I think the mood of Saints Row IV can be summed up by a moment early on where I, an aggressively British President of the USA, was demolishing a block party of aliens by kicking them in the nuts so hard they flew over the horizon while Stan Bush’s “The Touch” blared over the radio. There’s nothing about that sentence I don’t love, and the best part is the aliens are the only part I didn’t explicitly choose.
Saints Row IV, the final numbered entry in the Saints Row series, was originally released back in 2013 but today we’re looking at the remastered “Re-Elected” version, released on March 27, 2020 for Switch.
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
Saints Row IV continues the story of the previous games, with the saints having worked their way up from street gang to pop culture icons. After having helped take out a terrorist cell led by an adversary from the previous game, you have become President of the USA, with the rest of the Saints as your staff. A new era has dawned, it’s time to see how a psychopathic gang leader handles running a cou–aaaaand aliens have attacked and abducted the best and brightest of Earth.
Indeed, the whole “President” aspect means little in the grand scheme of things, as you’re trapped within a simulation of Steelport, the setting of the third game, trying to break the simulation and ultimately get back at Emperor Zinyak of the Zin empire for what they did.
Saints Row IV takes advantage of the “this is a simulation” aspect to push the ridiculousness even further than ever before, introducing super powers by having your code altered, having an even more insane arsenal, and pitting you against foes that’d stretch the suspension of disbelief anywhere else. Previously killed gang leaders? Evil doppelgangers? A hundred Professor Genki mascots? Sure, why not.
The simulation aspect helps to encourage exaggerated gameplay, causing chaos with your superpowers and over-the-top weaponry. The people are all simulated, so what’s the harm in nuking a city block? It also helps a bit with the ludonarrative dissonance other GTA clones have had, where you may have a plot of vengeance against someone who killed your friends/lover/whatever while having no problem doing the same to dozens of random strangers on a regular afternoon even when TRYING not to be a jerk (I swear pedestrians just jump into traffic in these games…).
Lastly, I cannot say enough how much I love the writing. Saints Row IV has a casual, irreverent humor that had me in stitches, poking fun at pop culture and other games less through outright mocking, and more through just taking things and dialing them up to 11. The ease of which you can romance your entire crew as a jab at Mass Effect, poking at how unnecessarily convoluted stealth sections are in a portion mimicking Metal Gear, a whole Streets of Rage section that… well, I think that’s more of a love letter really.
Of course, there’s plenty of non-referential humor as well, mostly about taking the utter ludicrousness of their situation in stride. Humanity as we know it has ceased to exist? OK, kinda annoyed by that. Zinyak interrupted you and your bro singing Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and butchered it? Oh he is DEAD.
Murder Time, Fun Time!
The Saints Row series began as a GTA clone, meaning an open-world third-person city environment with a focus on being able to steal cars, cause mayhem, and avoid the police in-between scripted missions and, for better or worse that’s what it still is. The addition of superpowers greatly changes this however, with two in particular: super speed and super jumping. Suddenly it’s less about driving about, inevitably getting the cops on you as you hit something (I’m pretty sure these games make other cars on the road painfully slow on purpose to get you to try and swerve around them), and more about sprinting down the road and leaping across buildings like some strange lovechild of The Flash and The Tick.
In a way, this is a game that almost painfully still carries the trappings of its previous generations. The car system is remarkably robust, being able to save cars and call them in whenever, upgrading their stats, and unlocking shortcuts to your GPS once you’ve driven through them… all for a part of the game that you’ll never use unless you’re going out of your way to do so.
The open world of Steelport feels this way in general as well. It mostly just serves as a way to get from mission to mission. There’s side challenges to do scattered about, but most of the sidequests in the game point you to them anyway (and if you take care of them ahead of time, it means skipping out on whatever jokes the quest had in the middle). Plus they’re all listed on the map, so reaching them was more just following my GPS than actual exploring.
There’s data cells to find, but they’re also added to the map eventually, plus as they’re the way to upgrade your powers they feel mandatory, making picking over the map for them more a required chore rather than some fun little thing tucked into a corner. You can recruit up to three NPC homies to run around with you and ratchet up your wanted level, but the game is rarely difficult enough outside of missions to warrant the extra help or provide any kind of thrill.
Now, you might notice a lot of my problems are with how the superpowers affect things, and you’d be right. Arguably you could take them away and a lot of my problems would vanish. You’d be left with a standard GTA clone and that’s honestly a genre I enjoy, but there’s just one problem with that: the superpowers are actually a LOT of fun. In a game all about casual mayhem, it’s great to just be able to yeet an alien over the horizon, to shrink a bunch of foes and sprint around popping them, or just simply hurl fireballs all over the place. It’s exactly the sort of juvenile power fantasy I signed up for. Even just getting around the city felt satisfying, and everything that I felt was trivialized are just things that should get an upgrade to compete. Give me a rocket car that follows the GPS tracker like a rail and hurls everything in front of me into the great beyond or something equally ridiculous.
Now, if Volition ever makes a Saints Row V and continue escalating things from here, I’d love to see more focus on the missions. These set pieces with tailored enemies and often restrictions on what I could do were where Saints Row IV was its most fun. The times that I actually appreciated the open world were these moments when I had hordes of aggressive enemies pouring in, NPCs to chase down, and funny dialogue to listen to.
One thing I really enjoyed about Saints Row IV was the level of customization I had with creating my agent of destruction. There’s the mundane stuff sure, I can be Caucasian, Hispanic, Black… or I could have skin literally made of emerald. Every hair and clothing option is available no matter what I may be underneath, and plenty of outfits are there just to be ridiculous on purpose. I may have worn a costume for Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax the moment it was available. Nothing says “I like what I do” quite like a Cheshire Cat grin.
I’m also fond of the soundtrack. I loved just about every song on their classic rock station (Though it does seem the devs approve as well, just about every mission with a set music track is pulled from there), and I actually sought out the track used for the popstar costume on the dubstep gun. The one complaint I do have is that the selection of tracks is criminally small for an open world game. There were times when I just turned the music off and embraced the silence because I knew if I had to listen to “Just a Friend” one more time I was going to learn to hate it.
I’m quite used to accepting that a multiplatform game on the Switch is going to take a performance hit, but Saints Row IV actually ran remarkably well, even when absolutely loading the screen with particle effects and explosions (thank you dubstep gun). It’s a small price to pay for being able to take my carnage on the go.
Now, that said… I’m not entirely happy with the port.
Unfortunately, there’s more than a few bugs present. Most of them are fairly minor ones: My hair kept vanishing when returning to the ship, a few collectibles that required telekinesis to break something could be obtained just by ramming at high speed, little things like that which don’t ruin things in the long run. However, as of the time of writing this review there is still one major bug that has gone unfixed: all the DLC, part of the main selling points of the Re-Elected edition, simply didn’t unlock when it was supposed to.
Overall, I’d say if you haven’t played Saints Row IV before to give it a shot. I honestly had a blast going through this. If you have, well, the novelty of having it portable might not justify the price tag. I have heard from Volition that the bugs ARE being worked on but, at the moment, there’s no definite time frame for when the DLC will actually be available for Switch players, and I can’t help but be a little disappointed at that.
Review copy provided by Deep Silver for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.