Saints Row IV looks absurd. Series developer Volition has always been upfront about making its open-world action games as fun and goofy as possible, but the wackiness seems to have somehow been ramped up with the franchise’s fourth installment.
This game is one big joke, but in this case that isn’t so much an insult as it is a raison d’etre. It looks committed to doing the kinds of things that can only be done in video games. There’s something strangely wholesome in that.
Doing a full-on “preview” for Saints Row IV is still impossible at this point. The game was revealed just last week, and Volition was only showing a hands-off 6-minute demo at PAX East this weekend. TechnologyGuide was able to get a look at that demo, and while there’s still plenty about the game that’s up in the air, here are a few confirmed factoids to know about Saints Row IV before it hits PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this August.
It’s Still Saints Row
Its debut trailer and development history suggested as much, but just in case there was any doubt, Saints Row IV is still very much a Saints Row game. It’s an open-world crimefest that once again puts players at the head of the titular Saints gang, and plenty of death-dealing, carjacking, side-missioning, collectible-nabbing, and just about all of the other staples of the series’ first three games will return this time out.
Of course, this is either going to be awesome or off-putting depending on the player in question. SR4 is more about iteration and, as Volition put it, increasing the “fun factor” within this template as much as it can. There’s a strong sense of fan service here, and Volition even admitted as much. The demo was hands-off, so TG can’t quite confirm exactly how the game controls, but it’d be pretty surprising to see much difference there as well.
You’re the President
Longtime Saints Row fans have seen their created characters evolve from lowly thugs to gang leaders to national celebrities, but SR4 will bring those same gangsters and gangsterettes to the next echelon of power and make them leaders of the free world. Volition described this as the logical next step for characters given the trajectory of the series, but wasn’t willing to go into specific details about how exactly being the President will affect gameplay just yet.
The Bad Guys are Aliens
Naturally, being the President makes players a prime target for all the evildoers out there. But instead of squaring off against terrorists or rogue forces, SR4 pits players against an invading alien species named the Zin. They put the protagonist in a bizzaro simulation of the franchise’s traditional setting of Steelport, which will serve as SR4’s primary locale (although Volition mentioned the possibility of going to other “exotic” areas as well).
At first blush, the Zin looked like the fairly generic greyish-brown monsters seen in countless games before. Volition says that they’ll be the antagonists for the vast majority of the game – replacing the usual rival gangs –but that varying types of Zin such as brutes, berserkers and others will try to shake things up a bit. They can also take the form of regular pedestrians around the city, which could add a slight element of surprise to their attacks.
SR4’s focus looks to be mostly about giving players a sandbox in which to mess around and have fun, so it’d be easy to overlook the poor baddies that’ll receive all the punishment in the first place. TG will have to wait until review time before making final judgments, but a little more visual variety certainly couldn’t hurt in this case.
Dubstep Is a Deadly Weapon
“Beautifully absurd” was a phrase that came out a couple times during Volition’s presentation, and that’s not necessarily a bad way to describe the multiple new ways Saints Row 4 will allow players to attack the Zin.
Showcased weapons included the Inflato Ray, which causes bad guys’ body parts to gradually expand until they burst; a Mech suit, which destroys things like most mech suits do; and the Dubstep Gun, which, well, shoots dubstep. It fires off musical frequencies and sends nearby NPCs and vehicles into a Skrillex-like frenzy before finishing them off for good. Volition promises that there’ll be plenty more to come too.
These weapons join the traditional set of guns and rocket launchers, and the whole lot of them can be customized and personalized with things like different skins. One wonders just how far Volition can go before entering the land of gimmickry, but this reporter would be lying if he said he wasn’t at least intrigued by the deadly power of drum and bass.
There are Superpowers
Saints Row 4 looks to be just as much a superhero game as it is a traditional open-world one, and to prove that Volition also showcased a few superpowers that were briefly shown in the game’s debut trailer.
Telekinesis lets players pick up NPCs and objects and chuck them around, while Freeze Blast converts things to ice and allows them to be smashed to bits. There’s a warp speed ability for faster movement, and Volition’s demo also showed a brief bit of super high jumping skills for moving from building to building.
None of those powers are particularly new or interesting on their own, but Volition says that those and other powers can be used in combination with one another. The developer further claimed that its new Steelport is designed more vertically than before as a result, and says that players will likely spend more time traveling with their superpowers than with vehicles.
That’s not to say it wants all the traditional stuff to be neglected, though, as the powers will have to be upgraded as the game goes along. The Zin are allegedly being designed to counteract the potential abuse of powers as well.
Volition made note of a few minor or more expected revelations during its demo too. Drop-in, drop-out co-op is returning, although the ‘Whored Out’ mode from Saints’ Row: The Third is gone. In its place comes a new mode unofficially dubbed ‘Deathtag’ that lets players duke it out against one another after being assigned their own random superpower.
Players will still be able to lead their own crew of followers around the city too. Finally, there’ll be a point in the game where the player can drive a UFO. So that’s nice to know.
As for the big question on many skeptics’ minds, Volition was adamant that Saints Row 4 is not just a rehashing of the now-cancelled ‘Enter the Dominatrix’ DLC originally scheduled for Saints Row: The Third. The developer says that both products were being developed at the same time, but just some of the Dominatrix content was worked into SR4 once it was cancelled for good.
Overall, Saints Row IV is not too dissimilar from Dead Island Riptide in that it too is mostly focused on fan service and not messing with a formula that isn’t broken. Those that are disillusioned with Volition’s commitment to all things over-the-top aren’t going to have a good time here, but anyone who subscribes to the idea that games should be about fun first and foremost may want to take a flyer later this year.