gamer_152's Enter the Dominatrix (PC) review

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To fully understand the context of Enter the Dominatrix we have to take a look back at the DLC’s unusual and winding path to market. EtD was originally announced on April 1st 2012 as a standalone expansion for Saint’s Row the Third, in which the Third Street Saints would be trapped within a matrix-style simulation ruled over by a ruthless BDSM fetishist know as The Dominatrix. It was soon confirmed that this was more than just an April Fool’s joke, but time wore on and developer Volition Entertainment went dark on the project. It was eventually announced that the EtD expansion was not coming and instead its content would be rolled into the next Saint’s Row sequel, while a later announcement revealed that an extended version of the EtD content would be released as DLC for the game. Doubts began to grow over whether any of this could happen after former Saint’s publisher THQ was plunged into bankruptcy, but the fine folks at Deep Silver then scooped up the franchise. A lot of the original content that was to form the basis of Saint’s IV was actually gutted, but as promised EtD eventually got its release as the first downloadable mission pack for the game, giving us a peek into us the Saint’s Row IV that almost was.

A challenger approaches.
A challenger approaches.

In a rather exceptional break of the fourth wall, Enter the Dominatrix is presented as a behind the scenes documentary where it’s implied that the characters in Saint’s Row IV were all actors playing themselves and working to a script. EtD constitutes a series of “deleted scenes” for the game that have recently been dug up, each of which are presented with varying degrees of respect and enthusiasm by the Saints themselves. As in the original game you and the titular gang are trapped in a computer simulation by alien overlord Zinyak, but after a standoff with Zinyak’s forces outside your HQ you quickly find and defeat him, leaving a power vacuum in the program. This is quickly filled by the AI The Dominatrix and her army of sex workers who you must defeat to save the day.

For me this is a game of two halves: one impressive, one not so impressive. Perhaps the most common issue for story DLC in AAA games is that building a couple of hours or a few hours of new content requires the kind of time, resources, and manpower that isn’t always available, leaving many of these DLC offerings generally unpolished, lacking their own unique personality, or both. Unfortunately, this is the case for the first couple of missions in this pack. You get a few new vehicles and weapons, but you find yourself visiting unremarkable locations around Steelport and fighting off waves of enemies the same way you do hundreds of other times in the Saint’s series. Possessing superpowers like your own, The Dominatrix is a somewhat interesting enemy to fight, and the humour from the “actors” is okay. It mainly focuses around characters either being very excited for scenes or displeased with what the scene involved for them, but it’s not enough to keep this afloat, and definitely doesn’t cut it in terms of what we’ve come to expect from the series.

Shaundi is too rich for this shit.
Shaundi is too rich for this shit.

A general problem in this DLC is that it reuses familiar scenarios from the last couple of Saint’s games, not just in its gameplay, but in its general setup. A battle outside Saint’s HQ is not new and we’ve already seen more than one story snippet before in which the Saints squared off against villainous kinksters. EtD’s specific storytelling format is also less than stellar. A lot of the plot is conveyed through interviews with the characters which bookend missions, actor’s commentary which pops up now and then over the gameplay, and cutscenes using lightly animated concept sketches. Besides the character models being too low-fidelity to support the close-up shots involved in the interviews, this narrative framework makes the plot as a whole often feel poorly stitched together and sometimes detached from itself. It’s also disappointing seeing many exciting story beats reduced to blank cartoon versions of the characters being lifelessly shifted around a background. Then there’s maybe the DLC’s biggest sin which is not giving you your superpowers for the first mission, taking away a big part of what makes Saint’s IV exhilarating to begin with.

I’m never the first to say you need to throw fistfuls of money at a game to make it good, and I think you can do a lot with very few resources if you’re smart about it, but those first couple of missions and most of the cutscenes in here feel underproduced. You need something more for a game as bombastic and action-oriented as Saint’s Row is. Fortunately there is a turning point about halfway through which makes this DLC worth playing.

Don't let the first impressions fool you.
Don't let the first impressions fool you.

The most pervasive problems stick around and the game spends a lot of time making nods back to recent Saint’s content, but in those third and fourth missions you start seeing locations that are genuinely visually enticing in their architecture, their use of colour, and their graphical effects. You are also given challenges that fall outside the generic “Go to the place and shoot the people”, employing some pleasing vehicular sections, fights in more well-defined spaces, and a task which involves using your superpowers in a satisfying manner. The third mission and the antagonist you meet in it feel like they bring the BDSM theme through more effectively than any of the interactions with the actual Dominatrix, and you also get the chance to meet another character in here who has some delightful dialogue. The fourth mission is also a bit of a treat, using the kind of big, creative, silly action moment that you come to the series for. In short, it feels like this bit of the DLC is where the effort went. The final mission and ending aren’t as well-made, the former recycling a previous battle and delivering important story moments through faux concept art, while the latter has an on-rails vehicular section with some gross handling and a resolution that relies on a non-sequitur which isn’t as imaginative as some of Saint’s best “random” moments, but it’s still all pretty fun.

Overall, Enter the Dominatrix represents an interesting piece of AAA gaming history and is actually a darn sight better that some of the Saint’s III DLC, even if it’s hard not to wonder whether its shaky path to completion may be reflected in its quality. The Saint’s Row you know and love with its high energy, flippant attitude, and serious commitment to dumb, inventive humour is in here, you’ll just have to push through some bland gameplay sections and lacklustre story delivery to get to it.

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