Even after I finished Saints Row: The Third a couple of years ago, and later on saw the first hands-off demonstration of Saints Row IV at PAX East this past March, I was still largely unconvinced that this newest iteration in the series could surpass its predecessor. The presentation of Saints Row IV can be described with one word, represented in the game’s every facet:
More. More. More.
However, I am still not convinced. Albeit, my enthusiasm was at an all-time high when my colleagues and I filed into Deep Silver’s private meeting room at E3 last week. Before I even made my way near the game, I could tell from the room we were sitting in (a mock version of the Saints-ran Oval Office) that Deep Silver and Volition are serious in their attitude towards Saints Row IV and what the game and series overall represent: kill some aliens, have some laughs, and do not take the experience too seriously.
The build that we were shown contained two different playable segments. The first of which was oriented around the game’s story, which involves the leader of the Saints (you), and his ascendancy to the office of President of the United States. It was this half of the demo that was not that much unlike what I was used to in Saints Row: The Third – it was crazy run-and-gun action, broken up by some hilarious dialogue (the action takes place on the eve of one of your speeches as president, in which you are given the option to say “F*ck Cancer” or “F*ck Hunger”) and cutscenes.
This portion of the demo also introduced us to the main bad guys of the game, the Zinyak. There is not much to say about them and their leader (an alien with an English accent). Their primary role is to serve as an equal match for the super-powers and new weapons that Volition have added to the game. How their role and events from Saints Row: The Third will play in the game could not be gleaned from the demo that I played. Most importantly, the humor in the writing and cutscenes is back, and if Volition have proved anything, it is that they are one of gaming’s masters when it comes to comedic timing – after all, it was arguably the strongest point of the previous game.
The second half of the demo is where the meat of Saints Row IV‘s gameplay presumably lies. Had this part of the demonstration not existed, there is a good chance you would be reading a preview in which I would be describing that whilst the action and humor in Saints Row IV were still present, the game was more of the same (there would also be a wealth of typos and grammatical errors due to my profound sadness and slippery keyboard drenched in tears).
Steelport is just as I remembered from the previous game, and there did not seem to be many changes implemented this time around aside from the gigantic alien starships that now populate the skies – these ships are visible in many of the promotional materials Deep Silver has released to the public since the game’s announcement. The first thing I did (because I would not have forgiven myself otherwise) was try out the Dubstep Rifle – I made it my mission to make sure I got as much time with the weapon as possible. So far, it functions just as advertised: you shoot beams of reverberating “generic” dubstep music, which causes people to dance, cars to jump, and for targets to be inexplicably blurred into oblivion. My only complaint was that no one twerked… there should be at least one person twerking. With my own personal desires for the weapon aside, it is as humorous as it is effective – a good crowd-control weapon.
The other notable weapon I tried out was the Singularity Rifle. Unlike the Dubstep Rifle, which is based in humor more than anything else, the Singularity Rifle is angled more towards its destructive capabilities. Similar to the previous weapon, it is exactly what it sounds like. The Singularity Rifle will fire black holes wherever you point it, effectively sucking in cars and people alike in its immediate vicinity. It is simple, and effective.
After playing around with these two weapons, I delved into the super-powers. One very neat aspect is that each power has its own timer independent of the others, allowing the player to mix things up with ease, without being handcuffed by one or another power. Each power has different uses and are not strictly for one or two purposes. Super-speed for example, does not come with the sole ability of running extremely fast. Players can also utilize the power to run up buildings, plow through traffic (and people), and jump great distances – and glide, on top of that. Gliding can also branch off into Death From Above, which is a simple punch-landing area of effect attack.
The other abilities – Telekinesis, Stomp, Buff, Blast, and Force Field – are serviceable. While they do not contain the same innate related powers that come with Super Sprint, the absence of a general timer in lieu of independent timers means that they can be accessed and utilized in tandem, at will. Blast and Buff are two sides of a coin, one freezes people and objects while the other burns them, respectively. Telekinesis allows you to pick up people and objects, regardless of weight, and hurl them at great speeds. Stomp is similar to Death from Above except that it is purely ground-based, and Force-Field blocks incoming projectiles. It is when you start combining these powers that you have fun: freezing a bunch of enemies with Blast then using Telekinesis to explode them with a bus, freezing enemies and then exploding them with a whirlwind of fire, or utilizing a completely insane and out-of-order combination. Hopefully in the final game there will be a deeper level of customization and upgrades so that the powers in themselves will not seem so static.
I had quite a bit of fun playing with the powers, but I did start to feel that typical “I am already a little tired of this and might want to play something else” gamer fatigue. The powers I was trying out were largely out-of-context since there was no quest or mission to utilize them in, I felt as though the setting was more akin to finishing the game and running around the city wrecking things because there was nothing else to do. Imagining the story segment that I played through combined with the time I spent toying with the new weapons and powers does give the impression that the two will come together like peanut butter and jelly in the final product. That would be the ideal situation; as of now, while there is still a certain level of charm in the new story and additions, it is a game that at its core still fundamentally feels like Saints Row: The Third.