Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was released this month and while there are things about the story and pacing issues that hold it back from being the best Ys ever, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in the series. A lot of this comes from the Monstrum powers, which essentially give Adol and his friends super powers like the ability to scale tall buildings by running up their walls or traveling great distances by sprouting wings to glide. As I was enjoying this I got a feeling of deja vu where I knew I had played something like this before. Another series I had been fond of went down a ridiculous story path and gave everyone super powers, and that game was Saints Row IV.
Saints Row is a rather bizarre series in its evolution. The original Saints Row was a fun but shameless Grand Theft Auto III clone. Saints Row 2 didn’t do much to deviate from that mold aside from putting a greater emphasis on humor and taking more steps to establish its own identity past a Great Value Brand Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row The Third got ridiculous and did some shark jumping, but despite being a lot more over the top and less grounded in reality, it still had the familiar Saints Row flavor. Saints Row IV saw the previous entry’s elasmobranch hurdling and calmly said hold my beer while tossing a half empty keg before plunging the Sixth Street Saints into complete and total absurdity.
The plot of Saints Row IV is the once simple street gang has garnered the favor of the American people after thwarting a terrorist attack. As a result the player is elected President of the United States five years later. The famous actor Keith David is appointed as presidential advisor while other high ranking members of the Saints fill various cabinet positions. Life seems good for the Saints, until an alien invasion by the Zin empire destroys the White House and abducts the boss and cabinet members. After escaping from a computer simulation based on 1950s sitcoms, the boss is reunited with Saints hacker Kinzie Kensington. This enrages Zinyak the warlord, who does the sensible thing and destroys Earth.
One of the perks of living inside of a computer-generated simulation of Steelport is the Saints are able to have super powers. Some of these powers include telekinesis, jumping to incredible heights and running at superhuman speed. These powers can be upgraded as the game progresses, where the super jump can include air dashes and the ability to the glide or becoming able to run so fast that the player can run vertically up the side of buildings. This sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous, but since Saints Row has decided to separate themselves from reality, the fun factor benefits from this entry going all out in their abandonment of the reality-based constraints on character abilities.
Aside from the super powers and existing in a computer simulation of their hometown, Saints Row IV does follow the mold of its predecessors, which given how much the series has changed sometimes feels shoehorned. Many of the Saints lieutenants are trapped in simulations of their own personal hell and it’s up to the player to rescue them. Rescuing the other gang members serves as the main story missions, but there are some of the familiar side missions such as repeatedly running into traffic to rack up insurance fraud payouts for medical expenses. Liberating districts of Steelport help increase the player’s hourly income, which made sense in previous entries where the Saints were a street gang, but seems like a vestigial relic now that the world has been destroyed and the Saints are playing super heroes in a war against aliens in a computer-generated simulation.
Even when Saints Row was designed to be a more serious crime game it always had a sense of humor about itself. Saints Row IV fully embraces this, which given the plot shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Parodies of pop culture, particularly science fiction, pop up throughout the game along with a few other nods to other video games here and there. The dialogue and situations are humorous which works in the game’s favor, and the humor carries over to battle which includes weapons such as the famous dubstep gun and oversized sex toys. The juvenile humor helps cement the game’s M rating as being well deserved, but it wouldn’t feel like a Saints Row game without it.
Two pieces of DLC were released that contain new story missions: Enter the Dominatrix and How The Saints Saved Christmas. Enter the Dominatrix was originally intended to be DLC for Saints Row The Third, but ended up evolving into Saints Row IV. The Steelport simulations is hijacked by a rogue AI program called the Dominatrix. Part of the charm is how much fourth wall breaking occurs in this DLC and how it discusses how incoherent the story of Saints Row has become. How The Saints Saved Christmas deals with the lack of holiday spirit in the Steelport simulation when Santa Claus is captured. In an attempt to get off the naughty list for all the crimes collectively committed by the Saints they take it on themselves to rescue Santa. A third DLC expansion was released in 2015 that unlike the other two is a standalone expansion that doesn’t require the base game. Saint’s Row: Gat Out of Hell is the epilogue to Saint’s Row IV. The premise is the player controls either Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington as they travel to hell to rescue the boss from Satan. Gat Out of Hell overall isn’t as good as the main Saints Row IV, feeling more like a collective of side missions set in a new environment. But even with that criticism, it’s a moderately amusing way to complete the Saints Row IV experience.
Saints Row IV showcases one of the stranger evolutions of a game series in video game history, and while the overall tone couldn’t be much more different than the original games, it can’t be argued that Saints Row has developed its own identity as opposed to remaining a Grand Theft Auto knock off. When the premise of Saints Row IV was first announced, as a longtime fan of the series who thought The Third was ridiculous, I had reservations about it, but once Saints Row IV ended up being a lot of fun. It’s an enjoyable game provided the player has the right mindset, and the right mindset is for a game where the premise is just so gloriously stupid that it almost seems brilliant.
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