To say that Saints Row IV has gained skepticism in the gaming media is an understatement. Far too frequently, message boards are wrought with comments of “Isn’t this just 60 dollar DLC?” and “Steelport again?” Though both merited questions, the half hour we spent at PAX East 2013 checking out Saint’s Row IV taught us that, if anything, there is very little to worry about.
The story follows the leader of the Saints (you!) as they become on the President of the United States. And for such a larger-than-life protagonist, an equally larger-than-life antagonists can be found in the Zen, an alien race who invades Earth and sends you to a virtual-reality version of Steelport. What’s more, this alternate Steelport gives you access to crazy weapons, new vehicles, superpowers, and more.
In terms of becoming the President, Volition Producer Jim Boone mentioned how the new occupation is used for more than setting up the plot. Although certainly the case, Volition has created specific activities and gone to great lengths to ensure that you do feel like the president, which is much appreciated. And, for the sake of adding some continuity, your character from Saints Row: The Third can in-fact be imported, though some clothing won’t be.
Weapons, which are one of the best and most outrageous parts of the game, have gotten a few enhancements as well. Outside of upgrading them, Volition showed off new customization options, saying that the look of your weapon can now be completely changed. The preview we saw showed a rocket launcher being changed into a SNES Super Scope as well as a guitar. Two new weapons were also shown off; one is a ray gun that can cause others to inflate and pop, and the other is a Dubstep Gun that shoots dubstep, makes people dance, and distorts the visuals.
As far as vehicles were concerned, we saw a monster truck that wrecks each car in your path. Cool, but nothing compared to the absolutely insane mech suit. It’s a huge mech with two massive machine guns that let you mow down anything in your path. You first get access to it in an activity (one of the many new ones), later gaining the ability to use it during general gameplay.
Speaking of Activities, they have been altered a bit, being given Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals. Made to encourage replay value, getting the Gold Medal on Activities will be required to unlock new items and such.
And of course, it would be impossible to discuss Saints Row IV without discussing the new superpowers you get. The big three you get are super-speed, the ability to literally jump over buildings, and glide in the air. As far weaponry goes, we saw super kicks and punches, freeze blasts that can freeze anything, and telekinesis that can pick up and throw cars and people.
Thankfully, the superpowers will be carefully balanced to prevent them from being broken. There are meters that govern superpower usage, upgrades, and tough enemies that force you to use a combination of your abilities, all while being a freaking superhero President.
Though Saints Row IV takes place in Steelport, Volition claims that the city will feel completely new thanks to the superpowers. While the city is mostly unchanged horizontally, the vertical design of the city has been enhanced with things like alien towers and ships. I think I still need to be sold on this aspect a bit after dropping nearly 40 hours into Saints Row: The Third, but I am not too worried about it.
One of the most assuring things Volition discussed was the actual process of creating the game. While some believed that the game’s development is just a result of repackaging last year’s unreleased Enter the Dominatrix DLC and has been in development for 10 months, Volition revealed that Saints Row IV has been in proper development since around September of 2011. Boone explained that only a few elements of Enter the Dominatrix were incorporated into the new game like the superpower philosophy (while all being greatly expanded). Furthermore, none of the script, story, or voices from the would-be DLC was used to any degree, while the actual DLC will release as completely separate downloadable content after Saints Row IV comes out.
Finally, the cooperative experience from The Third is sticking around. Whored Mode is gone, but in its place is a new multiplayer mode where the goal is for two players to kill each other using your superpowers. As it turns out, the play testers found themselves doing it so much that they decided to turn it into a complete game mode.
Other details we gleamed were that the infallible Professor Genki will return in some capacity, there will be a classic Saints focus on gaining territory (though it won’t be against rival gangs), and though an interesting experience, no creative changes have been made on the production side since Deep Silver’s purchasing of Volition. I’m still skeptical as far as the open world is concerned, but if Saints Row: The Third has taught me anything, it’s to never doubt a development studio that puts fun above all else.
Saints Row IV releases on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on August 20.