04 October 2013

Verdict: If you liked the previous one, buy it.

So, a colleague of mine recommended me Saints Row IV the other day. Since I’ve had a lof of fun with Saints Row: The Third, I decided to give a shot and buy it full price on Steam. Twenty hours later, I finished it. Played on “Normal” difficulty, completed all activities and most challenges. All in all, it was pretty fun. Plenty of stuff to do, funny dialogue and tight gameplay. Most of SR3’s tedium is gone, replaced with balls to the wall insanity.

The plot is simple: after saving the world, the leader of the Saints (crime gang turned pop culture icon) gets elected as President of the United States, and then proceeds to fuck everything up with his (or her, you get to choose your own gender) crass incompentence. But then aliens attack, and the president is put into a virtual recreation of the city from SR3. And so you get to wreck things up, Matrix style, in the same map as the previous games. Because why work on new level design when you can just ask people to buy it again.

So. I had my 20 hours of fun, which is pretty decent for a modern AAA title, and I rarely got bored, which is always a plus. However, the further I got through it, the more I started to see the little flaws.

Most of those are a result of what in the software development world we call “legacy”: stuff you lug around and is no longer relevant, but you still need to deal with it because you don’t have the resources (time and/or money and/or manpower) to clean it and throw it away.

Originally, there was a piece of downloadable content called Enter the Dominatrix (an obvious play on Enter the Matrix), but it was then “merged” during development with SR4. That’s the official story, anyway. Playing the final game, it’s pretty obvious SR4 is Enter the Dominatrix, but with a larger scope because it’s a full game now and therefore has a bigger budget. Despite all this, it still feels like an expansion pack.

And here’s why: compared to SR3, most of SR4’s gameplay changes are all added. Few things were removed, which means you still get the same game as in SR3, but now with super powers. Which makes things feel a bit weird sometimes: for instance, you can steal any car, but why would you when you can sprint faster than a helicopter can fly and can even do so on walls? Why use guns when you can throw fireballs that spread and set more enemies on fire?

In short, they added all these cool new things to the game, but never went back to check how it affected the existing core gameplay. Or maybe they did, and figured that if they changed that, they couldn’t really call it Saints Row anywmore. In any case, it’s some sort of a mangled mess.

Bottom line: lots of fun, but don’t look at it too closely or you’ll see the cracks.

There’s a pun in there somewhere.