The annual PAX East is the largest gaming convention on the East Coast. Last week regular contributor J.P. Grant braved the miserable weather of Boston to chronicle this year’s convention for Paste. (It helps that Boston is his home.) Over the next two days we’ll be running J.P.’s thoughts on eight different games that were exhibited at the show..
Saints Row IV
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: August 20
The challenge facing Volition, a year and a half after Saints Row: The Third set a new standard for videogame absurdity, is how they can possibly crank up the ridiculousness for the fourth installment. Apparently, based on the brief look the developers gave press at PAX East, there is no shortage of bizarre ideas at the studio.
Where should we even start? With the fact that the leader of the Third Street Saints is the only President of the United States to walk the streets suplexing random citizens while wearing an Uncle Sam outfit? That he’s also a super-powered vigilante who wields a “dubstep gun” that makes victims dance until they literally drop dead? Or that an alien race called the Zin have abducted him and his gang, and placed them in their own personal Matrix-style nightmare simulations?
If you get the sense nobody at Volition ever says “no,” you’re probably right. But I was glad to hear Volition’s Jim Boone say that the design philosophy that made Saints Row: The Third so successful – constantly reward the player’s actions – remains intact for the new game. This time around, there are more options for weapon and character customization, more variety in optional activities (mech-suit mayhem, anyone?), and more ways to wreak glorious havoc in this fantasy version of Steelport. Take your hero’s superpowers, for example, which include telekinesis, Flash-like speed, and ice blasts a la Sub-Zero. What I saw reminded me of a slicker, funnier, and somehow even more self-aware Crackdown.
Visually, the recorded demo of Saints Row IV I saw felt nearly identical to its predecessor, albeit with a darker palette to reflect the oppressiveness of the simulated Steelport. That resemblance isn’t a bad thing, since Saints Row: The Third had a sleek UI and a punchy art style. And although the two games also appear very similar mechanically, Volition has taken an additive approach in this installment by focusing more resources on developing the optional missions and activities that figure so prominently in the Saints Row experience. Drop-in, drop-out co-op play returns, along with some new co-op modes Volition wasn’t yet ready to discuss.
One of the few elements Volition has cut back on is the gang factions. Saints Row IV is the first game in the series to feature only one enemy faction: the Zin. Boone said the designers tried to ensure lots of variety within the alien race, creating a number of enemy types, including super-powered Zin to rival your super-powered hero. He also said they concentrated on developing a more fleshed-out main antagonist, a creature called, naturally, Zinyak. Given their twisted sense of humor, I’m excited to see what Volition does with their new bad guy.
I’ve never been able to get into the Grand Theft Auto games; maybe the verisimilitude of their worlds gave my destructive actions a little too much unnecessary weight. But as the Saints Row: The Third proved, doubling down on absurdity can inject some much-needed levity into the formula. Saints Row IV does not show any signs of bucking that trend.
J.P. Grant is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamers With Jobs, and other outlets. He blogs about games at Infinite Lag and is also on Twitter.