In the fist two Saints Row games you played as a silly gangster. In Saints Row: The Third you played as a famous silly gangster. In Saints Row IV you play as a gangster president fighting aliens. Don't worry, that's no spoiler, the developers revealed this a long time ago. Either way, the series is still running its course, whether you like its direction or not.
Five minutes in I catch myself smiling. I'm a gangster and a government spy at the same time, tasked with hunting down some sort of madman. Why this task was given to me and my fellow gangster buddies was explained in the beginning. At least it think it was, but it doesn't matter anyway. I find the psychopath and throw him to the ground. The game tells me repeatedly press buttons displayed on the screen. Quick-time baby, and lots of it. Meanwhile majestic drums are playing a tune that's suspiciously similar to the Battlefield theme. It's a cheap gag, but it works. Shameless parodies of the big hitters; Call of Duty, Battlefield, even Mass Effect! A bit later I'm asked to repeat the quick-time procedure to pick up a news paper on the ground in front of me. You can't help but like it.
Anyway, my efforts as a not-so-secret agent secures my position as President of the United States. The White House is filled with guns, purple wallpaper and stripper poles. I'm on my way to address the public when the alien invasion begins. I try to hold them off with the anti-aircraft guns i recently had installed, but it's no use. I can't fight back the monsters. Perhaps you thought Saints Row: The Third was over-the-top? It's nothing compared to this. Nonetheless, good voice acting and humour keeps hold of my attention.
After a plot twist I'm not going to reveal today, I'm back in the city of Steelport. That's right, the same city as last time. In fact it's the exact same city as the one we visited in the last game. It's now invaded by aliens, but apart from that the developers haven't changed a thing. At least not as far as I can tell. It's a lazy approach to a sequel. It's not a whole lot prettier than last time either. More effort has been put into the lighting effects and the reflections, but all told it looks like Saints Row: The Third. It's no next-gen title, that's for sure.
At the same time it's a fun game, and after all that's what's really important. When announcing the game the developers explained that you'll have super powers to play with this time around, and it doesn't take long for them to appear. You can jump hundreds of feet in the air, run faster than any car, and fly from rooftop to rooftop. The influence from games like Infamous and Prototype are obvious, but it still works, and it's really in keeping with the feel of the series. The City hasn't changed, but at least you're able to enjoy it in a brand new way. All the while the music, menus and general feel of the series remains. It's a sandbox game in its own right, with its own shameless identity. Whether you like it or not. The problem is, people who bought the last game have already visited Steelport's various hotspots.
When it comes down to it, Saints Row IV only has two genuinely positive features. Luckily those are two important features. The story seems fun, and the gameplay is equally fun. If the intensity is kept throughout, we're in for an entertaning, smug, and above all fun ride, for the duration of the main story. If that's the sort of thing you're after, Volition's next game won't disappoint. If, on the other hand, you're after a game with surprising innovation and a brand new world to explore, this won't be your cup of tea. In that regard Saints Row IV presents nothing more than what you would expect from a DLC-offering for the last game.
That being said, the developers could very well have an ace up their sleeve. After all, the preview only included the first few hours of gameplay time. Perhaps we'll get to explore fresh environments, beyond the streets of Steelport? The story could very well be pointing in such a directon, but it's impossible to know for certain. If that in fact is the case, the game will be all the more better for it. It works well in its own crazy way, particularly due to a slightly diminished focus on sex toys, and all the more focus on satirical jokes.
Either way, the answer will be revealed when Saints Row IV hits store shelves on August 23th for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. By that time you will have read the final judgement on the game here at Gamereactor.
This preview is based on the PC-version of the game, played with maximum settings on the following test system: Intel i5-760 quad-core @3 GHz, 8 GB RAM, AMD HD 7970 3GB 1/6 Ghz.