Saints Row 4 preview – prime candidate for new highs in sandbox silliness

saints row 4 screens
An ode to the gaming odd couple. Where would we be without Ratchet and Clank’s bromantic bickering or the gruff Mr DeWitt saving lovely Elizabeth from a metal budgie the size of an elephant? In that fine tradition, Volition now brings us ‘superpowered politician meets giant mech’. Saints Row IV’s vehicles truly are every bit as crazy as the game’s deranged premise.

Saints Row 4 PS3 preview

 

That’s not a complaint, either. When you can stomp around the streets of Washington DC in your own personal Transformer with a mini-game called Mech Suit Mayhem (a time-based destruction challenge), there’s nothing wrong with courting rampant silliness. Controlling the paranormal US President who darts about the skies quicker than Superman trying to get to flee a Concorde made from Kryptonite, you wouldn’t think over-the-top vehicles would be necessary.

Saints Row 4Yet everything about Saints Row IV screams ‘excess’. Be it crushing aliens under the rims of a monster truck or making your Prez jump the height of a small mountain, Volition is incapable of dialling anything down. For the game to appear in such confident form after its original publisher THQ went bankrupt in January is a surprising relief.

“To be honest, we had no idea who Deep Silver – or Koch Media – was prior to being bought,” admits lead designer Scott Phillips when we ask about Volition being taken over by the German media enterprise. “As soon as we heard, we all instantly Googled it.”

Although the initial switch may have been a little disruptive, Phillips assures us the transition has been smooth for the most part, with the new publisher happy to give the Illinois-based studio room to work on its vision for Saints Row. “It hasn’t come in and demanded changes,” says Phillips.

Slated for an August release, the alien-pummelling President is shaping up well, but launching a month before GTA V invites unenviable comparisons. Sure, Michael, Trevor and Franklin won’t be freezing FBI agents with ice attacks like the leader of The Saints. Yet Rockstar’s much-anticipated open-world effort will likely set new benchmarks for the genre, regardless of how leftfield its wacky competition is.

saints row 4 screensPhillips remains confident, though, and seems happy Saints Row IV is targeting a completely different tone to the Los Santos caper. “It’s a good thing we are distanced from it. We’re just making the game we want to make and the fact it’s different from the way GTA went is a good thing for us.”

Separating itself from Rockstar’s inevitably chart-conquering goliath is indeed a sensible move. One that opens the experience up in a manner that wouldn’t be possible if Volition had tried to create a derivative criminal clone. Thanks to the godly powers on offer, Saints Row IV hits you with an initial exhilarating thrill of movement we’ve rarely seen since swinging around Manhattan in Spider-Man 2 on PS2. When you’ve broken the sound barrier sprinting along Pennsylvania Avenue, you become much less bothered that the action looks plasticky and false next to GTA.

There’s work to be done, of course – for one, we’ve seen nothing of the actual missions yet (for so long the series’ sore point). But if Volition can tailor interesting objectives to get the most out of your Batman-shaming White House-dweller, this Saint could yet do a whole lot of good.

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