Reviews: Saint’s Row IV
Saint’s Row IV is a lot of things and I have some trouble pinning down just how I feel about it. What we’ll do instead is quickly recap my experience and then I’ll give some insight into what I found good and perhaps less good about this game. If you are hoping for the kind of rage that a poor product can stir me into this won’t be one of those days. I promise to try and not forget to write about things that deeply disappoint me. Its just for now I’m getting rather lucky.
I set out to make myself in the game. I set the webcam to my right screen and meticulously built a character as close to me as I could muster. I’ve always wanted to do this in a game and I thought one of my favorite sandbox series was the way to go. Historically I’ve felt that Saint’s Row II was their best, with III being more fun than I, and we’ll see where I stick IV at the end of this (if you are impatient feel free to click page down and then come back to the rest of this).
Keith David is so fucking high right now (apparently).
The introduction is heavily spoiled in their marketing campaign and even the summary of the game. I don’t think most people buy these games for their story (though Saint’s Row II has one of the best sandbox stories ever written in the mainstream market). I’ll try my best not to spoil anything but this is basically the story of a super hero and you know how almost all of those end.
I found the introduction to be well designed and somewhat clever in its presentation. You spend the beginning being setup as this god among men. You are the Boss, a seemingly immortal leader of the world’s most popular and powerful gang. In the first twenty or so minutes of the game you save the united states, can potentially cure cancer or end world hunger, and find yourself effectively the most powerful man in the world.
You are become death, the destroyer of worlds.
Or so you thought.
Enter Zinyak, a charismatic educated leader of not the worlds most powerful game. Oh no, he is the leader of the most powerful army in the entire galaxy (perhaps universe, I forget). As the Boss you are not prepared for this though you put up a valiant battle. I watched my avatar try his best to overcome this monstrously large villain but inevitably drive and passion cannot overcome complete control of physics and otherworldly power.
You are defeated and broken and put into the simulation. I won’t explain the why or anything like that but I highly suggest you collect the text adventures in the game because they dramatically reshaped how I felt about the simulation. This villain has one of the most interesting rationales for what he does and how he does it. I found myself not loathing this villain but nearly loving him.
This guy has a silky smooth voice.
Zinyak is voiced by JB Blanc and his performance is utterly stellar. He steals every scene he is in big or small. Zinyak is arguably my favorite villain in the entire series. Some of his actions in the game unfortunately upset me a great deal and marred the game but nothing I’m willing to spoil. You’ll know it when the “What is love” song finishes. The entire Zin army is pretty entertaining, their ships are fun, their weapons are ok (I much prefer the non-alien silly weapons).
A short while into the simulation you gather super powers. What unfolded for me next was the best superhero game I’ve ever played. Now that I was a superhero though I needed a new name. I could not merely be Michael the Boss – oh no – I was something great. I was the wet, I was the ocean, I was…
Captain Sharkbite is a superhero with a passion for doling out punishment for evil. His shark hat is actually an alien parasite that helps sap any kind of guilt he might accrue from mass murder. You could say that it has turned him into a sociopath. You could – he would kill you for it – but at least you’d die being right.
I set out on my quest as Captain Sharkbite to cleanse the simulation of Zinyak’s dark visage. His presence stunk the entire zone and I needed power…more power.
There are 5 guard towers in the game that I presume you are supposed to climb later in the game because they give you an insane amount of experience for converting. I saw their alien chrome exteriors and decided that I would be on top of them by the end of that virtual day. I started a large ruckus and got into a gunfight with Zinyak’s digital army. He brought in air support and I promptly shot them in the head.
Oh great, I thought, he’s brought me a flying vehicle! I used it to fly to the top of all 5 towers and leveled quite a few times. My rise to superhero super stardom had begun. I finished every quest no matter how small, ever challenge (nearly, I have a few floating), and over the course of a couple real life days I completed 96% of the game.
Over time my gang grew larger and I soon found myself manning a space ship with a crew of fellow super heroes. We set out across the simulation and doled out extreme punishments for the evils of Zinyak.
It is a good thing that my Sharky all feelings of guilt because it turns out that nearly half of all my kills were of civilians. I have actually killed more innocent people than I have villains. Naturally I can’t let this get in the way of justice and it has never crossed Captain Sharkbite’s mind, at least not without being eaten up by Sharky.
In terms of my performance against the rest of the video game I’ve pretty much obliterated community averages. I am within the #1% in all facets. I’m not sure if I’m proud to say that this is with 0 cheats or not. Regardless I enjoyed myself and really that’s what is most important when playing games I personally feel.
After a long and arduous build where I gathered every single power and upgraded nearly every single weapon I stormed the great capital ship that Zinyak hid within. He did not know it yet but his days were naturally numbered. Every villain that rises against Superman does eventually meet their maker. Frankly Superman has nothing on Captain Sharkbite.
I had found a set of power armor in the real world which was fortuitous because my incredible powers do not exist in reality. Or they didn’t until I donned that armor. I had shifted from Superman to Ironman and I couldn’t have been more pleased. It was a power fantasy that I’m sure every nerd can relate to and relate to happily.
What ensues is a relatively exciting boss battle. I had some troubles but I took advantage of some rather silly clipping (which exists throughout the game) to help tone down the nearly instant death his shots dolled out. I won’t tell you how it ends but I’ll give you a hint.
This is where we end the little story. I don’t think I’ve spoiled anything really. If you expected to lose in the end you don’t know the Boss. I suppose in a way you are the boss in every boss battle and they are trying to overcome you. Not the other way around.
