Game Picks

Game Picks: 'Saints Row IV'

CorrespondentAugust 15, 2013 

Saints Row IV keeps you smiling

Originally conceived as something of a “Grand Theft Auto” rip-off with the added “bonus” of gang violence, the “Saints Row” series has come into its own over the course of its first three entries.

The third, in particular, managed to hit the sweet spot between over-the-top violence and slapstick humor that translates to all-out fun – something like an ’80s action flick with a modern set of street smarts. That success has translated to sales, and “Saints Row” has slowly built its way up from also-ran to worthy alternative.

One could see “Saints Row IV” (Xbox 360; $59.99; Rated M) as something of a reward to the developers at Volition. It’s as if the success of “Saints Row: The Third” caused someone to tell the development team to go on and do whatever they want for the next one.

The result: “Saints Row IV” is utterly, totally, gleefully off the deep end.

President vs. aliens

As leader of the now-wildly-popular Saints gang – and also, as it turns out, the president of the United States – the player is tasked with saving the Earth from the evil alien Emperor Zinyak and his underlings. That’s right, the “rival gang” of “Saints Row IV” is one of aliens. Most of the game takes place in a virtual version of the city of Steelport, which means that nothing you do necessarily has to be tied to earthly limitations.

As a result: Aliens! Superpowers! “Matrix”-style side plots! Wanton violence without guilt!

Everything about “Saints Row IV” is meticulously designed to make the player smile.

The character creation tools put most role playing games to shame; my play-through was done with a bald, silver-skinned, eyebrow-less Silver Surfer rip-off who wore the occasional fedora and spoke like an Australian perpetually sucking down helium.

Borrowed inspiration

Inspiration from other games is all over the place, from less surprising influences like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Infamous,” to more surprising segments lifted from franchises like “Burnout,” “Call of Duty” and “Mass Effect.” That’s not even to mention all of the movie references that get tossed about, either as cheap gags or plot inspiration.

Still, from the constant splashes of purple to the cast of supporting characters, this is a “Saints Row” game through and through. Even ripped from its usual settings, it’s the sort of open-world playground that invites familiarity with the environment and is never short of things to do.

Pure fun, and funny

While the fantastical elements of “Saints Row IV” may rub some players the wrong way by removing the tension and mucking with the environs of the previous games, those same elements will invite at least as many new players to the “Saints Row” fold.

It is utterly approachable and completely hilarious, though when the gameplay gets intense, it can be just as difficult as games like “Far Cry.” The difficulty is particularly pervasive in stretches where the game becomes less about exploration and more about blowing away the alien baddies. With little cover to be found in many environments, taking down crowds that happen to be shooting at you can be awfully difficult. One ill-advised stretch of spaceship-flying might have been the most frustrating moment in the entire game.

Still, the nitpicks and frustrating moments are short-lived and tempered by the quick and legitimately funny sense of humor.

“Saints Row IV” is the new patron “Saint” of games that purport to put fun above all else. It’s as much pure fun as any game you’re likely to play all year.

Also New This Week: “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” (Xbox 360, PS3) takes the venerable turn-based strategy franchise and turns it into a squad-based over-the-shoulder shooter, while “Disney Infinity” (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Vita, 3DS, and PC) is arriving to take over your kids’ lives straight through the holidays, “Skylanders” style.

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