Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360
Publisher: Deep Silver
There has been some call for Saints Row to take a step back and ask itself, "do I need to be so outrageous? Is the giant quivering purple dildo strictly necessary?" Though the franchise has always been the lighthearded antidote to Grand Theft Auto and a hard day at work, many gamers and pundits are starting to question whether Saints Row: The Third might have been a step too far.
Saints Row IV is having precisely none of it.
Volition's fourth sandbox title plans to push the silliness factor beyond mortal comprehension, revelling in taking everything to its (il)logical conclusion. The leader of the Saints is now the President of the United States, the most powerful man in existence, but an alien abduction imprisons the old crew in a twisted virtual simulation where anything is possible. And I literally do mean anything.
Superpowers. Mechs. Aliens. Inflato-rays. Dubstep cannons. Monster trucks. Oh my.
Before we begin, it's important to note that this preview is based on an eyes-on, hands-off presentation that was heavily scripted and lead. Don't go basing any pre-orders on this just yet!
Steelport's virtual alter-ego is both familiar and deeply unsettling. Crowds of digitized pedestrians go about their daily business under the shadow of enormous looming towers and motherships, under threat from extraterrestrial enforcers and corrupted police forces. It's a colourful and bizarre juxtaposition of the mundane and pure science fiction. Of course, now that the public are little more than simulations, you're free to brutalise and scandalise them without any lingering sense of remorse... and there are so many more options open to you now.
The president (clad in an Uncle Sam outfit for the purposes of the preview) can abuse the simulation by tapping into a selection of evolving superpowers that gradually unlock throughout the game. In terms of traversal, you can now run faster than any car, smashing vehicles out of the way as you zoom through the streets, and jump over skyscrapers in a single bound. Steelport is now a lot more vertical, with plenty of occupied rooftops and hidden secrets to discover, though you'll likely only notice them after squashing numerous pedestrians into paste with super-powered slams and ground pounds. Why not?
Psychic powers? Again, why not? You've got a selection of psychic blasts and elemental attacks at your disposal (ice beams freeze and shatter targets over a wide area), which pale in comparison to Telekinesis. The power of your mind can pick up cars and toss them around like playthings, or turn hapless bystanders into makeshift missiles. If there's an opportunity to generally f*ck with something in a totally tasteless and over the top way, Saints Row IV will seize it with both hands. Which, I hasten to add, is probably no bad thing.
These ruinous superpowers won't become fully available until you've unlocked and upgraded them, however, a process that will take many hours of exploring the city for collectibles. To this end, you'll still have to rely on vehicles - which now include Monster Trucks that crush other cars into scrap under their immense weight - to get around in the early game, and bring a staggering arsenal of weapons to bear.
A familiar gamut of traditional firearms are on offer, from handguns to rocket launchers, and you're now able to customise them visually as well as tweaking a granular selection of statistics. Should you want to make your bazooka resemble a SNES Nintendo Scope, you're free to do so, you nostalgic psycho.
However, much of your time will be spent generally messing about with the populace using some gloriously stupid new armaments. The Inflato-Ray, for example, causes its target's head to swell up to the size of a fridge before exploding in a shower of viscera and distended eyeballs. Even this looked like child's play compared to the Dubstep Cannon, which doesn't deal any direct damage, but causes entire city blocks to spontaneously start busting out some sick breakdance moves. Pedestrians stop what they're doing to pop and lock, while every car in the area of effect immediately spawns fat hydraulics and starts bouncing on the spot. Because, at the risk of repeating myself... why the hell not?
As in previous Saints Row titles, events will be a key way of making money and earning upgrades. One such event - the aptly-named Mech Suit Mayhem - will entail strapping into an enormous robot and annihilating everything in the vicinity. Apparently getting the highest possible scores in each event will unlock unique items, skins and weapons, giving you a good reason to replay them several times. Familiar two-player 'drop in' cooperative play will make a return, so expect some fairly rambunctious multiplayer shenanigans.
There'll be more to Saints Row IV than just rampant catharsis. The extraterrestrial Zin will fight you at every step of the way, fielding powerful Warden superheroes of their own to keep you in check, and corrupting the law enforcement to attack you. You'll need to reassemble your crew and fight back, eventually attempting to break out of the simulation once and for all.
But if you're having as much fun as the presentation suggests, I'm not sure you'll be in any hurry to leave.
Stay tuned for our massive interview with Saints Row gameplay designer Scott Phillips.