Developer: Volition Inc. Publisher: Deep Silver UK Price: £39.99 Platform(s): PC, X360, PS3
It's tempting to say Saints Row IV is the most fun you can have with your trousers on, but that wouldn't be completely true, and not just because in Saints Row trousers are entirely optional. On the official bit-tech trouser scale of enjoyment, which ranges from waist-high boredom to completely off fun-times, Saints Row IV is at ankle level. On the verge, but not quite there.
It's a game absolutely bursting with ideas, but it doesn't seem entirely sure how best to articulate them, a bit like a child telling you a story and making it up as they go along. It's frequently funny and always endearing, even when it starts giggling because it cracked a joke about poo, but the plot's elements are all cobbled together from bits of its favourite TV shows, and nothing quite stands out enough to give it an identity of its own.
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Beginning with a Zero Dark Thirty parody incursion into a terrorist base, the celebrity-gangster and now apparently Special Forces team known as the Third Street Saints end up stopping a nuclear launch in typically absurd fashion, which leads to their leader - you - becoming President of the United States. (This makes for an especially amusing beginning if you pick the Cockney voice for your character, a choice which we would highly recommend.)
Unfortunately, your tenure as the East End's first leader of the free world is short lived, as an alien empire named the Zin invade Earth, abduct your entire entourage, and imprison you alone in a computerised simulation of Steelport, the city from Saints Row: The Third. This is where the game begins in earnest, and also where the first eyebrow may rise at this fourth iteration of the series.
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In terms of layout and design, virtual Steelport is the same as it was in the Saints' previous outing. Volition haven't expanded the base city in any way, which is a tad disappointing. It's also visually less appealing than it was in the previous game. The day/night cycle has been removed, and the city is perpetually overshadowed by grey-brown clouds, which accompany the glowing red Zin structures hovering over the metropolis in expression of the extraterrestrials' dominance over you. The logic here is understandable, but it's also counter to Saints Row's trend toward vibrant absurdity and illogic. Saints Row doesn't do things because they make sense, it does them because they're fun.
Although the city doesn't look vastly different to how it did previously, it definitely feels different, and this is because of the game's most prominent new feature - superpowers. To break out of the simulation, the Saints decide to hack it, jack it and generally cause as much chaos as possible within it, which is basically how they solve every problem. Never ask a Saint to iron your shirts. The immediate consequence of this is while within the city you can run faster than a Formula 1 Car and leap over buildings.
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The superhero movement is definitely the game's most entertaining new addition. The controls are slick and precise, and dashing down highways and leaping over skyscrapers feels so good it renders the game's vehicles almost completely redundant. Playing the superhero is also encouraged, through collecting "clusters" used to upgrade your powers, which are liberally scattered across rooftops, on top of chimney stacks and bridge supports.