Preview: Saints Row IV Hands-On

Saints_Row_4_Preview_2

Any game series that delivers a huge hit often finds that in order to continue the upward swing of popularity, it must abide by an unwritten rule stating that the stakes must be raised yet again in order to keep gamers happy. Based on some hands-on play time I was able to enjoy with the PC version of Saints Row IV over this past weekend, Volition, now with Deep Silver, seemingly has been able to retain that special Saints Row magic while upping the ante yet again for what is easily shaping up to be the series’ craziest installment yet.

Now some would say that the Saints Row games are nothing more than GTA wannabes. That isn’t necessarily a fair assessment. While the first two titles were fairly conventional open-world crime spree games, there was a level of zaniness that outdid even some of the more extravagant moments of Rockstar’s rival franchise. Saints Row: The Third increased the level of scope and fun from the first two titles and kept adding more whipped cream and cherries on top of each new mission, never holding back on what was possible. The idea of showing up to a knife fight with a gun is redoubled by actually showing up with a .45, an M-16, and an M61 Vulcan chain gun. My point is Saints Row: The Third managed to raise the bar with each mission and remain fun while doing so. Saints Row IV appears to be on that same track.

The fourth Saints Row takes place a few years after the end of part three, with players resuming control of the leader of the Third Street Saints, who has now been elected President of the United States. As if the idea of being leader of the free world seems a bit boring, Volition sets the tone very quickly by having the White Crib (what gang leader wouldn’t want to rename the White House?) besieged by aliens and large portions of the populace abducted for some inevitably vile experiment.

Once the opening attack ends, Saints Row IV starts off proper in what can only be described as an idyllic “Leave it to Beaver” simulation that is ripe for destruction and mayhem. The preview build that I played would seem to be the first chunk of the game, as I was able to take my created character from level 1 to 17 and explore a sizable amount of early content. Starting in a perfect 50s neighborhood which quickly devolved into cops and cars blowing up via an unlimited ammo rocket launcher, I quickly escaped the simulation and found my character in a dark, alien-controlled Steelport.

As with Saints Row: The Third, IV allows for free roaming throughout an open-world Steelport filled with plenty of side missions that can be completed at any time. What’s new this time around is the opportunity to turn your Third Street gang banger into a thug with a superhero cape. Yes, Saints Row IV has superpowers. Similar to orbs in Crackdown, these powers are earned and upgraded by collecting blue clusters which are scattered heavily throughout the city. In the preview build, there were three powers to try out (at least that’s all I was able to unlock): super jump, super sprint, and the ability to shoot freeze blasts from my hands.

Saints_Row_4_Preview_1

Running really, really fast, doesn’t sound all that exciting, until you actually start doing it. As soon as you hold down the left bumper, the whole city blurs by and cars get left in your trail of super-sprint energy dust. In fact, if cars are in your path, they simply get tossed to the side of the road like paper models, exploding in a fiery mess. Jumping is equally mind blowing, granting you the power to leap over 2 or 3 story buildings without breaking a sweat. Add some upgrades and soon you’ll quite easily be jumping to heights of 10 stories. Sprinting and jumping can even be combined. By leaping at a tall building and holding down the run button, your character can speed run up the side of a 150 story building in no time flat.

Collecting items in open world games is one of my favorite gaming OCD past times, and Saints Row IV already juices that sweet spot and keeps me wanting more. Mixing superhero powers with a large, eclectic cache of guns, tons of cars to steal, and aliens guarding strategic points throughout each section of Steelport almost makes for a perfect game. I say almost because the preview tantalizes and teases like one of the many inhabitants you’d expect in a Saints Row game and still keeps you wanting more. The preview version ended with a very satisfying cliffhanger and plenty of unresolved story issues I look forward to continuing when the full game drops.

One of the cool things I wasn’t expecting was how seamless the “Matrix” factor worked into the flow of the game. Raising the ire of the alien overlords to such a high degree forces a stronger level opponent to be called in, including wild tanks, flying motorcycles, and cop cars modeled after vehicles more likely found in the world of Tron. Stealing any of these vehicles only adds to the level of fun as they tend to cause more havoc than a typical pedestrian vehicle.

Side missions varied between taking out strategic points as previously mentioned, in addition to physical challenges such as beating set times while running through pre-set courses in the city or, a returning favorite, committing chaos-inducing insurance fraud. All missions offer XP which level your character, and additional perks become available as the levels increase.

Will the Third Street Saints be able to stop the Zin alien invasion? I don’t know, but I sure as hell can’t wait to find out. Based on my preview time, Volition has plenty of mayhem and fun planned out regardless of how the game ends. If Saints Row: The Third tickled your fancy, Saints Row IV doesn’t look like it will disappoint one tiny bit. August 20th can’t come soon enough.

[nggallery id=2980]

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.