There seems to be no limit to what developer Volition won't explore and there's no piece of the "familiar" that isn't somehow warped and given a distinctive "Saints" bent. This is the hallmark of Saints Row and the series has made the most of it by carving out its own open world niche.
At the same time, the first couple of hours was enough to make me wonder how Volition will keep up the pace and deliver action insanity at that same level for an entire game. At least during the story sections, Saints Row IV doesn't waste any opportunity to poke fun at itself, other games, and a myriad of other topics. The dialogue is as sharp (and self-aware) as ever and in the span of couple of hours it took to play through the preview version I laughed more than few times.
Saints Row IV streamlines some of the clunkiness that I never really noticed about Saints Row III, like the navigation and weapon selection. Now to switch weapons it's a simple scroll of the mouse wheel. The action pauses momentarily and after a half-second of being highlighted the switch happens. This feels way better than Saints Row: The Third, which happened in real-time (i.e. under heavy fire) while you spun the wheel.
Vehicle delivery is instantaneous thanks to the fact you're stuck inside a computer. (Adding vehicles to your roster is just as easy -- hold down "N" for a few seconds and the vehicle is added.)
The game opens -- after an interlude that includes the best ever nod to the movie Armageddon -- with a Saints-populated White House under attack by aliens. Quickly overrun, the player is captured and inserted into a digital version of Steelport, with some obvious alien changes.
Speaking of changes, the biggest one is your character's superhero abilities, which ramped-up quickly in the preview build.
Crackdown and Prototype games (with an honourable mention given to Destroy All Humans!), the power fantasy is definitely there and it seems like the game makes some accommodations for these extra powers. Early on, slobbering monsters called "Wardens" drop-in for challenging fights and can then be absorbed to acquire some of their power.
|Many characters from Saints Row: The Third return, most of them with important government jobs.|
freeze effect so I can get up close and personal to turn enemies into ice cubes.
One of the problems with open world super hero games, which comic books never seem to mention, is the danger of outcroppings and overhangs. In Saints Row IV, these still pose a "snag" danger while leap-frogging up the side of a building.
More traditional methods of death-dealing are still present. You'll still hit Friendly Fire stores to upgrade weapons and buy more ammo (spending "cache"), though this time you'll be able to customize the weapons just a little more with colours and skins. Though I didn't come across it in the preview section, the Dub-Step gun looks like it'll cause some goofy mayhem..
If all those offensive options aren't enough there's always the melee fall-back of kicking and whacking dudes with a baseball bat. Thanks to the super powers, both are cranked-up substantially. Landing on a rooftop and wasting alien monsters by serving up some really hard landings is actually more satisfying than point-blank shotgun work.
|This screenshot is from early on in the game, during the defence of the White House, but it goes a long way to exemplify the over-the-top action that kicks-off Saints Row IV.|
If that's the least of my concerns -- and Saints Row: The Third as evidence tends to allay those concerns -- then I'm pretty sure the fourth game in the series will cement a fifth.
Saints Row IV launches August 20, 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
- Aaron Simmer
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