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What I've been Playing: Saints Row IV

So, finishing up the bundle I picked up, we rejoin our "puckish rogues" after they've taken over their hometown and then took over a corporate empire. And SR4 shows that the serious-to-silly transition is exponential, not linear. To recap:

Saints Row 2 starts with you breaking out of prison and shooting everyone in sight,

Saints Row 3 starts with you robbing a bank with a helicopter, then escape from an airplane in flight, crash back through that helicopter (doing a mid-air dive to rescue the same homie *twice*) to steal kit from a military base. (And the sequence is played for total badassery).

Saints Row 4 starts with you stopping terrorists with a nuclear weapon, and ends with (and I'm going to itemize this to fully illustrate just how completely crazypants this is):

  • The missile being launched
  • You grabbing the side of said missile (and we're talking big ICBM sized thing here) and holding on as it goes up
  • You climbing up the side of this missile mid-flight, ripping open panels to disable the missile.
  • Meanwhile, your radio is full of your comrades talking about your heroic sacrifice and what an awesome guy you are
  • .. while the game plays "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing".

And re-reading that, it still doesn't quite do it justice, because it's so astoudingly over-the-top corny that of course you successfully stop the missile, skydive away from the explosion, giving a thumbs up to the camera, to land safely in the President's chair in the Oval Office.

Keep in mind that this is easily the least-crazy part of the entire game. Because we then fast-forward, you're President, aliens attack, and the rest of the game involves you in a computer simulation with superpowers.

No, really.

Mechanically, the game is really similar (you still shoot stuff and take over stores and do plot missions and whatnot), and the control scheme is pretty much identical to SR3 (replacing "grenades" with "superpowers"), But the flavoring has moved completely to tongue-in-cheek land. This game doesn't waste a chance to make fun of other games. Probably the most obvious is the Mass Effect loyalty missions and "romance system", which somehow manages to both parody and criticize them. In particular, the romance options - there's no limitation to who you can romance, regardless of gender, and the dialogue is the same either (give or take a pronoun). Somehow the crapsack world of SR is more enlightened than the sci-fi future. (But of course, we'll temper this with really funny and crass jokes). Weapons are stock full of jokes, ranging from the obvious dubstep gun, or a novelty adult entertainment item repurposed as a baseball bat, but even details where you can skin your Heavy Pistol as "The Captain" (tagline: for when you aim to misbehave). This is a game that looked in every nook and cranny to find a joke, and no joke was too small or stupid to include.

There's no big surprises in the plot (to the point where I don't want to say much because you can't talk around it without just giving it away), but the plot isn't the important part anyway. SR4 is a love letter to the series - characters from every game make appearances. It can't have been cheap to bring in folks like Neil Patrick Harris in for what's effectively a cameo, but there he is. The best part is that they lampshade, and then explain, the change in Shaundi's voice actress, and then manage to make it an interesting plot and character development point!

When I said the game is similar mechanically, I am kind of lying. You still have your cars and hijacking and it's cool, but very early on you will get classic Superman powers - super speed, super jump. And at that point, cars are so very, very pointless - you can traverse the city so much faster by just going up and over. Even evading enemies. And the game just keeps giving you bennies - hey, jumping up to buildings taking too long? Here, just run up the side! That river messing you up? Now you can run on water! The game just hands out powers like candy (to the point that they're often coming up with plot-excuses for why you can't or don't use your powers in areas, because while I haven't tried, I suspect you could get through a lot of the mid- to late-game with nothing *but* superpowers if you put your mind to it.

If SR2 is gritty street war, and SR3 is action film, SR4 is straight up Mary Sue comedy - you're a god among men, the scenario is arranged that you have no reason to feel at all guilty about blowing the ever loving hell out of everyone (and we'll give you a million funny-but-deadly weapons to use while you're at it - "dubstep gun" is actually one of the more boring weapons in the arsenel, believe it or not) and just go to down.

The one criticism I would point at this game is that they've integrated the random quests a bit too closely to the plots. You will end up doing all the side bits, because people ask you to do them. Contrarywise, if you do a bunch of side missions early on (to level up or whatnot), you'll find that when you get to side quests, you've already done some or most of the things required. As an example: you "hack" into stores to get access to buy things, so I made a point of getting all the weapon shops open first thing (mostly for easy access to ammo and upgrades - I'll get to that in a second). Turns out Kinzie will have you hack all the stores eventually, so some of her missions were "talk to Kinzie", "check list to see that oh, I've already hacked those stores", "turn in quest to Kinzie". It's not a big deal, other than it really feels like the game is smaller - before, you could finish the plot and still have tons of stuff to do around town. Now, you'll have done everything.

Weapon upgrades are the other change - instead of levels like in SR3, you upgrade each element (ammo, ROF, etc) separately. Mostly just means extra weapon clicks.

I still have the Christmas DLC to finish, but the Enter The Dominatrix DLC is worth a play, simply because it breaks the fourth wall, walks off stage, and grabs a bowl of popcorn as it makes fun of itself MST3K-style. It's the closest thing to proper special features you'll ever see in a video game, I think.

I don't own Gat out of Hell (the next entry in the series), so we'll have to take a break from Saints Row and talk about something else next time.