Saints Row 4 in the test - a lot of fun

Author: Patrick Lück
Date: 2013-08-14 15:00:00
In the test of Saints Row 4, together with the Saints gang, we advance into absurd dimensions in which no action game has been before - but leave the technology behind.

Which US President do we want to be? The one who beats cancer or the one who satisfies world hunger? Jeez, a tricky decision that Saints Row 4 dishes out to us right at the beginning - now we know how this Obama has to feel every day.

But as our Vice President, former actor Keith David (Platoon, Pitch Black), asserts, we can only get one of the two bills through. We opt for cancer, as the most powerful man (or most powerful woman) on earth we don't go hungry anyway ...

Moment! Cancer cure by law, a Hollywood "star" from the B or better F ranks as Vice President and ourselves, a gang boss, as the head of the United States of America - did we take a wrong turn ?!

Okay, with Ronald Reagan, a second-rate Hollywood lard actually made it to the presidency, and criminals as state leaders would come to mind at once. But about cancer and hunger, that was probably a joke - we think.

Welcome to the world of Saints Row 4, where satire, real satire and over-the-top satire merge into an absurd and insanely exaggerated mix, enriched with open-world action, a hammer soundtrack and superpowers. Can playing with these ingredients be bad at all?

From world saver to president

The open world games of the Saints Row series have actually increased from part to part in terms of absurdity - we only remember the tanks tumbling out of the plane in the direct predecessor Saints Row: The Third .

But the game world has never been as completely crazy as in Saints Row 4. It all begins when the Saints gang and their leader (our hero / in) fly to a mission in a helicopter in the sunset to the sounds of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" (as in the Schwarzenegger classic Predator). We made our character ourselves beforehand, the feasible range of heroes ranges from beautiful to ... less beautiful ling.

It is a matter of honor that we create a special twinkle, a "lady" with a purple rasta head, Zorro memory goatee and healthy, yellowish skin. Our mission: stop a mad terrorist from launching a nuclear missile. In the following minutes of the tutorial, we hunt down the villain in the best Call of Duty style, we are thrown to the ground in slow motion by explosions and finally we heroically leap at the launching nuclear missile.

With certain death in mind, Aerosmith's ridiculous "I don´t wanna miss a thing" from the asteroid ham Armageddon sets in the background, and all our friends are already tearfully, indifferently or insultingly saying goodbye to us. But - oh wonder! - we render the projectile harmless and land directly in the oval office when jumping out of the clouds.

From Mass Effect to the Matrix

A successful start, Saints Row 4 has not even started properly and has already dragged several films, games and bands through the cocoa - and catapulted us into the most powerful office on earth. It continues at a similarly fast pace: After a wonderfully irrelevant press conference in the White House, the Zin aliens under their sarcastic leader Zinyak attack the earth and blow up the White House.

As the supposedly most powerful dreadlock bride on earth, we oppose Zinyak, but are beaten up, whereupon the super-alien locks our minds in a computer-simulated world. First in a distorted Peace and Joy pancake version of America from the 50s (there was a similar episode in Fallout 3 ), then in a simulation of the city of Steelport, in which Saints Row: The Third already played.

As in the Matrix films, we're trapped in the simulation, but we can get out of it with our own strength and a few hacking tricks. And just like the Neo model, we can bend and exploit the rules of physics in this virtual world, in other words: we develop superpowers!

While we gradually blossom into superheroes à la X-Men in the simulated Steelport, we still have to cope with our human bodies in the real world. This difference between the two worlds, which already made the Matrix trilogy so attractive, ensures an interesting and varied mission design in the following 15 to 30 hours of play (depending on how you play).

A can called Paul

After we have freed our body from Zinyak's spaceship and our mind from Steelport, we are now cruising through space with the crew, which consists of our best friends - did someone whisper Mass Effect 2 ?

From our star pot, we keep hacking into Steelport to stand up to Zinyak, or we go on risky liberation missions in the real world to free other Saints comrades from their virtual prisons.

