I’m trying to hard to like Saints Row 4. I really am. I recently picked it up again to play with a friend of mine after struggling for an insane amount of time to even download the game. This sounds insanely weird considering that I’m a huge fan of Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 2 is an amazing game when it decides it wants to work. I even thoroughly enjoyed Gat out of Hell, even though it was an incredibly short game, especially once I’d upgraded flying. I actually asked for Saints Row 4 as a Christmas present, getting it when it was slightly reduced down to €25, but I couldn’t get into it. I’ve tried, but I can’t.
I just can’t bring myself to like this game.
It’s not that Saints Row 4 is a particularly bad game. It’s definitely serviceable. You can’t compare it to GTAV or anything like that, nor can you compare it to Saints Row 2 in any way what so ever. You can only really compare it to Saints Row 3. Maybe that’s because it basically is Saints Row 3 but with super powers.
The combat is all mostly the same as Saints Row 3 when it comes to gun play, aiming, things like that. The activities and territory control are pretty much the same too. It’s the same flow as the other games, where you have story missions with cinematics, which are spliced between free roaming around a city and doing activities to gain control over parts of the map. In fact, a lot of the activities are the same – Insurance Fraud and Mayhem make a comeback, as does Blazing (although you are running instead of driving) and the Helicopter carnage mission (now with a UFO instead). The Professor Genki levels are tied up with Rifts that require you to jump around and score points and using telekinisis to throw things through hoops. The mini survivals, wave missions and “kill all the guys in this small area” walk-in activities are still around as well. Both Saints Row 4 and Gat out of Hell have these activities, variations of Saints Row 3, lacking the variation of Saints Row 2 and re-purposed to fit with your new powers.
Ah yes, powers.
You see, while the shooting is the same, the powers really do throw things out of whack, in so many different ways.
Really, the average mook stands no chance. Especially when your very first power, Freeze Blast, can freeze them solid, opening them up to instakill headshots. This works on most enemies. I haven’t unlocked the other powers yet, but considering how powerful this simple Blast is… It even recharges pretty fast. It has to, as sometimes you need an ability to be able to kill an enemy.
If things do go wrong, it’s so easy to run away. You can sprint off in any direction you like, or leap up a nearby building and wait until enemies get tired and move on.
But this is where the issues come in. The digitized city of Steelport wasn’t built for this kind of movement, and it certainly wasn’t built for combat and movement at the same time. You’ve got all these cool powers so you can reposition yourself, but you can’t use guns or abilities while jumping around. It’s a brief moment of weakness but it feels awkward, being shot at when you should be at your most powerful.
Of course all the super mobility makes traditional transportation completely pointless. There’s no point what so ever to use vehicles. Even the VTOL-like Void Ships aren’t really worth it because they’re pretty damn weak. But that’s a shame because Saints Row 4’s driving is BETTER than Saints Row 3’s, it feels smoother and more precise. Super powers are way faster, even when you can get a car delivered to you instantly.
But then you look at the city map itself and you realise that it’s not built for this mobility. There are too many cars on the road, too many pedestrians, too many buildings with odd shapes and not enough space to be able to fly cleanly. There are structures designed for powers but they are mostly one-off things. Everything else is just a copy of Steelport with alien-themed signs and posters rather than the colourful adverts that Saints Row 3’s Steelport had.
But even if you like the weird mixture of digital world and “OBEY ME!” imagery, it’s really in your face. Every time you pick up a data fragment (which you need hundreds of to upgrade powers), you get digital flicker. It’s everywhere. And it gets worse in cut scenes. Everything starts and stops with a glitchy flicker. It’s neat at first but it gets tiring.
But but but but.
That’s the problem with Saints Row 4. It feels like I’m always saying ‘but’. There’s some good things but they’re tangled up with other things that bring them down. Sure the driving is good BUT it’s pretty much useless. Sure the music’s great but the sound effects are grating (ESPECIALLY THE LOW HEALTH SOUND). It’s nice that there’s a lot of activities BUT most of them are the same. Yes, the characters are badass BUT it’s literally just Steelport with some alien stuff and altered buildings.
It’s all just Steelport.
If anything, that’s the sad thing about Saints Row 4. You take out the story and it is just a Saints Row 3 DLC. Sure that’s what it started off as being, but it never really shook that feeling. The story doesn’t do enough to make it feel like a new game. Sure, Earth gets blown up, but the plot is basically breaking in and out of the Matrix and causing enough problems for the Big Bad to want to fight you face to face, and that isn’t enough to distract you from the fact that it’s just Steelport.
Heck, they added a whole new quest system and rather than cribs you have access to a ship, but the ship area isn’t enough to sway you from the fact that most of the time you’re just wandering around Steelport, doing Steelport-y things.
It’s just Steelport.
There aren’t even any other gangs. It’s literally just you VS aliens. Sure, Gat out of Hell is you VS demons, but Gat out of Hell is a smaller standalone game than Saints Row 4, that right from the start was marketed as a smaller game. People got annoyed at Saints Row 3 that you couldn’t pick and choose which gang to take down first, well here in Saints Row 4, there’s no choices at all because there’s only one ‘gang’.
It’s just Steelport. Steelport with one gang. Steelport with way more red. Steelport permanently stuck in the dark. Steelport with a vague Steam Workshop that just offers more clothes. Steelport with a space ship above it. Steelport with Kinzie always being a fucking smartass omnipotent bitch in your ear. Steelport with a digital tinge.
Both Saints Row 4 and Saints Row: Gat out of Hell ARE expansions of Saints Row: The Third. But despite being far shorter and having a way dumber plot, Gat out of Hell feels like a more complete, more distinct game than Saints Row 4 ever could.
And that’s BEFORE I get into the whole abandonment of the original Saints Row style.