IdolNinja's Saints Row IV Review

Discussion in 'Announcements' started by [V] IdolNinja, Aug 14, 2013.

  1. [V] IdolNinja

    [V] IdolNinja Volition Staff


    I adore Saints Row 2 and have 1000+ hours logged. Roughly half of that playtime was pure fun; creating different characters, playing coop, exploring, etc, and the other half was modding and creating the Gentlemen of the Row compilation and other SR2 mods.

    I liked Saints Row: The Third, and have 350 hours logged, but feel that it was a huge step backwards with dumbed down customization, rough and disjointed storytelling, many stripped out features, and a bland open world city. I have only played through the story once, and the rest of the time was just modding work for the Gentlemen of Steelport mod, and some messing around.

    I was invited to LA by Steve Jaros where Volition was doing voice recording sessions for Saints Row IV. I got to play an early alpha build of the game over three days (~25 hours) and provide input.

    I spent 35 hours with the press preview of Saints Row IV which was the first 6 missions, and the open world with about half of the activities available.

    I currently have an additional 65 hours logged with the final review build of Saints Row IV PC for Steam, and another 10 or so with the 360 version to compare and also check out certain features.

    If you haven't already, I would recommend first checking out my previous Saints Row IV articles which have a lot of additional info. They are all spoiler-free, and this review builds on them in many ways.

    Hands on with the Saints Row IV alpha in LA

    Saints Row IV Press Preview

    Saints Row IV Press Preview Followup


    I'm using an ATI 4870HD w/512Mb VRAM, Core2Duo 8400 Wolfdale 3.0Ghz CPU, and 4Gb RAM. Saints Row IV ran beautifully for me @1680x1050 with mostly high settings. In fact, on the same rig I actually saw roughly a +10fps gain when compared to Saints Row: The Third. Coop also worked great, and the SRTT issue with coop lag as a passenger riding in cars has been fixed. According to Volition all the ATI performance issues on newer hardware have been addressed as well, but unfortunately I don't have a newer card to confirm.

    In 60+ hours of the final build, I only had 1 crash which may have been my gpu overheating after playing the game for 10 hours non-stop. It has been an incredibly stable and bug-free experience otherwise.


    I loved every single mission (aside from the tutorial ones.) They are all varied and fun with great dialogue and setpieces.

    There are 4 forced activities that are appended to the end of the tutorial-style quests:
    1 Blazing
    1 Platforming Rift
    1 Mind over Murder
    1 Super Powered Fight Club

    These forced activities are spread out over the first third of the game, so it isn't as annoying as it was in SRTT. I still dislike this design decision, and I feel that it is a symptom of the dumbing down of the series that started in SRTT. I'll be talking about this a bit more in-depth later in this review.

    The primary quest log lists 37 missions, and 7 loyalty missions. This is misleading since the primary quests total also includes the loyalty missions. So, actually that means there are only 30 primary quests. The forced activities are not counted in this total, but there are 5 mini tutorial type missions, and also multi-part missions which count for more than one. Confused yet?

    To make things simple, Saints Row IV missions break down like this:
    25 (22) Missions (1 of them is actually a 2-part mission, and the finale is 3 part, so 25 total.)
    5 tutorial/mini missions (MM_1_1A,MM_1_2,MM_1_3,MM_FB,MM_4_1) All of these are near the start when you hit virtual Steelport and are things like find a cluster, hack a store, virtual training how to use a superpower, etc.
    7 Loyalty Missions (these are full fledged actual missions that are just as long, and in many cases even better than the primary quest missions.

    If we leave out all the filler, tutorial, and cutscene only content from all 3 games, here are some totals:
    Saints Row 2: 54 missions (includes strongholds and bonus mission)
    Saints Row: The Third: 26 missions (23 missions + 3 strongholds. Does not include "Steelport Here I Am" tutorial with Pierce, cutscene only, or forced activities)
    Saints Row IV: 32 missions (25 primary quests, counting long multi-part missions as multiple missions + 7 loyalty missions)

    Unfortunately, almost all of the sidequests are simply doing a subset of open world stuff with unique (but brief) npc quest giver dialogue for each part. A sidequest goes something like this: Hack a store + do a hotspot + do an activity + do a virus injection = reward x. If you did all open world stuff on your own then all side quests would just auto-complete by talking to the quest giver npc. The good part is that all side content is worth doing now because you can see the rewards for completing them. The bad part is that it's not the unique kind of extra content I thought it would be when playing the alpha build in LA.