The prisons each reflect the greatest fears of the imprisoned companion. So we have to free the loudmouth Pierce, whose covered soft drink commercial from Saints Row: The Third Veteranen will be fondly remembered, from a nightmare world in which the energy drink cans that have come to life want to hit him.

The ultimate incarnation of that fear is a giant can called Paul that we can only defeat after we take control of the Steelport equivalent of the Statue of Liberty (a steel boiler).

The world and main campaign of Saints Row 4 brings up such twists and surprises again and again, the sequel seamlessly ties in with the qualities of Saints Row: The Third, above all the twisty plot that leads to increasingly unusual missions.

If only we went to the telepathically gifted toilet bowls ... stop! Even if there is still so much cool stuff to tell, let's avoid further spoilers at this point. Promise: We have not yet revealed the biggest surprises.

Mass Effect on board, prototypes on the ground

We already touched on it briefly: On board our spaceship, conditions prevail like in Biowares Mass Effect 2. We can stroll through the corridors and try to get to know our crew better - and in the best case experience a sexual adventure.

Mind you, in the Saints style: oral sex with an AI robot drone and blows from the computer freak Kinzie during an instant quickie make the tedious approach to techtelmechtel à la organic goods ad absurdum.

In Steelport, on the other hand, Saints Row 4 uses other models, including the Matrix films, of course, the big open-world top dogs GTA and Just Cause, in which we can take on numerous main and side missions in the freely explorable game world.

The biggest model this time is probably called Prototype . The two dark, serious and violent Prototype games also endowed their heroes with superpowers very similar to those of our Saints Row racket. Here and there, we climb elegantly and effortlessly up the facades of the skyscrapers, jump over entire houses in one leap and glide through the air as if wearing a wing suit.

Pounding attacks get enemies off their feet in the vicinity, we like to hurl passers-by or even tanks into the middle of the enemy pulp with our mental power. With increasing experience and advancing levels, we not only learn new powers, but can also improve what we have already learned. For example, we increase the range of our telekinesis ability, increase our jumping ability or enlarge the explosion radius of our fire and ice projectiles.

We are also expanding our "normal" combat talents, for example, creating more damage resistance, higher income or the ability to fire two submachine guns at the same time. In addition, there is an upgrade system for weapons and vehicles, from tanks to alien gliders to tanks there are again a lot of drivable and flyable vehicles.

Race to the black hole

The side missions vary mainly well-known patterns such as race against time, destruction races à la "How many things can I suck up with black mini-holes in X minutes?" Or escorts, which causes the first signs of fatigue in the stretched middle part of the game. In contrast to the predecessor, apart from the main plot we hardly experience any noteworthy smaller stories - a shame.

In addition, the developers have built in an unnecessary and undemanding hacking mini-game. But successful new side and main missions let us quickly postpone these concerns. Especially since there are still turned on weapons, such as the dubstep cannon, which lets opponents fidget wildly rhythmically across the Jordan and pixelate the surroundings in proper style.

But thanks to the superpowers, won't we become overwhelming in the course of the game? No, because on the one hand we always have »real life« missions without superpowers (but with cool mech combat suits, but that's a different story ...), and on the other hand, the Zin aliens in the Matrix Steelport are different Caliber than the gang cannon fodder from Saints Row: The Third.

Even the simple foot soldier can withstand a lot, and other types of opponents such as space gliders, spherical combat drones or terminator droids make the fights trickier on average than in the overly simple predecessor - especially when the enemy approaches en masse.

Special highlights are boss fights against other enemies, also equipped with superpowers. With our special skills we first have to break through their protective shield in order to bring normal weapon damage to the man (the woman, the toilet bowl ...) within a short time window.

In a duel there can therefore be nice jumping and sliding dances if we try to outmaneuver the Obermotz. We use telekinesis to catch cars thrown by the enemy and toss them back while we pound each other with stomping and elemental attacks. This dynamic could be counted among the absolute highlights in Saints Row 4 - if it weren't for the stupid AI.

Unsightly AI-K (r) fights

Already in Saints Row: The Third we criticized the fact that opponents sometimes stood around idly and the driving or flight AI made sure that aliens like police officers and passers-by like to knock each other over. Saints Row 4 goes one better - because we don't feel any improvement, on the contrary, we have the impression that the enemies have become even dumber.

