Recently, your intrepid reporter took a long train ride all the way to London in the blistering summer heat to spend a little time with Saints Row IV.
After sweating my way through the underground sauna of the tube, I finally made my way to the press event being held at Saddler’s Hall, which funnily enough is run by a Christian charity. The irony of this was not lost on me as I approached the front door to be greeted by two large men dressed as American secret service agents, before being ushered up stairs to wait for the hands on with other members of the press by a scantily clad female police officer. Impressively, the whole of the place had been decorated to look like the inside of the White House as inhabited by the Third Street Saints, including plenty of purple, scantily clad women and a stripper pole. I shit you not.
We were then herded into a large hall with the game set up on Xbox 360s covering two very long tables on either side of the room. After being formally welcomed to the event by the game’s producer in a state of the nation style address from a balcony complete with dancing girls I finally sat down with my complimentary can of coke and began to play a preview build of the game.
If you don’t want the game’s opening ruined I suggest you don’t bother reading this article. Instead take a look at the slightly less spoiler laden part 2 which covers a twenty minute demo from later in the game showcasing SRIVs new superpowers and a couple new activities. Alternatively quit reading and go about your day. Safe and happy in the knowledge that Volition have created a game that, although similar to Saints Row the Third, in places, takes everything that made that game great, fed it a bucket load of hallucinogenics and recorded the result. It’s bonkers, it’s brilliant and I really can’t wait to play the full game because it is going to be special, and not just in the helmet wearing child kind of way.
Are they gone? No, fine. SPOILER ALERT!!! What about now? Good. We’ll begin.
The game opens with the Saints aboard a helicopter en route to kill a group of terrorists in some middle-eastern country, you know the drill; dessert, dirt tracks, angry men in turbans carrying out dated soviet weaponry and a nuclear missile aimed at Washington. As is customary, the leader of the Saints is both mute and disguised, this time covered head to toe in Kevlar armour a la Solid Snake and sporting a helmet that could have been stolen from the corpse of one of Gears of War’s Carmine brothers.
After an incredibly silly and violent intro in which the leader of the Saints takes out a small platoon of insurgents whilst his squad mates discuss the most covert way to enter the bunker play finally is handed to the player in a sequence that sends up modern gaming’s obsession with military shooters, including a stealth section complete with sweeping orchestral score in the guise of Metal Gear Solid, An incredibly gratuitous slow motion breech like you might expect to see in the likes of Medal of Honour or Call of Duty.
As always there’s plenty of banter between the different members of the Saints whilst you carry out your mission, but my favourite being a discussion between Pearce and Shaundi on why barrels explode. Answer: “because they’re full of chemicals” “yeah but what type?”
Eventually you reach the missile just as it launches, you then dive onto the side of the rocket and attempt to disarm it mid flight as your crew says their tearful goodbyes whilst Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ blares in the background.
Luckily you mange to disable the missile, diving off just in time to watch it explode in the background as you plummet straight through the roof of the White House landing with a bump in the President’s chair in the oval office, your chair.
You are then given the opportunity to customise how your avatar looks with default builds available by selecting the front cover of different magazines. The creation process is practically identical to the one found in Saints Row the Third with the added bonus of the option of having the leader of the Saints voiced by Nolan North. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, pick up any game with voice acting in from 1999 onwards that’s in your collection and he’s probably in it, but to make things easier pick up your copy of Uncharted, he’s Drake.
I thought I’d make a character that fit the tone of the game or possibly some kind of subconscious sexual fetish. Turns out I might have a thing for busty, blue women with the voice of Nolan North.
When you’re finished making the girl or guy of your most crazed fever dreams, you then walk down the long corridor towards the famous podium for a press conference as your advisors made up almost entirely of your former gang members and Keith David notify you of the business of the day like an episode of the West Wing, making some pretty tough choices too; deciding whether to end world hunger or cure cancer as well as whether to punch a senator proposing a filibuster in the face or the family jewels.
However just as you reach the press room … ALIENS ATTACK!
Lead by the megalomaniacal Emperor Zin-Yak, the Zin empire are potentially the most generic Aliens in gaming but in the best possible way looking like the mutated bastard child of Gear’s Locust, Resistance’s Chimera, Quake 2’s Strogg and Duke Nukem’s Assault Troops.
Not one to give up without a fight you then attempt to defend the White House whilst your cabinet is abducted one by one and the Whitehouse torn apart by laser fire, this climaxes with you manning a giant artillery cannon on the lawn of the white house blasting at alien ships space invaders style, finally you confront Zin-Yak on his battleship and get knocked out.
At this point things begin to get weird, I mean they were pretty mental before but this is the point when the Fonz jumps the shark proper, if you know what I mean.
You awaken to find yourself stuck in hell, or an episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver the Saints’. In this next section you’ll eat pancakes lovingly made by Shaundi, jauntily wander around a 1950’s Pleasantville like an old school Disney character, go for a responsible drive in a red Cadillac with the local sheriff, sign autographs for your adoring fans and then destroy this Republican wet dream with a Rocket Launcher provided by Kinzie who has managed to hack into the simulation you’ve been trapped in and help you escape.
Unfortunately a rather pissed off Zin-Yak swiftly catches you and dumps you straight back into another computer simulation; a replica of the Saints Home town of Steelport in which the Third Street Saints never existed.
This concluded the games mental opening and my time with the first demo. Phew.
At the outset, at least, the game felt a lot like Saints Row: The Third, control inputs and graphically it’s nigh on identical and many of the assets from SR III have made their way into Saints Row IV, which makes perfect sense considering its start in life as DLC. With the obvious benefit of already having the games main map constructed and most of its main assets already made, it is clear that the team has had much more time to refine the gameplay and play around with the world they’ve already created.
This is obvious from the games insane opening and even more so once you get your hands on the games fantastic superpowers which I will be looking at in detail in the next part of this extended preview coming up later this week.