    The story and character dialogue in Saints Row IV is probably the single greatest improvement over SRTT. It is all told exceptionally well, the cutscenes are fantastic, and everything fits together and makes sense within the Saints Row universe. It even manages to fill in some of the gaps that were missing in SRTT as well. The thing I enjoyed the most is that there is a lot of introspection from the player's dialogue about his past and progression from the first game until now. The audio logs you can collect also further enhance the story and add a lot of insight into the other primary characters. It really is something special for any longtime fan of the franchise and feels like it ties everything together beautifully. The writers need to be commended for taking such a crazy concept of being President with superpowers and using that as base to tell a compelling story and playing it mostly straight.


    Activities are a mix of old and new. Like the previous Saints Row games, some are hilarious fun, and others, well, not so much. The new twist to activities that I like the most is that each instance has bronze, silver, and gold medals targets for completion. This gives the player a lot of incentive to replay activities to chase higher level medals, and their respective unlocks. Some of the gold medals are fiendishly hard in single player granting a lot of extra replay value, while others are far too easy, especially in coop. Also, each unlock is clearly shown in the challenges menu, so you can focus your efforts on activities that have the rewards that you want.

    Super Powered Fight Club - Easily my favorite of all the new activities, it has you attempting to take out waves of targets and then fight an end boss within a time limit. Each wave that you fight has different properties. For example, one wave of npcs is constantly on fire so you can't get in close, another has telekinesis and throws objects at you. You have to be extremely quick and make smart use of all your powers to do well. It also has a huge amount of replay value, and I keep retrying them just for fun. 10/10

    Blazing - Blazing acts like the Racing diversion from Saints Row 2, but on-foot and using super sprint/jump. It's an incredible amount of fun and very fast paced. The only thing I wish was that some races had super powered opponents instead of all being solo. 9/10

    Professor Genki's Mind Over Murder - This activity has you using your telekinesis power in the open world to throw different classes of objects (npcs, vehicles, genki heads) through color coded hoops within a time limit. The harder versions have more vertical targets which means you'll need to grab objects at street level and traverse rooftops with them and use your TK in mid-air. I found it challenging and fun. 8/10

    Insurance Fraud - Insurance Fraud returns but this time you can gain crazy momentum through your superpowers and ping pong off buildings as well as cars. This new twist on an old favorite is hands-down the ultimate way to play and makes this classic actually feel fresh. You also have much better mid-air control this time. 10/10

    Mayhem - Mayhem on-foot is a little strange. The first easy level gives you the black hole gun. I think this may have been a design decision to let a new player experience the gun early. The problem with this concept is that the initial unupgraded black hole gun is underpowered and unimpressive leading to a pretty boring experience. The medium and hard versions of on-foot Mayhem are better though since they force you to use only your Stomp superpower for combos. This is actually quite fun since you end up super sprinting between groups of people/objects, stomping, and sprinting to the next one. It has a fun flow to it that helps it feel a bit more interesting. 7/10

    TK Mayhem - The TK version of Mayhem spawns a bunch of huge balls around the city, and you use Telekinesis to throw them at things/people causing damage and getting combos. I have a few issues with this activity. It's extremely difficult to get a decent score, since the pace is incredibly slow with you chasing these balls after throwing them. It's even worse with upgraded TK which results in them going further. It's also a bit difficult to see around them resulting in a lot of blind luck throws that often do not connect. The scores to chase are also kind of crazy difficult making the whole activity kind of a wash. They should have just left this one out. 3/10

    Mech Mayhem - An incredible amount of fun, even though it's simply just Mayhem in a mech suit with no other twists. My favorite thing about it is the jump jets that give you a lot of vertical movement while you rain barrages of rockets down. It's loud, fast, explosive, and satisfying. The only minor problem I have is that it's stupidly easy, and I got Gold medals on each instance on my first try before even half the time was up. 10/10

