Games I've played: Saints Row IV

Posted by GrantHeaslip (1652 posts) -

I hate to be a downer, but Saints Row IV was a disappointment, especially relative to what I thought of Saints Row: The Third. It's got heart and some solid high points, but too much of the game just felt sloppy and phoned in.

For every mission with a memorable set piece and great writing, there are two or three in which you're running through glorified side content while listening to what sounds like B-team writing. I played this game over the past week, and I could maybe name five legitimate high points, and a lot more "come on, really?" points. It would be one thing if it was just the secondary quests that ran you through side missions, but for fuck's sake, Johnny Gat's loyalty mission is a copy-pasted Dr. Genki arena from The Third, and most aren't that much better.

How many times did this game repackage the same "hold triangle to disable these generators while praying something doesn't shoot you" gameplay? When one of the last missions had me doing that while the game made a self-aware joke about it, I was rolling my eyes, because making a joke about your lame game design doesn't make it any less lame. When the final boss had me doing it again -- and in what may be the single most frustrating piece of gameplay I've experienced all year -- Volition was actively burning my good will toward the game.

I may be remembering Saints Row: The Third with rose-tinted glasses, but beyond the introductory side mission primers, I remember most of the main story missions being fun, original content. Most of Saints Row IV's main story missions were, quite frankly, boring. The core gameplay in the Saints Row games is unbalanced, easy, and fairly bland once you're accustomed to the amount of power you're given. These are games that thrive, more than almost any others, on novelty, and Saints Row IV didn't have much novelty to offer.

It doesn't help that this game has some serious technical and polish problems. The game straight-up crashed on me at least twice (always while entering the simulation), and I managed to get the menu stuck in an unresponsive state at least four times. I had to manually restart several missions after the scripting broke, and almost every mission failure was a result of a character suddenly dying. On several occasions, the map got stuck not showing collectibles until I restarted. I had cutscenes and moments (such as the singalongs during the Pierce loyalty mission) ruined by out-of-sync audio or broken animations. The audio mix was a mess -- I was constantly leaning forward to adjust the volume since cutscenes were inexplicably way quieter than gameplay, and I missed a bunch of dialogue under incongruously loud music. I'm not a framerate snob, but parts of this game just plain ran badly in a way that significantly impacted the gameplay -- the final boss battle being a memorable example. For some reason, every time I booted the game after the first menu lockup, the last audio log I found played. The game ended with my character awkwardly holding Zinyak's head for so long that I was about to pause and load a checkpoint.

Even the writing and scenario design doesn't feel as well-executed as The Third's. Part of what made The Third's humour and general craziness work was the way it was taking place in the real(ish) world. Skydiving through the front window of a plane and dodging hundreds of SUVs falling through the sky was funny because it was ridiculous in the context of the real world. Same goes for destroying an entire skyscraper for revenge, crashing a rooftop party via parachute, stealing a VTOL jet, and the rest of the cavalcade of insanity the game presented. Because Saints Row IV takes place in a world in which anything can happen, nothing's all that crazy. This may have more to do with the design effort put into them, but the most memorable moments in IV were those that took place in the real world: the nuke climb, the What Is Love-accompanied Star Fox 64 segment, and the skydive into Zinyak's throne room. But again, those kinds of unique, heavily-scripted missions were the exception, not the rule. When Saints Row IV is firing on all cylinders it's great, but 90% of the time it's not.

Saints Row IV does deserve credit for the amazing amount of mobility it gives you. Jumping, air dashing, wall-climbing and gliding were fun and incredibly empowering. By the end of the game, I felt completely in control of my movement in a really satisfying way. Making getting around as easy as they did largely prevented the commuting fatigue I typically run into in open world games. Making a mockery of your open world isn't a trick every game can pull off, but I really enjoyed it here.

I'll give Volition this: the "robot"/"power armour" gag had me laughing in a way few games do.

I don't want to put too fine a point on this, because I know very little about Saints Row IV's development, but it has the feel of a DLC expansion for Saints Row: The Third that got split into a separate project and rushed to completion as THQ's creditors circled the wagons. I feel for all of the shit Volition's gone through, but it doesn't change the way the product I paid money for felt slapped together.

For Saints Row IV to be as endearing and fun as Saints Row: The Third while taking place in the same city, engine, and gameplay framework, it needed to do everything noticeably better. Instead, while it makes some great improvements, it's a noticeably less fleshed-out and polished game. A few funny cameos and pieces of unique gameplay don't make up for the excess of monotony and half-assedness padding the experience.

#1 Edited by Daneian (1245 posts) -

I agree that the nature of the world waters down the ridiculous moments. In SRtT, the world felt mundane, even placid in contrast to the larger than life characters and the exaggerated buildings and areas that they occupied. That exaggeration really helped to apply a sense of the Saints general philosophy to the gameplay options you had.

