A tl;dr Haiku:
What makes a good game?
Super powers? Guns? Free tanks?
All of the above.
Mindless fun gets a bad rap. For some reason, when I hear something described as mindless fun, the speaker is usually talking down about something – implying that anything of real worth, substance, and enjoyment demands a certain level of intellectual involvement or else it is not truly fulfilling. Saint’s Row IV (for the PC, Playstation 3, X-Box 360, and OS X), made by Volition, Inc., laughs in the face of intellectual stimulation, gives pretentious thoughts an atomic wedgie, and swirls off in a cyclone of instant gratification and gratuitous explosions.
Saint’s Row IV challenges the idea that the harder something is worked for, the more rewarding it is. Saint’s Row IV tests that theory by going completely in the opposite direction. Within the first ten minutes of the game, I could run faster than any car in the game and I could fly. (Also, I was the President of the United States.) Within the first fifteen, I could shoot ice rays from my hands and had a tank that I could drive whenever and wherever I wanted. The powers and upgrades just kept coming one after the other. By the game’s end, there were some powers I never used or just plain forgot about because I had so many toys to choose from. And for all of them, I can’t say I was unsatisfied simply because they came easy. Sure, the game could have made me jump through hoops, running exasperatingly extended quests before it gave me my goodies, but instead it just said, “Sup? Free tank. You want?” And I gotta say, I didn’t feel any less gleeful blowing UFOs out of the sky with a free tank than I would have with one I had to spend forty-five minutes ‘earning.’
The crazy thing is, even with all the free stuff I got there were still upgrades I could buy. The upgrades were available either through money, which I got by doing anything, or through collectable ‘data clusters’, which I got pretty much by moving between any two given points on the entire map. Like, just in case running around at Mach 2 wasn’t enough, I could upgrade my super speed so I was running at Mach 5, while on fire, while surrounded by a cyclone, up the side of a building. Why up the side of a building? Because I felt like it.
On the note of doing as one feels, Saint’s Row IV is really big on its open world aspect. There’s not a lot of urgency to stick to the story. There are tons of challenges just lying around where I could test how awesome I had gotten. That, along with the couple dozen quests I could pick up from my crew, and the random mayhem I was encouraged to cause wherever I went, meant I never really had to hunt to find something to do.
What kept me hooked more than the game’s story, aside from the incredible gameplay, were the characters. They were colorful, distinct, and most all, funny. Throughout the entire game, I found myself chuckling at the dialogue and exchanges. A lot of the humor was crude, but I didn’t enjoy it any less because of that. The main thing the characters did was give me more investment in the game. By the end, there really weren’t any characters I disliked as they all had their own special charm that got me attached to them.
Saint’s Row IV is a game that fully embraces how over the top it is. It’s a game filled with explosions, aliens, cars, superpowers, guns, and pretty much every other staple modern gamers go crazy over. It doesn’t hide or hold back on what it’s offering and just focuses on making sure the player is having as much fun as possible from start to finish. And in that goal, it absolutely succeeds. If you have the coin available to spend, this is definitely a game to check out.
Comments? Complaints? Leave a comment below and let me know!