    UFO Mayhem - I really wanted to like the UFO version. The problem is that a lot of the potential targets like vehicles despawn at higher altitudes and it's extremely difficult to see ground based targets to shoot at. Playing it at night only adds to the problem since it's difficult to really see much of anything other than high profile red ringed targets. It's not that it's particularly hard, especially if you focus on the primary targets. It's just kind of annoying rather than fun. 4/10

    Tank Mayhem - This time in a hover tank. I found it kind of boring compared to the better types of Mayhem. They should have just left this one out and gave us more mech ones. 5/10

    Platforming Rift - Jump/glide/dash across a series of circular platforms using your super powers. The closer you land to the center means more points, and many of the platforms are staggered vertically as well. It sounds boring as hell in concept, but it's actually really fun once you get good with the controls and can make super precise jumps/landings. It has some great music as well. 8/10

    Speed Rift - Do you like temple running games where you have no control over forward momentum and can only move side to side while trying to touch powerups and avoid hazards? If so, this activity might be for you. I found it to be overly long and boring with loose imprecise controls. This is the one activity I actually hate more than anything else in the entire series (including Escort.) 1/10

    TK Rift - Use telekinesis to catch and throw what look to be color-coded explosive soccer balls at the corresponding colored targets. It's actually more fun than it sounds, and you have to be really quick on catch and release to avoid them blowing up and killing your combo multiplier. I enjoyed both instances of it, and it didn't wear out its welcome. 7/10


    Whenever someone talks about completion time for any game, I almost always fall right in the middle of the range. Here are some estimates based on a couple of playthroughs I've done:

    Story completion with all loyalty missions - 10-15 hours

    All targets, activities, and collectibles (using the finder) completed with at least bronze medals- 8-12 hours.

    If you like to mess about with clothes shopping, vehicle customization, and causing trouble, especially in coop, you can probably tack at least another 10-20 hours onto that as well, if not more.

    There is a huge amount of side content, and it's mostly all a great amount of fun to do. It's got more stuff crammed in than any of the previous Saints Row games ever had. The reward system has also greatly improved making the side content actually compelling this time. Even the Saints Book style challenges are rewarding and clearly marked to grant weapons, skins, abilities, and more based on the number of them you complete.


    There are cheats to completely turn off the superpowers for more of a challenge. I'm sure a few of you will be very happy to know that you get the dive roll back when turning them off.

    In the normal game, a warden will spawn once you hit 6 full bars of notoriety. The only way to continue past this point is to defeat it, which also erases your notoriety completely. There is a nowarden cheat to turn this off so you can keep playing with full notoriety as long as you want and not get interrupted.

    The Evil Cars cheat from SR2 returns, as well as ped war (this time called insane city.)

    There is a cheat that turns off all the visual simulation glitch effects, so that Steelport looks normal.

    There is a big head mode cheat which is one of my favorites.

    There are slowmo and fast forward cheats affecting the speed of the game.

    Not exactly a cheat, but it's incredibly easy to mod out the aliens and make the open world spawn normal gang members instead. It's seriously only one line of code. Couple this with the cheats to remove the glitching and the superpowers and you have an open world experience that is more like the earlier gang-based Saints Row games. I do feel like Volition missed an opportunity not to add it as a cheat for console players though.


    Gang customization is in, and works exactly the same as SRTT. Also, the issue where Saints wouldn't drive gang cars around the city in SRTT has been fixed.

    The grayed out homie issue from SRTT seems to be fixed. I spent a huge chunk of time playing in the open world with homies and never once had a problem.

    I compared the tables, and the Inauguration Station does contain the same number of clothing items as the full game except for 6 outfit unlocks.

    Rifts do appear in the open world after a certain point in the story, and they affect npcs in bizarre ways; huge eyes/heads, messed up limbs, walking upside down, etc.

    There is a good ending and a bad ending, but it is a bit misleading. If you don't do all the loyalty missions, the bad ending simply cuts off early and doesn't show the entire thing. There is no reason to replay the game if you are hoping for an alternate ending. The achievement everyone is referring to with multiple endings is a joke ending about 1/3 of the way through the game if you pick an obviously bad choice.

