Saints Row IV Hands-On Preview - I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing
Written Monday, July 22, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
The first mission in Saints Row IV culminates in one of the funniest scenes ever to grace a video game. It details the moments that set the Saints’ leader on track to become the President of the USA, a position he or she holds in Volition’s upcoming sequel.
The mission is called Zero Saints Thirty and follows the protagonist, who alongside a squad of special agents infiltrates an enemy base to deactivate a nuclear missile. It’s all fairly standard third-person shooter guff, barely worthy of mention beyond the noticeable tightened controls. Bleh.
But then, before you know it, you’re clambering up the side of the nuke after it has blasted off and in a grand gesture worthy of the cheesiest summer blockbuster you pull yourself up the huge missile, ripping off metal panels and yanking out wires, while soaring to an seemingly inevitable heroic death.
And all the while, as you ride a nuke into space, Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ blasts over the speakers in all its soppy, overwrought glory. It’s ludicrous, hilarious and completely fucking stupid in the best way possible. No words can do it justice.
Volition is skilled at these kind of moments. Coming up with amusingly deranged scenarios is one of their strong points, as Saints Row The Third so ably demonstrates. Whether its clomping around as a toilet inside the world of Tron or escaping from a sex dungeon on a gimp-powered rickshaw, the developers know what they’re doing. And the fourth entry in the series promises to be no different.
There are further examples of this too. Following the White House section previewed by Dan following E3 2013, in which aliens called the Zin invade, you’re transported to a kind of twisted pastiche of 1950s Americana, complete with canned Leave it Beaver laughter, diners, Buicks and a brilliant elbows up, joyful walking animation. It’s pretty funny.
But of course, all is not what it seems. This 1950s America section is a virtual reality within which you are trapped and it’s your job to sabotage key points of the simulation in order to escape. It’s essentially a training scenario for how the main, open-world campaign pans out. The trouble is, when you actually get around to playing the main game, unbound by tutorials and the like, Saints Row IV isn’t great.
At the heart of this is the relative emptiness of the world. As we already know, the protagonist now has superpowers and has been imprisoned in an alternate reality version of Steelport. Which sounds fun. But it lacks interesting diversions. There are activities dotted around the place, but when it comes to just romping around and having fun there’s not much to do, despite the fact that you can run faster than a car and leap over buildings.
One of the beautiful things about Far Cry 3, for example, was the fact that you could entertain yourself for hours by exploring, getting into scrapes, chasing animals and enjoying the random encounters that cropped up as a result of the island feeling like a living world. Forget the towers and the outposts for a minute, Far Cry 3’s world was a fun place to be.
My time with Saints Row IV, by comparison, offered no such excitement. There are people and cars, but they don’t seem to interact with each other in any meaningful way and there are far too few of them. The result is a game that felt like it hasn’t moved on since the early days of open-worlds. Having a map sprinkled with activities just isn’t enough.
It’s especially apparent when those activities aren’t much fun, like UFO Mayhem, in which you jump into a ship and have to cause as much damage to the environment as possible within an allotted time. The issue with this activity is that there aren’t that many targets. I spent chunks of time actively flying around looking for crap to blow up, but couldn’t find any. The result wasn’t tension - will I do it in time? - but mild boredom.
Mayhem is supposed to be nuts. The screen should be full of carnage, explosions and dollar indicators. But this was all rather sedate. Most worrying is that the activity was marked as Hard and despite spells of inactivity, I still got a Silver medal, meaning that it’s supposed to be this quiet. That’s not a recipe for fun.
Neither are the races. In Saints Row IV you can enter timed races in which you have to sprint and jump around the city against the clock, following green orbs and avoiding red glowing “firewalls” as you go. It should feel liberating, a chance to flex your super-muscles, but instead it just hammers home how the activities lack the invention and energy of the scripted missions.
Even the the dubstep gun, so hilarious in the trailers, is a bit disappointing. It may make you chuckle the first time you use it, as you watch your victims and their cars bop along to the music, but the truth is it’s doubtful you’ll ever use it again. That’s ultimately because it’s an ineffective weapon; a good gag once and a shitty gun forever.
Much more entertaining is the Professor Genki Mind Over Murder activity, which challenges you to use your telekenesis powers to fling people, cars and Genki heads through hoops in the sky. Against the clock you scamper through the city picking up screaming bystanders and propelling them into the atmosphere. It’s by far the most enjoyable activity we got our hands on.
So maybe there’s hope that the open-world aspect of the game will build on cool activities like Mind Over Murder, but as it stands the scripted missions show the most promise. Because if it starts by riding a nuclear missile into the stars, who knows what crazy shit will happen after that.
Saints Row IV is due out on August 20th in North America and August 23rd in Europe.