I like that the movement in IV deals in large, sweeping brushstrokes. You hold that sprint button and tear through the world and that worked well with the charge jumping. The increased mobility also made melee combat a more viable combat option. I relied less on weapons in IV than in the Third since i could run into a group, wreak havoc, grab health and then sprint back to safety.

#2 Edited by GrantHeaslip (1652 posts) -

@daneian said:

I agree that the nature of the world waters down the ridiculous moments. In SRtT, the world felt mundane, even placid in contrast to the larger than life characters and the exaggerated buildings and areas that they occupied. That exaggeration really helped to apply a sense of the Saints general philosophy to the gameplay options you had.

Well said! IV rarely makes you feel like what you're doing in the simulation is a big deal. I'm frankly not really sure why anything that happens in the simulation -- aside from saving homies and the part where you crash it -- really matters. When the military showed up in The Third and you embarrassed and annihilated them, it felt weighty and empowering within the context of the game's crazy world. In IV, nothing actually exists, and Zinyak presumably could have formatted the simulation whenever he wanted. I realize that picking apart the game's crazy premise is kind of missing the point, but I think it does matter insofar as context is a big factor in humour.

@daneian said:

I like that the movement in IV deals in large, sweeping brushstrokes. You hold that sprint button and tear through the world and that worked well with the charge jumping. The increased mobility also made melee combat a more viable combat option. I relied less on weapons in IV than in the Third since i could run into a group, wreak havoc, grab health and then sprint back to safety.

I forgot to mention those health pick-ups, which were a great addition. Running away from battles to recharge health was always a huge, out-of-character bummer in the The Third.

But regarding melee, I found it stopped working once I had the super sprint tornado ability, because by the time I got near an enemy they were always knocked down. It was also just way less efficient than dropping an explosion-chaining fireball at your feet.

#3 Edited by Daneian (1245 posts) -

@grantheaslip said:

But regarding melee, I found it stopped working once I had the super sprint tornado ability, because by the time I got near an enemy they were always knocked down. It was also just way less efficient than dropping an explosion-chaining fireball at your feet.

That's a good point. I used melee far more at the beginning than at the end unless i really needed the health. Because of that I wasn't really paying attention to the guns the game was giving me. I'm at the point where if i want to complete some of the gun challenges, i need to grind with the Infalte-o-ray, dubstep gun and several others and that's not something that i really feel like doing any more.

#4 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1652 posts) -

@daneian said:

@grantheaslip said:

But regarding melee, I found it stopped working once I had the super sprint tornado ability, because by the time I got near an enemy they were always knocked down. It was also just way less efficient than dropping an explosion-chaining fireball at your feet.

That's a good point. I used melee far more at the beginning than at the end unless i really needed the health. Because of that I wasn't really paying attention to the guns the game was giving me. I'm at the point where if i want to complete some of the gun challenges, i need to grind with the Infalte-o-ray, dubstep gun and several others and that's not something that i really feel like doing any more.

I ended up not caring about almost anything the game was giving me once I had the fully upgraded fire blast and maxed out explosive pistols and shotgun. The death from above ability was laughably useless by the time it unlocked. In theory, giving you unlocks when you complete challenges should have been a nice reward, but not in a game where early core items are so ludicrously overpowered.

If you're looking to get the trophy/achievement for killing 25 aliens with special weapons, keep in mind that (I think?) it has to be aliens, and I don't think some of the missions count. The counts on the challenge screen aren't the same as the hidden counts the trophy is based on, so I ended up having to guess at which one was preventing the trophy from unlocking.

#5 Edited by leebmx (2247 posts) -

I agree 100%, I thought this game was hugely overpraised and got by a great deal on the strengths of the last game. Personally I don't think it should have even been a full price game, so slapdash did some of it feel. One thing you didn't mention was them re-using the old world from SR3 which to me was one of the biggest crimes and so indicative of this being a quick cash-grab rather than a real attempt to match their previous effort. The vertical movement powers they added were great but they felt like a concession to the world in that they knew that a no-one would be interested in exploring a world which wasn't even that memorable it 3 so they need to give players a way to get around it as fast as possible. It is maybe not a fair comparison, but next to Los Santos playing Steelwater with some added alien towers just feels like an insult.

If they had cut all the crap out of this game they would have had a really cool piece of DLC which is what it was intended to have been originally. They could have charged £20 and got on with making a real SR4 for next gen consoles. I guess that's business for you, i'm sure releasing a half-baked full price game rakes in more than a 5 star piece of DLC.

EDIT: Sorry just seen you gave a nod to it being the same world right at the end.

#6 Edited by Nekroskop (2786 posts) -

6/10(I don't get paid by adrevenue for doing reviews so it's a realistic scale) from me. It had it's moments, but since it's basically copy-paste from SR3 it would have been better as a stand-alone expansion pack.

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