They like to get caught on electricity pylons or fence corners and then let themselves be shot down defenselessly, stand around unmoved in wild firefights or even turn away from us. In addition, attacking spacecraft collapse in flight and explode.

Together with the clone appearance of the human and extraterrestrial villains, part of the joy of the superpower fights is lost again - even if you can control part of it smoothly over time, both with the gamepad or with the mouse and keyboard.

Another technical aspect has not improved either, namely the graphics. So Saints Row 4 is not only based on the same engine as the third series offshoot, but also manages the trick of looking significantly dreary in some places. Anyone who sees the "mountains" in the background of the helicopter sequence at the beginning is almost afraid that they have landed at the wrong time.

Namely in 2003 instead of 2013. Presenting one of the most unsightly landscapes in recent years at the start of the game, of all things, shows either a lack of time and money (which is not unlikely due to the meanwhile bankruptcy of the original publisher THQ) or an ignorance of motivating design.

In addition, as with the predecessor, the texture sharpness as well as the number of polygons and details are by far not at the level of current work - and Saints Row: The Third is already almost two years under its belt. But Saints Row 4 also shows strengths, including the animations, especially during the great cutscenes, the reasonably decent damage model of the cars and some explosion effects.

Better blind than deaf

On the other hand, the title hardly shows itself in terms of sound. Of course, many sound effects are also out of date, but the excellent speakers make you forget that again. When Kinzie messes with her hacker competitor Matt Miller, we have to grin as gleefully as when our AI drone CID is looking for a partner. In addition, there is a wonderfully arrogant zinyak that gives the alien circus a refreshing personality.

As in the previous versions, however, all voices are only heard in English; the German version only offers well-translated subtitles. The grandiose soundtrack is at a similarly high level as the speakers.

There's shootouts in the club for “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill, a spaceship chase to the almost embarrassing Eurodance hit “What Is Love” by Haddaway or “Opposites Attract” by choreography icon Paula Abdul. There are also classics from Blur, Thin Lizzy, Tchaikovsky or Bizet.

For almost every song there is either a playful commentary, the spaceship hunt looks like cheap Eurodance render videos from the early 90s, or a direct quote from the film, for example Beethoven's Ninth is reminiscent of the Kubrick film Clockwork Orange).

In general, Saints Row 4 is again shooting up a wonderful cascade of quotes from pop culture, films, books, history and society. The CID drone is reminiscent of Wheatley from Portal 2 and incidentally cites the 2001 sequel in 2010 ("It's all full of stars"). A text adventure, on the other hand, summarizes the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe in one picture, only to satirize the comic-within-comic "Tales of the Black Freighter" from Watchmen shortly afterwards.

Unedited and controversial

The many references to the film Sie Leben! Are particularly interesting. by John Carpenter, who alluded to the paranoia of American society in the Reagan era (!) and addressed the (alien) infiltration of social cohesion through unrestrained consumption, greed for capital and television.

And who was there? Sure, Keith David, the Vice President! If you want, you can read out an intention of the developer, but you don't have to - Saints Row 4 remains enjoyable even if you don't care about allusions and just indulge in the wacky humor.

So each player has to decide for himself whether he wants to understand a profound and topical commentary on (American) society in the allusions, or whether he considers everything to be a tasteless collection of jokes in which one takes "naked" gun violence literally and in Adam's costume may shoot around.

But in our eyes, Saints Row 4 is already characterized by the fact that this argument works at all. Because too often games carelessly give away the potential for themes and parodies that lie dormant in them.

Everyone should also form their own opinion about the comic-like, but sometimes rude, depiction of violence; as well as whether one can gain something from the numerous sex allusions and cramped, pixelated nude sequences or not. Here Saints Row 4 moves in the typically US-American field of tension between taboo-free brutality and the biased approach to sex.

After all, in contrast to all its predecessors, the game appears uncut in Germany, so that local players do not have to resort to the imported version if they want to experience the original.