Planet of the Saints: Saints Row IV Hands-On Preview
My biggest surprise of last week was opening my mailbox to find a preview copy of Saints Row IV. Saints Row The Third was a huge tipping point for the series, which in my opinion helped it step out of the shadows of GTA and showed that it was no mere clone. Some information was already given on the upcoming title; things like the Saints rising to power in the Oval Office and super powers becoming a part of game play due to interaction with alien invaders. I was curious not only on how all this would tie together, but whether it would actually mesh will with Saints Row game play. I’m happy to report that I was pleased on both accounts.
The preview starts with the Saints raiding a terrorist compound. Similar to Saints Row The Third, this gives the player a chance to hop right into some action without having to go through the character customization screen first. I’m not sure if I missed it in Saints Row The Third, but a new aspect that is introduced is stealth killing. It didn’t seem like this was going to be a major element to game play, but it looks like it’s a mechanic that may introduce some interesting stages later on. You hook up with new allies (surprisingly including Matt Miller) and go on the hunt for the terrorist leader (who knows you from Steelport and hates America for allowing the Saints to exist).
After fighting your way through the compound and dealing with the terrorist leader, a nuke is launched toward Washington, and as the leader of the Saints you hop onto it (of course). It wouldn’t be Saints Row if they didn’t add some silliness to a serious situation by playing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” as you manually disable the nuke. With all of the tearful goodbyes I thought we would have another Johnny Gat situation on our hands, but after the missile explodes and you fall, you end up landing right in the Oval Office in the Presidents chair. You’re now national heroes and, through the trust of the American people, the Saints, specifically you, are now in office.
Saints Row IV offers the same in-depth customization that Saints Row The Third does. There are templates available for those who don’t want to spend too much time on that screen, but those that do can make a unique character. You can change positioning and curvature of all of your facial features, and have many options available for complexion, make up, and various imperfections to help create a completely different-looking character. When it comes to your body and clothing you will notice many of the same options from the previous Saints Rows, but there are plenty of new options available as well. You’ve also got a few different voices as well.
When you finally finish with character customization you will start the game as the President of the United States, getting briefed by your cabinet on your way to a press conference. As I walked down the corridor I was asked questions that I had to select an answer too – Things like “Do you cure cancer or solve world hunger”, “do I go and party with Oleg or not”, “or do I punch this guy in the face or in the nuts”. Answering some of these gave some funny responses, but I didn’t see how they affected game play. I’m curious to see if in the full version these decisions can come back to help you or haunt you.
It doesn’t take long for the alien invasion to arrive. You fight your way through the White House, watching your cabinet being abducted. You hop into an anti-air battery, decked out with a presidential flair that only the Saints could give it, and start shooting down warships. This leads to a confrontation with the leader of the aliens (known as the Zinyak) in a QTE sequence that is ultimately lost. When you wake up you are in a 1960’s version of Steelport. Everyone is nice, everything is in order, so obviously everything is wrong. It doesn’t take long for you to figure out that this is not where you are supposed to be, and with the help of Kinzie, you are able to disrupt this simulation by causing chaos.
The simulations are a way for the Zinyak to imprison those they chose from Earth, and that includes you and your cabinet. After you disrupt your original simulation, the leader of the Zinyak puts you in another one that looks much closer to the Steelport we were used to seeing in Saints Row The Third. It’s not completely the same, however; All references to the Saints in Steelport are missing, Planet Saints has been replaced with Planet Zin, and all of your safe houses and headquarters are gone. The landscape has changed a bit, with many structures now looking to be of alien origin, and police and military vehicles also look like they are out of this world. It is quite cool looking, and the entire game looks great on PC. There was a video released recently with 10 minutes of game play footage that concerned me a bit, but when I cranked the graphics up to high the game didn’t disappoint.
The primary quest line was aimed at learning about the simulation, how it works, and how you can break it. Gang operations have been replaced with uplinks to the simulation. You fight off a group of aliens defending the simulation and can shut it down to help damage it. This was my first experience fighting the Zinyak in a simulation, and by defeating them I found I could use their weaponry right from the start; something I thought I would have to wait much later in the game to do. The Zinyak have a comparable weapon for every type you can pick up in the game. The main difference I noticed is that there typically is no reloading with their weapons as they are laser based.
There were some familiar activities to play. I ran across two of my favorites from the previous Saints Row: Tank Mayhem and Insurance Fraud. The tank in Tank Mayhem is now replaced by a futuristic hover tank, which is pretty cool. Insurance fraud didn’t have any extra goodies, but once you get your powers I can guarantee you will be having a lot more fun with it. There are. There are activities in which you need to steal cars that are embedded with viruses that give them a neon glow to help damage the simulation, but this is also a rehash of a previous activity. There was a new activity I ran across where you can deploy a virus, but when you do so you need to defend yourself against waves of enemies.
Eventually you find data clusters, and after you collect a few you find out you can use them to give yourself powers in the simulation. During this preview I was given super speed and super jump. The super speed should be familiar to those who played the “Trouble with Clones” DLC from Saints Row The Third. This time, however, the power runs on stamina and you can upgrade that power to do additional damage to things you run into. Super jump not only allows you scale tall buildings, but also you can jump on walls, Mega Man X style, to scale them if they happen to be a bit too tall. When you combine the two you can hop and sprint across Steelport like a true super hero.
Another quest requires you to shut down a hotspot, which are these big bubbles you can see throughout the entire city. Shutting them down damages the simulation, and because they are important, Wardens show up when you deactivate them. Wardens are high-powered enemies that soak up a lot of damage while fighting. Without your powers you would be no match for them, but that’s not something I had to worry about in this preview. As soon as the Warden appeared the camera focused on it so I could can run around and use my guns and powers against it instead of having to worry about making sure I was facing the right direction.
Once you defeat a Warden you can absorb it to get a power – In this case it was a frost blast which freezes enemies in place and causes double damage to them. There are other blasts that you can obtain (such as a fire blast), and from what I can see you can only equip one type of blast at a time. After I defeated the first Warden, the rest of the Wardens were adapted and given shields. I can only imagine that this will be an ongoing thing in the game; making each encounter with a Warden more challenging.
Adding powers to Saints Row was like putting the taking best part of The Crackdown and putting it into a better game. I only got a small taste of the types of challenges and enemies I will come across using the powers and I had a blast. I can’t wait until I get my hands on a full copy so I can see what other type of havoc I can cause.
I spent a good amount of time just traversing the city using my powers and in cars. The music selection they had on loop for each station wasn’t very long, but I have to admit, I did like what I heard. Also, music continues to play when you get out of a car (benefits of the simulation), so your soundtrack stays with you. Another benefit of the simulation is that you no longer need to take your cars to a garage to save them. You can save them in place, and then materialize them whenever you want to use them.
The last mission you do ends up taking you out of the simulation and brings you back into the real world. Now you’re naked on an alien spaceship with a weapon. After fighting your way through some guards, Kinzie picks you up in a stolen Warship and you have to navigate it through obstacles as you try to escape the mothership… while “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” is playing. Unfortunately, this is where the preview ended. I can’t say for sure if the series of events that happened in the preview will be the exact same as in the full release, but even if they aren’t I can’t imagine this not being an amazing game. The preview only lasted for a few hours, but the amount of fun I had was more than some full AAA titles I had played in recent memory (*cough Remember Me *cough).
Comical violence, witty dialog, and fun game play were definitely present in this demo. This preview took me from being interested in Saints Row IV, to it being the only game I care about buying this summer… It’s release date is August 20th, by the way; so get ready.