Nov 19 2013

Saints Row IV is the most fun I've had playing a game


In the first ten minutes of Saints Row IV, I climbed up a nuclear ICBM, in flight and on a course to hit the US, and disabled it, as Aerosmith's Don't Wanna Miss a Thing played and my teammates told me how much they'd miss me and appreciated my sacrifice. Naturally, I survived and became President of the United States and named my street gang as my aides and cabinet. After that, things started to get implausible.

I've never played a Saints Row game, I don't know what the franchise is all about. It didn't seem to matter. Within moments of my stint as president, the Earth is invaded by malicious aliens, and I was transplanted to a version of The Matrix, along with most of my old street gang and millions of other humans. The premise is nonsensical (ok, so was The Matrix), but I didn't give a shit. Every moment spent running and flying over the virtual city of Steelport was a joy. The characters were funny, the soundtrack is used to great effect, there are dozens of hilarious goofy gimmicks, a large dose of lampooning other games, and the game has a very satisfying campaign.

The gameplay in Saints Row IV might seem, from the previous incarnations, and from the trappings, as if it's a Grand Theft Auto clone. This isn't right. In fact, the game eschews everything that's irritating about open world games. It incorporates everything that was great about inFamous and Prototype 2, but somehow feels even more liberating than those were.

Did I mention that it passes the Bechdel Test? In spades.

In fact, the game begins (after the ICBM sequence) with a character creation sequence, and not only can you be a man or a woman, but there are a few voice sets for each one. My short-haired, female "Player" (get it? The character is called Player.) felt as if the game was designed for her. But, in fact, I could have chosen to be a man. Anyway, she is thrown into the Matrix ... err ... simulation just like Niko Bellic is thrown into one. The main difference is that she shortly gained super powers courtesy of her friend hacking the simulation. (One of the voice sets for a male is "Nolan North Voice", which is hilarious in and of itself.)

It starts pretty powerful. I can run very fast (i.e. I will never use a car) and can jump very high. By the end I could glide for a mile, run up the sides of buildings, fling fire from my fists, pound the ground from 1000 feet up, kick my enemies in the balls, freeze them, and then punch them into tiny pieces. Oh, um, there are guns, too.

I've found the time to play most of the major open world games. From the previously mentioned inFamous (1 and 2), to Prototype, Sleeping Dogs, The Amazing Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV, and, of course, Just Cause 2, there have been quite a few that were enjoyable. The measure of success is whether I feel like just hanging out in the world, collecting things, playing. All of these listed made me want to do that, but nothing like Saints Row IV. The mechanics are perfectly tuned, I could execute incredible leaps with accuracy. I approached story missions slowly, not because they were bad, but because I knew they would hasten my finishing the game. Even the races were fun. The fucking races.

And even though the plot is silly, and self-consciously so, it never got tiresome. There's enough wit and out-and-out humor in the dialog to keep me smiling. From singing Biz Markie with an old friend in the car to trying out my new Dubstep Gun, there were numerous moments that had me belly laughing. The game has an incredible mix of different tasks and scenarios, changing from an open world game to a 3D platformer, a 2D tank game, a side-scrolling beat em up, and a Metal Gear Solid-esque stealth game at a breathless pace. It's one thing to lampoon and reference other games, but to do so and actually have it be fun? It almost beggars belief.

The soundtrack isn't nearly as big as GTA or Sleeping Dogs was, but what was there was excellent and eclectic. Several of the soundtrack songs come up during missions, and their obvious reuse does stick out a bit, but hey, Deep Silver doesn't have Rockstar money.

Keith David and Rowdy Roddy Piper are in the game as themselves and also as street gang members. I say that with the utmost of glee.

Ok, fine, maybe this was a game that was just made for me. But if you don't enjoy this, I don't get you.