…But Mostly, It’s The Same
While you’re encouraged to traverse it in a very different way, Steelport is largely unchanged from the last game. The day-night cycle of any open world game has rarely affected gameplay and locking Steelport into a permanent dusk gives the city a distinctive look while making the game feel smaller. In an attempt to compensate, the city’s lighting shifts from red to blue as you complete tasks and acquire territory. It’s very similar to The Saboteur‘s calling card, in which a WWII-era occupied Paris transformed from black and white to full color as you dispatched the Nazi threat, but it’s so subtle here that despite knowing it was going to happen, I didn’t notice it until after I’d taken over a huge chunk of the city. That’s not all, though: you’ll also need to scale alien towers and dismantle alien military hotspots that have taken over some of Steelport’s parks.
While The Third‘s campaign shifted from taking down to a crime syndicate to a zombie massacre and back, Saints Row IV bets the house on a timely and relevant homage to The Matrix. Without diving into spoilers, you’ll find yourself entering and exiting the Steelport simulation through magical glowing doors to a much cleaner version of the Nebuchadnezzar that serves as your mission hub. (Sadly, it’s not nearly as sparkly or interesting as your variety of digs from previous games.) Despite a re-introduction to the Saints and the fact that previous games have a linked lore, you’ll be missing out on many of the game’s story beats if you’ve never played a Saints Row game due to a plethora of in-house references. This may be the first sandbox game I recommend you not play until you’ve caught up with the back story.
Seemingly hand-in-hand with how quickly Volition iterates with these games, Saints Row IV is home to a variety of challenges from the ‘throw shit at the wall and see if it sticks’ school of game design. Favorites like Insurance Fraud return, but some of the new mini-games are either undercooked or frozen entirely. Platforming between circular platforms in an endless void is kinda interesting the first time; a lane-switching gem collect-a-thon is lame; all the telekinetic chores are tragic; the Super Hero Fight Club and Professor Genki challenges are terrible despite some pretty hilarious voiceover.