    The press build on Steam did not have the preorder DLC included, but Deep Silver also sent me a 360 copy of the game which did. The 'Merica gun is awesome, but it chews through ammo like you wouldn't even believe. The Eagle VTOL is extremely silly and has a sonic eagle screech effect when firing. The Uncle Sam suit is more of a curiosity than anything. It's still always nice to have more clothing options though.


    I do have a few gripes and grumbles that need to be addressed:

    You can't fire weapons in mid-air, only your powers. I want to super jump and shoot rockets down on enemies like I could with Crackdown.

    Activating the weapon radial wheel now pauses the game. I felt this broke the flow of the game when trying to change weapons.

    There are no radio commercials; only songs and DJs this time. There are also no news reports after missions.

    NOTE: While there are no news reports, Jane Valderama does return, but as a station DJ.

    The Blood is gone (metal radio station.) Volition have stated that it was removed because their metrics showed that only a small percentage of players listened to it. Taking away all the unique and interesting things to appeal to the masses just serves to make a game more generic and bland. I'm also extremely sad that EZZZY (easy listening radio) from SR2 was removed as well.

    There is a loose end with a certain character from the first game. Instead of tying things up, the writers make a joke about it. It felt like a huge "fuck you" to fans wanting some kind of closure. All is forgiven if this is addressed in DLC though.

    Certain fan favorite characters from the previous games only get a passing reference, and others are not mentioned at all. I feel like Volition must actively hate Tobias since they keep leaving him out of every cameo that he could easily fit into. He is awesome. Stop ignoring him. Please. You have a helicopter or drug deal? Put him in it. Also, Mr Wong, Troy, and Laura get no love either without even a passing reference. SRTT fans will also be disappointed that Viola, Zimos, and Angel don't even get mentioned, and other characters only get minor cameos. It is still light years better than SRTT though which only briefly mentioned Troy and Jessica once during missions. I have a feeling we might see some familiar faces in the upcoming DLC though.

    NOTE: Quite a few of the leaked audio logs and characters are not actually in the game itself. The stuff for Viola (and others) is either cut content or possibly future dlc.

    ~100 clothing items are duplicated in other stores. The world itself already feels generic, and duplicating items makes the problem worse since each store is now even less unique. Also, it feels kind of cheap to copy and paste FIVE Planet Zin stores. Would it really be that difficult to replace them with unique stores from the previous games? Bling Bling, Sloppy Second, Impressions, and Branded would all fit in nicely and help to make the city more interesting. Speaking of Sloppy Seconds, what happened to all the cheap and raggedy clothing that SR2 had? I miss my sweatpants with holes in them, and other tacky junk.

    I was discussing the Saints Row series with Steve Jaros in LA, and was trying to explain to him why I felt that Saints Row 2 and Stilwater was the high point of the entire series. One of my arguments was that there were so many hidden features to explore and discover in Stilwater that Steelport lacked. Some of the examples I gave were the playable blackjack and poker machines in the casino, the ho-ing diversion light cones that weren't labeled on the map that rewarded you with the Pimp outfit, the hidden islands, the underground sex caverns that connected the graveyard and trailer park, the sewer waterways that run underneath the city, the ghost pirate ship, the dinosaur bones, the hidden Volition offices in the Marina district, the jason hockey mask on Mt Claflin, the suicide jumpers from the top of the Phillips building, the skeleton lounging on a beach chair behind the hotel, multi-level parking garages, a climbable lighthouse, etc. His response was that only a small percentage of players actually experienced these things, so Volition felt that it was more productive to focus their efforts on features that everyone would see and enjoy. This shocked me to my core, and I completely disagree with his assessment. Areas like these that reward a player for exploring off the beaten track are what makes an open world interesting and compelling. It is okay to have small touches, features, and areas that not everyone will see, and these are the kinds of things that make a city like Stilwater live and breathe. When a player discovers these things it is extremely rewarding because the game doesn't hold his hand and lead him to it.

