Most Saints Row fans will agree with the following: Saints Row 2 was undeniably the best developed chapter, while Saints Row the Third was a little disappointing. Somewhere along the line, whether it be a shift in priorities or just straight budget issues, Saints Row the Third wound up moving backwards in the way of writing and gameplay to make way for bigger and flashier setpieces. So of course, fans were wary of Saints Row IV.
Then I played the press preview build.
The Saints Row IV press preview, for reference, is roughly one-quarter of the game that ends after the seventh of thirty-seven missions. It also has half of the activities, a third of the co-op activities, and roughly a third of the diversions available in just Virtual Steelport. For once, I didn’t pull that number out of a PR contact or an interview—I put in the time to explore every available bit of gameplay.
Why? Because Saints Row IV is just that good.
One of the biggest factors behind that statement is the delivery of humor in Saints Row IV. For example: the first mission refers directly to Conan: The Barbarian, Predator, Metal Gear Solid 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Terminator 2, Captain America, and Armageddon in a fifteen minute rapid fire session of ridiculousness while feeling totally natural. That’s a tall order, but it worked.
Volition also has a bit of fun at the fourth wall’s expense, especially with veteran voice actor Nolan North providing the “gimmick” voice for this go-round. North is a gimmick insofar that the actor refers to himself on occasion (e.g. [Kinzie] Be yourself! [North] Be Nolan?). If nothing else, the game provides a self-aware look at games themselves as Kinzie walks The Boss through the basics of Virtual Steelport.
While I can’t speak for mission variety given the limited nature of the press preview, the basic powers in super-speed and super-jumping change the game in a fundamental way. Instead of feeling like Grand Theft Auto, Virtual Steelport feels more like a modern version of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It
After the basics of Virtual Steelport are down, Kinzie has The Boss exit the simulation with a gunfight and harrowing flight from what is presumed to be the Zin mothership to the tune of Haddaway’s What Is Love?. It’s a ridiculous moment that ranks up there with anything the previous installment threw out.
With my time in the preview over, I thought I had properly set my expectations for the rest of the game. Those fell to the wayside when today’s newest trailer featured parts outside the confines of the preview build.
If Saints Row IV can, minimum, keep up the experience from the quarter I've played–it will be great. Given the levels of craziness in the trailer, it may very well be even better. We'll find out in a month and a half with the follow-up review.