Devoid of any aspect that could possibly be called "mature" despite the ratings label, Saints Row IV is absolutely stupid, ridiculous, ludicrous and dumb; yet I loved every minute of it. From start to finish, Saints Row IV embraces the idea that it's a video game, both literally and figuratively. From voice actors playing themselves in the game, to breaking the fourth wall and all the way to essentially directly referencing the very pop culture topics that it mocks, Saints Row IV is an exercise in hilarity that seldom slows down to take itself seriously.
If you're unfamiliar with the property, you can still dive right in to this fourth installment without feeling left behind. However, those that have followed the series over the years will find much more enjoyment, as several of the missions and events later in the game reference back to not only the previous game, but even the first and second game as well. The game begins with your character, the boss of the Third Street Saints, disarming a nuclear weapon and rescuing the United States to the tune of Aerosmith's I Don't Wana Miss A Thing a la Armageddon. It's a fitting scenario that sets the stage as what turns out to be the most plausible event that happens in the entire game. That and the fact that Nolan North could be President of the United States one day (a boy can only dream).
Commander-in-Chief is a pretty difficult job, especially in this twisted universe, as the alien species known as Zin, led by none other than Zinyak, descends on Earth, capturing your colleagues and partners and lays waste to D.C. in the process. After failing to prevent the invasion, you're sent to a simulation that resembles Steelport, the city from Saints Row: The Third and that's when the real game begins. Since you're in the Matrix...or, a simulation...you can bend the program and defy its parameters in ways that provide you with super powers and too many other things for me to list right here. This is a great gameplay mechanic that's utilized very well and gives enough freedom to the player to literally go anywhere, do anything and be anyone that they want to be.
Kryptonite be damned, super powers like super jumping, super speed, telekinesis and more further reinforce and highlight the strengths and weakness of the game that are not so new - basically everything else. The majority of the graphical assets, the location, animations, even sounds (besides the stellar voice acting) are essentially taken directly from Saints Row: The Third. All of these shortcuts are probably what allowed them to turn this into a full-fledged sequel so quickly in the first place, which is great, but a little more work to differentiate this game would have been appreciated. I don't mind traveling through the same, or at least similar, city again, but it gets all the more repetitive when the sky is perpetually overcast throughout and character models are identical to the previous game.
Because all of the core systems and mechanics are still in place from the previous game, each aspect has been either improved or streamlined to put player satisfaction and freedom at the forefront. For example, the only limitation on your super speed ability is the stamina bar, which recharges any time you are not sprinting. While it can be frustrating in any other open world game, super jump means you'll be jumping several dozen stories frequently, providing ample opportunity for your stamina to always regenerate. Additionally, super power clusters are scattered across the city for upgrades (similar to Crackdown's orb system) and things like phoning in a vehicle is unlimited now. Sending a car to your inventory is as painless as pressing a single button with no more cribs or garages and every other aspect of the game is equally improved.
Utilizing the simulation setting in interesting ways allowed Volition to create the most consistently hilarious game world I've ever seen. Characters glitch out, buildings get stuck trying to load and characters can "hack" into missions to change parameters - all of which creates a unique and dynamic sandbox to explore. Saints Row IV is, without a doubt, the funniest game I've ever played. This is not only because of the excellent writing, gameplay humor and ludicrous scenarios, but most importantly it's because of the superb voice acting. Industry veterans like Troy Baker and Nolan North compliment other cast members like Keith David to provide a consistently top-notch voice-over cast. Few games can truly claim to have a cast as dynamic and diverse as SR4.
The best parts of the game aren't even involved with anything I've mentioned so far. The absolute best way to play the game, similar to most games in this genre, is with a friend. In the past it was fun cruising down the street in a suped up Temptress, but now the sky's the limit (literally, there is a forcefield in the sky that limits you). Grab a couple donkey beers and climb Satan's ladder to the highest skyscraper and slam your super-powered feet down into a group of Zin as your friend makes it rain ice, fire and dead bodies all around.
Thankfully, all parts of the game considered, Saints Row IV is absolutely one of the most entertaining games I have ever played. Whether it be punching my fist through a Zin soldier, sneaking around corridors in a clear Metal Gear-parody or performing Loyalty missions for my fully-romanceable crew members, Saints Row IV is nonstop fun and laughs from start to finish. If you're capable of looking past some shortcomings and just playing a game to have fun, then look no further than Saints Row IV.
Saints Row IV was reviewed on a pre-release PC version of the game provided by Deep Silver.