    Steelport on the other hand is only superficially interesting. You can't interact with most of the environment, there are very few enterable interiors, and virtually no secret areas at all. It makes the city feel like a barren shell that does not reward the player for exploring other than for collectibles. It seems like the artists spent a lot of their time making a bunch of normal houses and rooftops with only slight differences. Even the alien towers that they keep touting as a huge improvement all look exactly the same with no secrets or interesting flourishes at all. You climb them, grab some clusters on the way, and activate them. Repeat x6. Yawn. Where are the poker tables on platforms on the alien tower? Why not park an ATV on one of them surrounded by empty cases of beer? Why not put a spray tag on one of them like someone else in the simulation managed to climb partway up and do it? Where are all the little touches that reward the player and suggest their own stories in the player's imagination?

    I feel that the reason behind Steelport's problems is that Volition spent way too much effort focusing on the special gated environments for missions. These unique mission spaces all have a ton of awesome references and little touches, but the lack of mission replay in the game means that you only get to see them once. Stilwater had so many unique areas and interiors in the city because the missions were all designed to go through them and use them. i.e. the city itself was the mission environment so it had to be unique, varied, and interesting, thus making Stilwater the true star of the game. By gating everything off in SRTT and SRIV, I feel that it causes the open world gameplay suffer.


    The story and writing is exceptional, and has the perfect balance of serious drama and comedy. They nailed it.

    The voice actors all deliver fantastic performances. I was especially impressed by Terry Crews taking over Benjamin King's role after Michael Clarke Duncan passed away. SR2 Shaundi also sounds great despite not being able to get Eliza Dushku to reprise the role.

    The heritage of the series and its characters are treated with respect. Saints Row IV feels like the glue that finally holds all three previous games together.

    The missions are all awesome and there is a huge payoff in the final multi-part climax. There are also a lot of easter eggs and references in the mission environments.

    The superpowers control beautifully. It is seriously one of the best playing games I have ever experienced.

    Customizing superpowers can be done with a quick switch without breaking the flow of the game in the open world. For example, pressing left on the dpad will switch to Blast, while double tapping left on the dpad will also change to the next customizable element, so if your Blast is currently customized with Freeze then the double tap will select Blast customized with Fire. All of this is done without ever entering a menu giving you quick access to your entire range of super power options all in realtime while fighting.

    Telekinesis allows you to use environmental objects like signposts, fire hydrants, etc as weapons. This feels like an awesome update to impromptu melee weapons from Saints Row 2 that was sorely missing in SRTT.

    Coop is insanely fun with superpowers. It is probably the most fun I've ever had with coop in any of the previous games, including Saints Row 2.

    There are a large amount of clothes and customization options which helps to alleviate the problem of the lack of layers. Also, there are finally npc outfit unlocks; a fan favorite feature of the Gentlemen of the Row mod.

    There are twice as many hair options as there were in SRTT (102 as opposed to 51.)

    Villain homies are now unlocked after beating them; another much loved feature from GotR. There is also some awesome homie dialogue, especially between characters that hate each other.

    Blazing is a great superpowered twist on the Racing diversion from SR2

    Weapon customization is a fantastic new addition. Many of the 150+ weapon options also give you different audio and visual firing fx as well, making them feel completely unique and not just a simple skin. This feature along with the superpowers makes it feel like my toolbox of ways to play in the sandbox has been exponentially increased.

    At the end of the game you gain the ability to control the time of day in the simulation. This isn't just a basic day/night toggle either like some people are speculating. It's a large amount of different visual looks to the city including a noir one that is all black and white, an infrared one, etc. In some ways, this is even better than a true day/night cycle since it gives the player more customization and choice, and fits perfectly with the simulation theme of the game. The times of day are all client-side as well. This means that each player in coop has whatever look they set, and it's not just forced by the host like the previous games were.

    Zach and Bobby's commentary during Mind Over Murder is actually darkly funny this time.

    Many of the radio stations have special DJs. I couldn't stop grinning when I heard who it was on Four-20.

    On-foot radio is awesome. Traversing the city with superpowers while listening to music really enhances the experience.

    There are a large variety of cars, many of them making a comeback from Saints Row and Saints Row. There is even an unlock that gives you four different monster trucks, including a XL version of the Betsy which I love.

