What if there was a global disaster and we had an arrogant buffoon in the White House? That’s the question posed by reality in 2020 Saint’s Row: IV, after an alien invasion conquers humanity. You play through the game as Boss, leader of the Third Street Saints gang, who thanks to their exploits in the previous game is currently working […]
What if there was a global disaster and we had an arrogant buffoon in the White House? That’s the question posed by
reality in 2020 Saint’s Row: IV, after an alien invasion conquers humanity. You play through the game as Boss, leader of the Third Street Saints gang, who thanks to their exploits in the previous game is currently working for the government as a covert anti terrorist operative.
On the first mission, you disarm a missile by jumping on it as it launches, punching it a few times, then parachuting away. You crash into the Oval Office and apparently become President. Little known fact: Chester A. Arthur became President in the exact same way.
After a brief timeskip, you’re firmly established as Commander In Chief when the Zin aliens invade, and here’s where the real game begins. The Zin abduct you and all of your crew, and lock you inside of your own nightmare simulations. Thanks to everyone’s favourite computer hacker and bisexual BDSM enthusiast Kinzie Kensington, you’re able to break out of yours and set about wreaking havoc with superpowers to disrupt the simulation while taking breaks to spring your friends out of theirs whenever the opportunity arises.
The game originally released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2013, before being ported to Xbox One and PS4 in 2015. As of March 27th 2020, it’s now also on the Nintendo Switch.
This review takes into account the game in its own right as well as how much it holds up on the Switch, but we need to make one thing clear from the start: this is not the definitive way to play Saint’s Row IV. The game is thoroughly enjoyable if you know what you’re getting yourself into, but does have its flaws in places. With a heavy use of the trigger buttons and consistent carnage on screen though, the Switch version doesn’t play as smooth as the Xbox One or the PS4 version. For newcomers though, it’s definitely worth checking out. Starting with Kinzie is necessary for the story the game wants to tell, but you get the feeling she’d have been first up whatever the weather. Debuting in the previous game, Kinzie has quickly established herself as one of the best characters in the franchise, and her dry sense of humour is the perfect foil for the game’s wacky sensibilities. She’s joined by Keith David playing himself, despite the fact David previously played Julius in earlier Saints games. He offers up some meta comedy, used only very slightly too much.
As well as these two, you’re joined by big bad Zinyak, who frequently pokes his nose into your business. Modelled of Ian McKellen’s Magneto (or perhaps just Ian McKellen), the thespian villain is comedic and threatening in perfect balance, with his intellectual arrogance bouncing off the Boss’ boot the doors down bravado. Listening to an alien reciting MacBeth while you avoid Sega Saturn era tank cannons as you swerve through a virtual slalom course on a Tron style motorbike is right in the centre of Saint’s Row IV’s weirdness.
There’s something magical about the humour of Saint’s Row; it’s not afraid to make fun of itself, it pushes the envelope and it’s as crude as a sailor. The game’s patented testicular manslaughter takedown is reinvented here to incorporate the superpowers. Weapons include a dubstep gun, hentai inspired tentacle bat and inflato-ray, which causes enemies to expand until they explode. There’s not one piece of Saint’s Row IV that the humour doesn’t extend to. The best part about the sense of humour is how close it manages to skate to edgy without ever punching down… except on the alien you just clotheslined to the floor. It hasn’t aged a day because the humour is victimless.
This humour is meshed into the story missions, which include playing out a fan fiction fantasy (which Zinyak then rewrites on the fly), taking down a Godzilla sized energy drink and revisiting select missions from previous games to comment on how crappy everything was back then. The only drawback with these missions is that they’re few and far between. Most of the story just involves completing particular open world events which have already been available to you on the map. Often in the latter stages, you’ll be asked to complete a mission, only to find out you’ve already done most of it.
The game fully sells the open world experience, and apart from locking a few events behind certain yet to be unlocked superpowers, you can play them all whenever you want. None feel like they’re just there for the sake of it either; you can create carnage by blowing stuff up in Mayhem, throw yourself in front of traffic in Fraud, race through the city, climb towers, steal cars, assassinate certain targets and much more. In true Saint’s Row style, one of these targets is a sentient toilet armed with a machine gun.
Another big plus is the character creator. While not as sophisticated as the likes of Monster Hunter: World or Dragon Age Inquisition, it has a real sense of fun to it. Voices and outfits aren’t tied to a gender, there’s enough depth to make characters your own without neurotically obsessing over cheekbone height, and the dance moves inject your Boss with personality right from the off. The first mission and character creator start it off on the right foot, but after that it stumbles and struggles to get out of first gear for far too long.
The game was designed with superpowers in mind, but that means the early stages are bogged down as you pick up different powers in fits and starts. If you’re a returning player, you’ll be locked out of your favourite activities for a while. Professor Genki’s Mind Over Murder is the clear highlight of the mini games, yet it takes around 7 hours of regular play to unlock it. Super Power Fight Club takes 8. The feels too dark as well; not tonally but literally. The Boss’ simulation is in forever dusk, with gloomy alien reds and glowing blue. Compared to Ben King or Shaundi’s mission, the difference is night and day.
Despite the earlier praise for how well the game writes its characters, it takes far too long to use them. Kinzie is consistently brilliant and Keith David is, well, Keith David, but they shouldn’t be carrying the burden alone. It takes around 4 to 5 hours to even start unlocking the rest, and when you do it’s Matt freakin’ Miller. The game even makes a joke of it, highlighting what a ridiculous choice he is come aboard first. Saint’s Row has always been funny, but there’s too much commitment to the bit here. Shaundi comes next, which is the sensible choice, but by the time it finally gives you the choice of who you go after, you’re likely ten hours in. Considering it takes about 15-25 to beat the game depending on how desperate you are for 100%, it feels like the wrong call to keep the fan favourites on the sidelines for so long.
There’s a couple of other quibbles too; the default sound levels crank the explosions up but the speech down, making it feel wonky, and the game frequently has graphical quivers with so much going on. Certain missions have the subtitles all wrong too; not just a typo or a missing word here and there, some scenes have completely different dialogue, like the script was re-recorded after the subtitles were written. In one mission Pierce sets you up for a joke, and the subtitles have the punchline as ‘cabinet meetings’, while what the Boss actually says is ‘scuba sex’. Both lines actually work in context, but… maybe pick one? Perhaps it’s different if you don’t play as the Laura Bailey voice, but they’ve had seven years to fix this and just… haven’t. Even on the hardest setting, you won’t find much challenge either.
If you’re looking for good, dumb fun, Saint’s Row IV on the Switch certainly provides. Frequently hilarious, hyper aware of its own identity and packed with a variety of side quests, open world activities and a hugely colourful cast. It was so clearly never designed with the Switch in mind though, and if you have an Xbox or Playstation, might be better off picking it up for that instead.
PORT SCORE: 6/10