmark your PC with that.

Posted by FoxMulder

Well I don't have a PC capable of playing games, so a PS3 it is for me. The framerate of 3 didn't bother me that much so hopefully the same will happen for me.

Posted by psylah

775 is an illegal directive!

Posted by JouselDelka

it leans a little too heavily on its predecessor at times.

I don't respect sequels that don't feel like sequels.

I knew this was a big lazy cash-in on the SR3 fame with some new moves and wub wub guns, using the same tech and even set in the same city. They didn't even create a new goddamn city for this "sequel." I really dislike this developer now, they've lost my respect and money.

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