    The audio logs and loyalty missions give a lot of insight into characters and reference many past events in the series, including things we never got to see. These help flesh out the story between games and even some of the missing SRTT story. There is some great emotional resonance and character development with these. No, really. They treat all this stuff seriously and with respect to the previous games.

    The npcs have been greatly improved from SRTT, both in the variety and in their AI. There is a lot of interesting emergent and aggressive behavior that occurs outside of your actions. This is a huge improvement over SRTT where they would all just cower or run in fear at the first sign of trouble.

    The grand finale is EPIC (and I don't throw around that term lightly.) The final boss fight more than makes up for the lame QTE bullshit with Killbane in Saints Row: The Third.

    Steve Jaros mentioned a Bollywood inspired dance number ending at San Diego Comic Con. He said that while they couldn't actually pull it off due to time/money constraints, that the spirit of it lives on. Cue the Internet freaking the fuck out and the detractors of the game using it as ammunition to show how badly the series has jumped the shark. Having seen it myself, it is absolutely nothing to worry about. I feared that it was going to be silly, and it was anything but. That part of the ending is Soul Train levels of cool.

    Volition is committed to providing our community with full modding support for all Saints Row PC titles, including Saints Row IV. I am quite confident that many of the issues I complained about earlier in the review are actually easily fixable via modding.


    Saints Row IV is an incredibly fun experience that honors the heritage and roots of the franchise. It has a lot of great nods to the previous games, yet still manages to feel fresh and have a unique voice in the series. The story and all of the missions are excellent, the villain this time is actually a worthy foe that is both fascinating and loathsome, the superpowers are actually done better than most superhero games, and there is a large amount of side content to do with compelling rewards. I feel that Volition has made a huge step in the right direction, and have struck a perfect balance between the crazy fun and the serious storytelling that made Saints Row 2 so great.

    Saints Row IV is not a perfect sequel though. While there are a huge number of welcomed improvements and additions over Saints Row: The Third, it is still missing features that made Saints Row 2 a true classic; most notably the city itself. It's difficult for me to stay focused on the flaws when I'm having so much fun though. In fact, many of the new features like the superpowers and weapon customization far outshine anything we've ever seen in the previous games. Saints Row IV is a pure joy to play, and I haven't felt this in love with a game since Saints Row 2. I'm also beyond excited to think what our dedicated and ambitious modding community can do with the upcoming SDK to further flesh out and enhance the game.

    Saints Row IV final review score: 9/10

    NOTE: I have uploaded ~60 screenshots I snapped from the preview and final build. Some of them do show unlockable outfits and also a few mission shots, but nothing super spoilery. If you're sensitive to that kind of stuff though and want to remain 100% spoiler-free then do not look.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013
  2. Miku Hatsune

    Miku Hatsune Modding patch tester

    The only reason why barely anyone listened to the Blood was because the music was bad and the DJ was bad too. If they'd put in some good metal bands the numbers would've been different.
  3. [V] IdolNinja

    [V] IdolNinja Volition Staff

    Agreed. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad metal. (with a couple of notable exceptions like Helmet and KMFDM.)
  4. Evil Cars and Peds War are back. They are back. Back they are.

  5. Are things that were weird in the Inauguration Station (i.e.:incorrect default colours) not weird in the final build?
  6. I am glad the fight club is back in a big way from saints row 2 , and regarding npc outfit unlocks are they a mix of peds and homies outfits?
  7. smashbro596

    smashbro596 Modding patch tester

    oh balls. idol, where has this game been all my life?!?!? :D
  8. I listened to it. Sometimes. Playlist wasn't near as good as the metal station in SR2, though.

    Also, great review, IdolNinja. :)

    A followup question about the costumes: some of the outfits that existed as multiple pieces in SR3 showed up as onesies in the Inauguration Station, like the catsuit or the battalion pants being stuck to the soldier outfits. Are those things available split into seperate articles in the final game?
  9. smashbro596

    smashbro596 Modding patch tester

    i wanna know this too. as almost all of my created characters in sr3 have articles missing, odd colors, etc.
  10. [V] IdolNinja

    [V] IdolNinja Volition Staff

    They are one piece. What you see in the IS is what you get.

    Homie outfits only.
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