This has been the natural progression of Saint’s Row. From nobody, to the leader of the saint’s, then from leading a gang to leading a world famous brand, and from world famous brand to nation leading. Finally you escalate to the leader of the entire galaxy (effectively). Other things happen and I find the prospects of them all fairly fascinating and interesting.
But how does the game hold up? Graphically it is as pretty as Saint’s Row gets, which is to say more than pretty enough for me. I was deeply disappointed that I couldn’t turn off the “simulation” effect where things flicker or unload in the game. I understand that they want us to never forget that it is a simulation but when the game isn’t “glitching” it is absolutely gorgeous. The texture work on much of the game is really well done and it’s a shame that some artist had their work hidden behind this clever but ultimately distracting design decision.
I didn’t listen to much of the radio but from what I heard I liked. The sound of all the weapons are great and the dubstep cannon is one of my favorite things in any shooting game. Its also incredibly gorgeous and firing it is addicting if for no other reason than it fills the screen with a beautiful menagerie of color.
The controls are fairly solid but the super powers can get you moving with such incredible speed and jumping to such great heights that your mere mortal reflexes can’t prepare for where you will be going or what you’ll be flying into. Luckily you don’t take damage (usually) from smacking into things. These same powers make the map feel incredibly small also which is unfortunate. The map is just as big as the previous games (as far as I can tell) and its much taller now. The game evolved vertically but evolving vertically is something that is incredibly hard for people to grasp. We fear height and our senses are not built to appreciate it. Humans, like most predators, favor horizontal growth. It is in horizontal growth that you expand your food base.
I played through the game on the highest difficulty level but only a few times did I find myself stuck. I can’t figure out if this is because I’m just better at games than I give myself credit or if this game was a bit too easy. I never got bored of combat certainly! The super executions and all your tools to dole out damage are incredibly entertaining and not once did I groan at them. That might be a bit hyperbolic seeing as I disliked the alien rocket launcher, but other than that it was pretty good times.
There is no reason to use vehicles which is highly unfortunate because the new method for storing them in your phone is fantastic. You find the vehicle you want and hold down on the dpad, boom saved. It’s genius and sadly I had almost no occasion to need it other than to call my tank. That tank made most of the missions fairly easy because you could just spawn it the second you might die and dish out 80 megatons of kickass.
Subtle is not in Sharkbite’s vocabulary!
Mission design is pretty much spot on. They rarely dish out something that you groan about undertaking with a few exceptions. The collection quests are mostly good but the little glowing orbs that you collect to expand on your superpowers are far too numerous (1255 iirc). Admittedly I collected all of them but there is no reason that there weren’t only say 300 of them. Over a thousand of these things is just too many.
The upgrade system for gear, powers, and abilities are all well done and more or less what you expect from Saint’s Row. The game design itself is largely good and I don’t feel like this was a cash in. I’m not going to argue with people who believe that. I have trouble believing anyone with any sense of the work that goes into game design and development would ever say that though.
I bought the PC version which means this cost me 40 USD. I also got a 10 dollar certificate towards my next video game purchase which sort of brings the cost down to 30 dollars. Did I have 30 dollars worth of fun? That’s difficult to quantify but I did enjoy this. I don’t know if I consider this a Saint’s Row game. That is my biggest hiccup. It’s the best superhero game I’ve ever played but I missed all the things I had come to love.
I love driving around, I love the tense firefights in alleyways, I love the pinch of fear when I get the army called in on me. When you are causing atomic explosions with your punches [image above] it becomes difficult to feel that fear. As I had mentioned earlier I started this game with my avatar believing he was Vishnu and in a short time he most certainly became him.
That rags to riches story is what we all connect with and what we (or at least I) enjoy the most. If the powers had perhaps come a little slower or if my enemies had grown in strength to match me perhaps I would have had a better time or enjoyed it more. I certainly felt like a badass from nearly beginning to end as I have in all previous installments. Frankly though I see myself more likely to play III if given the choice over IV.
Saint’s Row II is my favorite, III is a better game than I (though I has a better story I feel), next comes IV, and finally I. This is taking into account their age and what they have and do not have. I don’t want every game to be as serious as Grand Theft Auto (and frankly I feel GTA IV really missed the boat, it is inferior to San Andreas in almost every way to me) but I would like some sense of challenge and perhaps the occasional serious moment.
This is a game that you will likely enjoy if you play it. It’s not something that I think you are lesser for not experiencing but if you do plan to make a superhero game I highly recommend it. This is a great model for what a superhero game should and should not do. It does many things right and I feel like the controls were pretty good given the ridiculous stuff I was doing and the speed at which I was doing it.
It’s a good game, but just barely I think. My feelings about it border somewhere on that fine line between average and good. Saint’s Row III is a more solid title and though even it goes a bit too wacky I think I had a better all around experience with it. This game, like many before it, will likely continue down this path that I doubt many people actually are asking for. Or maybe it won’t? The ending of IV (following the credits I believe) is considerably more serious than I was expecting. The expression of Sharkbite, the way he spoke, and the way he moved were all somber and reserved.
Perhaps, just maybe, the next game will be a bit more serious. Though they did say this is the concluding adventure so perhaps not. It would be a damn shame if they end on this though.
PS. If you were curious – yes – I fell in love with Captain Sharkbite and yes he is now an official character in my universe. Sharky included. I am a big enough fan of Zinyak to assimilate things I want.