Saints Row 3 took the series in a new direction, upsetting many longtime fans in the process, so it’s probably worth mentioning early that this new direction is wholly embraced by Saints Row 4. In fact, 4 pushes the randomness even further, pushing so far beyond the believable that it can tend to try too hard for a laugh at its own expense. Still, for all of its many, many flaws, there are redeeming qualities that may make it worth your time.
If you’re looking for a new game… don’t
Any feelings you had about the previous game are sure to carry over to this one because little has changed from the last game. Sure, the overall story is different, but everything feels exactly like it did in the last game—same engine, same graphics, same shooting mechanics, same driving mechanics… it’s all the same. The only real difference this time around are superpowers, such as super speed, a super jump that launches you up to ridiculous heights, the ability to float (but not fly), and a few more offense-minded powers like telekinesis and the ability to shoot freeze/fire blasts. These are rationalized by the fact that the vast majority of the game’s story takes place inside a computer simulation instead of the real world.
Superpowers unbalance the game
Since you end up able to run faster than cars and float across huge distances, driving is basically pointless in this game. Every so often there will be a mission that requires driving around, but you’ll likely never steal a car or drive around by choice. Given how great it was to customize a car in 3, it feels like a huge amount of that fun has been lost; while you can still upgrade cars like before, there are enough missions that send you all the way across the city that it’s never practical or time-efficient to drive. Even worse, upgrading superpowers means both hunting down “clusters” (glowing things littered around the city) and doing tedious sidequests, so there’s a lot of tedium between you and superpowers that are actually helpful and/or worth using.
Why are missions always so far away?
It didn’t take me long before I realized that most sidequests send you all around the city, as though each new objective was purposely designed to be as far away from the last as possible. I chuckled to myself every time the next place I had to travel to was over 1000 meters away, knowing that this was just a cheap way of padding out the game. Even worse, this was after I did a bunch of other tedious sidequests that opened up a bunch of “doors” that basically work as fast-travel points, so skipping that would have meant having to travel even greater distances.
Most sidequests are tedious
There are two kinds of sidequests: “normal” sidequests that the game has an abundance of, and the much-rarer “loyalty” sidequests that you only get once per character (once you save them as part of the main story). While loyalty sidequests are well-made, creative, and often incredibly entertaining and fun, the other sidequests are a complete and total disappointment. They all play out the same way, with one of the characters needing to better understand the simulation (even when it’s obvious they couldn’t program a VCR, much less do anything to an advanced cyberspace world) and using that as a cheap justification for sending you to do a million boring errands. You’ll constantly be hacking stores, doing races, and participating in a bunch of other meaningless minigames—the vast majority of which are awful—for no reason other than to unlock things.
If you choose to ignore these tedious sidequests, you’ll blow through the game. Seriously, I can’t see it taking anyone more than two or three days to beat the game without all of that padding. It may take even less than that.
Missing: chemistry between characters
The diverse and interesting cast of characters are what made the so-so mechanics of the third game bearable. In 4, however, they’re abducted by aliens and you have to save them. What this basically means is that for a significant amount of time toward the beginning, the chemistry that made the third game work is almost completely gone. In turn, the jokes are unfunny and come across as forced, and the game’s poor mechanics become glaring. It’s not an understatement to say that I hated this game after several hours.
The characters eventually save it, though
While the beginning is a drag because of their absence, you eventually end up with a bunch of familiar faces (and some new ones) who do what they do best: make the game worthwhile. Main quests and loyalty quests are more fun than they have any right to be, not only because they parody other games (Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid are among the more obvious parodies), but because there are moments of unexpected sincerity hidden beneath the humor. In a lot of ways, these “good” quests are about who the characters are or have become throughout the series, and this kind of nostalgic looking back between moments of insanity hits you like a brick to the face and is what makes this game worth playing.
If you loved the previous Saints Row games and didn’t mind the radically different direction the series went in for its third iteration, these moments are really the best reason to pick up the game. Their presence won’t be a compelling argument against those who see the whole thing as a shameless cash-in (and those people aren’t necessarily wrong), but it’s a mistake to think that there’s no entertainment value to be derived from Saints Row 4.
Are the graphics good? Um, no
The easiest way to describe the graphics would be to say that Saints Row 4 looks a lot like Saints Row: The Third. However, while I found 3 to be fairly pretty, the graphics in the fourth game look incredibly dated, often being less appealing than even the third game thanks to the world being neon and dark almost all of the time (reminiscent of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon). That constant darkness and neon makes the game’s graphics fatiguing, in turn making the tediousness of the “bad” sidequests seem even worse. Additionally, there are all kinds of intentional graphical glitches that are obviously meant to remind you that it’s not the “real” world. While they serve that purpose well, they also become incredibly annoying.
The music is licensed… to kill
Maybe not to kill, but it’s definitely licensed. There’s a lot of music in a number of different styles that you’ll hear, with dubstep being one of the most prominent thanks to the existence of a gun that destroys things with the power of dubstep. In the end, however, the music can tend to be a bit repetitive and doesn’t really add that much to the game. It’s basically the same as 3 in terms of music: there are some tracks that could potentially stand out in another game and others that are repetitive and grating, but you’ll most likely just tune the entire thing out.
Here’s what you should do: