It bears mentioning that Saints Row 4 began as an expansion for Saints Row The Third. It was dubbed “Enter the Dominatrix” and comprised a much smaller story of the same general conceit as Saints Row 4, both transforming the gameplay and thrusting the player into a novel re-imagining of Steelport. The project quickly grew too big for its britches, and now we have Saints Row 4.
This is all relevant because, frankly, there’s a ton of recycled content on display. With a few notable exceptions, the terrain of Steelport was spruced up and repackaged for the alien invasion, no more. Stores initially bar entry with an annoying unlock mini-game, only to greet the player with an untouched interior from the predecessor. Several guns and costume getups will look awfully familiar. And by familiar, I mean awful – the graphics are truly subpar.
Saints Row 4 distracts you from this redux by throwing an array of powers at you that annul half of the game’s previously sacred tools of destruction and essentially grant god mode. Why slam cars into victims when you can run five times faster? Who needs guns when you can toss fireballs? The constant pushes to the next joyride render obsolete the previous ride far too quickly, making the game feel slightly less eclectic than it truly is.
Not surprisingly, the difficulty curve struggles to maintain an even pace with the rapid ascension of power. Normal enemies quickly become fodder after certain thresholds, while bosses are comparatively ludicrously challenging. There are abrupt shifts from carefree fun to splats on a brick wall.
For all the absurd power foisted onto the head Saint’s shoulders, the funniest things can thwart her prowess. Homies can still crowd around doors to deny an egress. Awnings and roofs can block mighty leaps. Situations like this highlight the lack of destructible environments – only cars, trash cans, and “street stuff” can be toyed with.
Miss Crackdown? Craving a Matrix-style spoof of Prototype? Ever wished there was a Mimic themed sandbox? The reenvisioned Saints Row 4 will scratch that itch. But what has it given up in return? There are already precious few GTA style games, in both style and caliber – now there is only one.
Furthermore, SR4 confirms suspicions that The Third will stand as the high water mark for the series. Set aside the nigh impossibility for another sequel to top this game in terms of grandly schemed scenarios and pop culture mining. There’s simply nowhere for this solipsistic story to head, the cycle of one-upmanship has exhausted itself. Where do you go after President and then demi-god of a virtual sandbox?
Saints Row V will actually be Black and White III. Crazier shit has happened.