Whenever a developer says they are ambitiously pushing the envelope with their next title (specifically in regard to sequels), I either shrug or roll my eyes. It is such a common term that it almost never registers with me. Not that I hold it against any developer that utilizes such a vernacular; no one wants to give the impression that they are producing the same product they put out a year or two ago.
After doing this whole writing-about-video games thing for over a year now, I can say that it’s possible to be fooled by previews. It has happened before, and it could likely happen again. At this year’s PAX East, Volition and their new publisher, Deep Silver, managed to shove that apprehension down my throat (for now, at least).
The team at Volition has vowed to cover a lot of new ground in the Saints Row franchise’s next installment, Saints Row IV. The previous game – Saints Row the Third – transformed the series from a gritty take on gang violence in an urban environment to a completely over-the-top and borderline fantastic music video where you get to kill people (seriously, that’s the only way that I have been able to describe the game to anyone).
In Saints Row IV, the protagonist has ascended from the Saints leadership to the Presidency of the United States. An alien force known as the Xin will function as the primary antagonists of the game. The Xin can apparently shape-shift to appear like residents of Steelport and open up portals to transport in cadres of troops; some members of the Xindi force even possess super powers.
The main character is the president, the bad guys are aliens, and now there are super powers and dubstep guns. How exactly can Volition top this in the inevitable sequel? And what were they smoking when they thought up this plotline and the game’s weapons?
Trust me when I say that I meant that last sentence in its most endearing sense.
The aforementioned super powers are one of the major additions to the game. The powers that we saw consisted of a frost-blast capable of freezing cars and people and a Flash-like speed-force that when used resulted in the ability to jump great lengths and glide as well, in addition to super-speed. The most interesting of the three powers was telekinesis (“tk” for short), which could be used to pick up cars and people, as well as the ability to throw said cars and people great distances… with great force. Each power was exaggerated but still maintained a sense of practicality, and of course, they were all downright insane. Insane in a comical, sadistic charming sense, much like the Apoco-Fists in Saints Row The Third.
Volition also promised brand new weapons to be added to the game, and the series appears to be taking on a more Rachet & Clank-esque approach in that respect. The two weapons that we did get a chance to see were representative of the “balls-to-the-wall, killing people with a soundtrack” tone that I described the series as being, earlier.
The first weapon we saw was the dubstep gun; hilarious. It does exactly what you think.You shoot a ‘beam of dubstep’ and anyone in its area of effect will start to dance, twerk, cook, etc. you name it. In addition to making people dance, the gun also causes vehicles to begin bouncing up and down as if they were hooked up with hydraulic systems. When not being used to cause mayhem, the weapon looks like it will be useful to hilariously and effectively immobilize any target in its path, especially if the player is stuck in any tough spots.
The other weapon shown was the Inflato-Ray, the effects of which can briefly be seen in the game’s teaser trailer. There is not much to say about it; you shoot someone with it, and their entire body, including and especially their eyes, inflate like a helium balloon before bursting into a conundrum of blood and entrails.Volition also announced that they will be adding more side-missions (Professor Genki was hinted to be among them) within the core game, one of which was shown: Mech Suit Mayhem.
Once again, very self-explanatory; you gain control of a mech and lay waste to the surrounding area, there is no real difference when compared to the helicopter and tank missions from Saints Row The Third. One of the new modes of transportation shown was a monster truck, which in the demo was used to pancake cars and run over civilians.
Saints Row IV looks to not only continue the trends established in Saints Row The Third, but grossly expand on them in every conceivable aspect. The philosophy at Volition is based on a desire to have the concept of simple fun trump all other concerns when writing the game’s story and designing its mechanics. The shift in games as of late has been towards more serious storylines, and more mature content. This sort of shift does not necessarily contribute to any detriment in video game storytelling, but it is important that games not stray too far in a singular direction. It is actually refreshing to see a franchise like Saints Row continue to embrace a campier angle with their gameplay and storytelling.
A game like Grand Theft Auto V (releasing on September 17th, 2013) will undoubtedly offer a gritty and intense story; to avoid coming off like a clone (a term that is thrown around much to cavalierly and much too often) or an inferior sibling, Volition has to keep pushing Saints Row in its current direction.
The dubstep gun and super powers gave me the impression that this is not the apex of the series, which is what I assumed when I saw the initial teaser trailer. The ability to bring such abstract weapons and ideas into a mostly abstract world while being able to make those ideas practical and believable within the context of the world is a good sign for Saints Row IV, and beyond.