Review: Does crazier mean better for Saints Row 4?

Volition has made a bold leap with Saints Row 4, opting to choose the humorous path to Grand Theft Auto's more serious tone. Completely abandoning any sense of realism – the little that it had to begin with – the developer has taken the franchise to new heights with the inclusion of aliens, super powers, and dubstep. But even for the franchise that has introduced wildly inappropriate weapons like the giant purple dildo, Saints Row 4 appeared, at least at first, to have jumped the shark.

Admittedly, I was skeptical that the fourth installment in this beloved franchise would be too wild, too crazy, too inappropriate for its own good. Oddly enough, all of the nutty elements blend together to create gameplay that is ridiculously fun and extremely addicting.

It all starts with the newly added super powers, the feature I was most hesitant about, which actually proved to be my favorite addition in the game. Saints Row 4 revitalizes the franchise's gameplay, breathing new life into the system through not only alien weaponry and advanced technology like a dubstep gun, but through the addition of eight super powers – four active, four passive – that can aid in both combat and travel. These powers are unlocked through leveling and completing quests, and upgraded by finding clusters scattered throughout the simulation.

Super powers add an new level of depth to gameplay in Saints Row 4. Even from an exploration standpoint, the passive super powers aid in travel as you can quickly go from Point A to Point B with Super Sprint and Super Jump. There's just something about soaring through the city, Matrix style, that is just completely badass – and strangely addictive. Once you get the hang of jump chaining you'll never drive a car again, which is somewhat unfortunate given the in-depth car customization in the game. For those of you who like the car aspect, it's still a viable option, but jumping from rooftop to rooftop collecting clusters is the optimal travel choice.

Super Glide

Combat is also aided by the addition of Super powers. Your arsenal of alien weaponry in Saints Row 4 is already plentiful, but when you tack on abilities like Fire/Ice Blast, Telekenisis, and something called “Death From Above,” you begin to feel like an unstoppable super hero. Super powers coupled with weapons like the Singularity Gun and Abduct-o-Matic make each encounter in Saints Row 4 a fun one, despite the repetitive nature of questing.

The thing Saints Row 4 does best is tie-in all of these different over-the-top elements with a plotline that involves and alien race invading Earth and transporting you, the President of the United States, and the rest of the Saints gang to virtual simulations of Steelport. It's an extremely shallow plot – one that Volition acknowledges with its own dialogue by pointing out blatant plot holes that go unresolved – but it serves it's purpose; it creates the world in which these ridiculous weapons and powers can be hosted and gives you a loose reason to actually play the game.

The shallow plot unfortunately leads to an weary mission architecture. Saints Row 4's setup is roughly the same premise as Saints Row: The Third: Go to this location and rescue “insert Saint here” to add to your crew. Once all of the Saints are rescued, go and bring down the alien leader Zinyak. There's sex(ism), drugs, raunchy one-liners, Saints Flow, nut shots, dubstep, and witty banter; it's what you expect from a Saints Row game.

What sets this game apart, however, is how you go about rescuing the Saints. Each of the Saints are held captive in their own virtual nightmare in which you must travel to and help them break free. The freedom allowed by this virtual reality allows Volition to put you in some unique situations tailored specifically to the character you are rescuing. For instance, self-absorbed celebrity Pierce exists in a virtual simulation overrun by Saints Flow which, if you remember, was the energy drink he did commercials for in Saints Row: The Third. Benjamin King, meanwhile, is held captive in a virtual simulation of Stillwater where the two of you are attacked by the Vice Kings. While the overall premise of rescuing each individual Saint is a tedious process, the places in which you go to and the hoops in which you jump through to do so is entertaining and a nice nod to past installments in the franchise.

Giant Saints Flow

For as entertaining as the simulations, weapons and super powers are, Saints Row 4, like most open-world games, can sometimes fall into a repetitive lull. Yes, the world is massive. And yes, there are plenty of side quests to keep you busy in between the main storyline, but these side quests are often repetitive in nature. Throughout the city there are stores to hack (allow you to buy weapons, clothing, pimp your ride, etc.), mini-games to play (cause mayhem, steal a car, or cause harm to yourself), and flashpoints (enemy controlled zones) to clear. Each are fun on the first one or two attempts, but they can get tedious.

The good news is that each of these locations on the map are associated with completely optional side quests that can unlock new abilities, homies, and weapon upgrades. If you find yourself completing them, out of boredom or just as a convenience on your way to the main objective, you'll be rewarded. The best part is, if you can complete a task for a side quest you don't yet have, it'll auto-complete once you do get that quest.

Saints Row 4 isn't without flaws; I encountered several glitches with the super powers that resulted in me being trapped inside buildings with no escape. It is a fun game, though, which is all you can really ask for. Volition doesn't look to introduce the next big innovation in gaming – though it may have inadvertently done so with the dubstep gun (seriously, the weapon is awesome). Rather, they set out to take you on a wild ride – and if a good old-fashioned shot to an alien nutsack, or soaring through the air stark naked, spread-eagled doesn't get you jacked then I don't know what will.

Reviewed on PC.