Saints Row 4 - Preview

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OR the President is an alien fighting super-hero who can make you wubwubwub yourself to death.

Yes, the emphasis here is firmly on the ridiculous.

Almost as soon as we'd sat down to watch the preview footage for Saints Row 4, we were told the ante had most definitely been upped, that a huge part of the development of the forth installment was discovering how to increase the insanity in meaningful ways, to design it specifically to enhance your fun, and from what we've seen it has the potential to do just that.

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The leader of the Saints is now the super-powered President of the USA, and Steelport is under-attack from a shape-shifting alien menace. Yes, it's silly, but it's this all encompassing absurdity that defines the franchise, and where other games could be accused of leaping over sharks with little care for their own legacy, Saints Row grabs a hold of the proverbial sea-dwelling predator's tail and uses its thrashing body to surf its wacky wave of ludicrous design.

The game retains its GTA style core. Vehicles can still be commandeered, standard weaponry (smgs, snipers, shotguns, etc...) can still be employed to burst heads and spatter your canvass in ways that would get Dexter Morgan enthralled, but its GTA with a more comic-book veneer, and the violence is pure Itchy and Scratchy inspired mayhem.

New abilities include Crackdown style traversal (massive leaps, huge bursts of speed, gliding, etc...) and offensive powers such as Telekinesis which you can use to hurl cars and people at other cars and people, and ice blasts to freeze targets for increased damage. And while this style is hardly new, from what we saw of the movement it appeared extremely fluid, with seamless transitions from hurtling yourself across the environment directly into melee combat. It looked like it could be incredibly satisfying.

The combat itself, again, appeared to flow with a real ease, the footage showing the character switching from powers to weaponry to melee without missing a beat of their combo. Just how easy this will be to reproduce in an actual gameplay situation remains to be seen, but the sights were promising.

Aside from beating up on hapless citizens for the hell of it (come on, we all know this is a massive reason we enjoy this style of game!), a new antagonist has been revealed as a target for your trademarked sense of personal justice: the Zin. A shape-shifting alien race, their motherships hover above the city perpetually and from what we saw random encounters occur when seemingly innocent bystanders or normal police suddenly morph into alien form to attack.

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Special weaponry very much follows the OTT theme. We were shown two particular items: the Inflato-Ray and the Dubstep gun. The Inflato-Ray does what you'd expect, and inflates your target into a googly-eyed cartoon puffer fish before exploding in a burst of blood. Lovely. The Dubstep Gun forces enemies (and cars, amusingly) to convulse and contort along to Skrillex inspired wubabge until they expire. The devs promised this was just the tip of the insantiyberg, and if the other items have as much inventiveness and imaginative fun about them the game's combat certainly looks set to appease fans of the franchise.

Customisation was also highlighted as a strong focus. Aside form the usual costumes and hairdos, weaponry can now be turned into works of death dealing art. For example, you can mod your standard rocket launcher so it looks like a guitar case. The changes will be aesthetic only, with your weapons retaining all their actual attack attributes.

We were also shown a segment where the character piloted a hulking mech-suit, and rained down huge amounts of destruction in a brief burst of chaos. The segment ended with a scoreboard plastered over the screen, which the devs confirmed showcased how certain sections will be rated based on performance which will add replayability and competition to sections of the gameplay.

Lastly, we were shown a mini-boss, what was referred to as a Zin Warden. These creature are super-powered versions of the grunt warriors, and will frequently appear to add challenge to combat with more strategic approaches required to take them down.

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What we saw looked promising, but for those who remain unconvinced by the previous instalments there might not be enough here to gain your loyalty. For all its fantastic trappings the game, from our brief 15 minute look, appears to very much be your standard open-world sandbox action game, but with less GTA and more “how can we make moving from point A to point B as absolutely mind-bendingly preposterous as possible”. As mentioned, its this emphasis that defines the series and satisfies its fans, but for those who found the Loony Tunes zaniness of the preceding games the least appealing aspect, this might be taking things a little too far.

Saints Row 4 will either be your gaming equivalent of Indy in the fridge or the Animaniacs with automatic-weaponry, super-powers, and a jubilant lack of care for basic human decency.

Either way, absurdity is assured.

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