Hi! I’m Ross. I’m one of the co-founders of this very website and here I am writing a review in the year of 2020 for Saints Row IV. You know, that game from 2013 that effectively killed off the mainline franchise? Yeah, let’s talk about it because it’s just been re-released on Switch. Was there an outcry? Nobody knows. Still, let’s get into it because as bizarre as it feels to be talking about this game and franchise in modern terms, it’s even more bizarre to play it all over again.
There’s something you need to know right off the bat – this is the exact same game you played in 2013. It doesn’t attempt to do anything differently to what you have in your head went you think of Saints Row IV, so much so that almost immediately it hit me why I picked this game up in first place. And of course, why I soon put it back down.
It’s difficult to say if Saints Row still has the same punch it did way back when. The original sits it at a pretty impressive 75% on Metacritic and as such, those lasting memories of the ridiculousness linger long in the memory. After the somewhat mixed reaction to Agents of Mayhem, I was done. Saints Row has a nasty habit of blowing its load far too early in proceedings, and before you’ve even taken your socks off you’ve seen every move it’s willing to show you.
And that’s perhaps a strange criticism. Is the grind better than discovering the treasure chest on your first venture out? Saints Row IV always steered in the metaphorical skid of the utterly batshit, making you stupidly overpowered before anything has really begun. If you’re playing the game for the first time, after spending a generation with narrative-driven single player games, or GTA/Watch Dogs and its slow gradual progression, Saints Row is never going to scratch that itch. The open-world rule book has not just been kicked to the curb, it’s been set on fire surrounded by its belongings.
And like I said, perhaps that’s strange, because the games prologue is still utterly brilliant. From tearing through an underground terrorist base to destroying wires on a missle heading straight for Washington DC whilst Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing plays in the background, you know you’re about to experience something quite unlike anything else. If you’re a veteran, you know what happens next.
The Saints rule America and you’re the President of the United States. Your first big choice as Commander in Chief? Cure cancer or fix world poverty, both of which you can do with the tap of a button. This is an America that, after the events of Saints Row The Third, has put all of their faith in The Saints to lead them into a prosperous tomorrow. Now, that would be all well and good if the White House wasn’t just invaded by a brute alien force with delightful British accents.
This is followed by waking up in a classic 50’s American sitcom-esque world where the picket fence is on display and everything is very, oddly perfect. There’s no rhyme or reason for what’s going on for a fair while and until then, you’re just left to walk through this sequence until it all hits the metaphorical fan. Once you’re using rocket launchers in a simulated Americana you know full well all bets are off.
In the space of an hour Saints Row is Splinter Cell, Mass Effect and L.A. Noire and you just have to roll with it until it’s over and finally begin the game proper.
It’s here the game for me never lived up to the potential of its superb opening. Once the world opens up and you’re free to explore as you wish – once you’ve worked your way through the games exhaustive clothing options and bought some guns – the open-world aspect finally reveals itself and it’s oddly dark, dingy and on Switch, so resoundingly 2013. It clicks once you’re taking down your first flashpoint that there’s been precisely zilch added to make Saints Row IV feel like it has any place next to its contemporary peers. The shooting with Joy-Cons is clunky and uneven – though to its credit the Switch version does feature motion-targeting which works far better and became my go-to – and the driving feels, well, about as good as a game released in 2013 would feel in 2020 without a single effort made to be improved.
In those early levels, when I was moving through linear set-pieces and corridors full of murderous alien scum, I felt like I was having so much more fun. The game felt concise and purposeful and if it had moved from ridiculous sequence to ridiculous sequence all the way through, I would probably remember this game far more fondly. As such, its open-world in the era of the likes of Spider-Man, Days Gone and Red Dead 2 feels like a product of its era. The stupidity of Saints Row IV is timeless and anyone would get a kick out of its sense of humour, but today? The city of Steelport feels janky, floaty and frankly, has been bettered countless times since its original release.
But then its original fans may or may not care on iota. Being able to take the 2013 Saints Row IV on the go with its DLC stuffed in is exactly what they were looking for in this purchase and you have to imagine that’s who this release is for. I’ve reviewed a ton of Switch ports before this one and always praised the very notion that ‘hey, it’s that game you like! But now, anywhere!’. It’s undoubtedly a unique selling point for the system, obviously, but after the 100th last-gen port, you’ve got to take stock and realise that’s just not going to cut it anymore. The God-tier ports (DOOM, The Witcher 3) are the standard. Making the games work *for* the Switch, rather than simply *on* it has to be the goal. Why are so many publishers blindsided by this notion?
Saints Row IV is nowhere near the bottom of the barrel (hey there, RIME/Payday 2/LEGO City goddamn Undercover), but it feels like a stone cold cash grab for a title that I don’t remember anyone shouting from the rooftops to return.
Of course, sometimes you just need a game like Saints Row to come along. In a world as utterly upside-down as ours currently is, there’s very little that can’t be fixed by strapping on a Dubstep gun and tearing it around blasting aliens in their dumb faces. Some may have found their zen already this week lying somewhere between Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing and as such returning – again – to Saints Row may not particularly be on their agenda.
Saints Row IV still offers exactly what it ever has, because there’s nothing new to see. If you desperately need it wherever you go, then go nuts. You aren’t going to be disappointed.
If you’ve never played a Saints Row IV, you’ll find vastly superior versions on other systems.
Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is available on March 27th for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
Developer: Volition, FishLabs
Publisher: Deep Silver
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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