Five years after the Third Streets Saints leader is injected into America’s Presidency, stripper poles and pet tigers are stationed outside Oval Office doors. Rival party representatives are punched for their beliefs, and world hunger is quelled with precision penmanship.
Saints Row IV still needs a hero though, and it may as well be this loony, empathy lacking, impassioned street gang leader turned President as dimension hopping Zin Empire aliens catastrophically smother the United States in flames.
With Earth in shambles and said President dead or missing, Saints Row splices itself with dormant open world super cop simulation, Crackdown. Planted under darkened thickness of an uncontrolled virtual paradise, Saints Row follows its framework, only to nip at the edges of common sense with freshly imbued super powers.
Seeking asylum from alien leader Zinyak’s technologically powered prison of unreality, a personally named, gender assigned, clothed, and (potentially) Nolan North voiced President seeks to shatter simulated walls by breaking from real world logic. Paired with perky and short tempered hacker Kinsey and Vice President Keith David, America’s Commander in Chief begins a journey of sexual discovery in an ornery quest to rid our globe of interplanetary visitors.
What was once a send-up of gang culture has morphed into this inexplicably intelligent blow back against manufactured obsession. Saints Row IV lampoons growing celebrity worship culture with enough zest and immature splendor to one-up Mike Judge’s 2006 film Idiocracy, wherein the sitting president was also pro wrestling’s current world champion.
Democracy seats the customized President after he/she/both rejects a terrorist nuclear launch attempt, musically accompanied (brilliantly) by Aerosmith’s, “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” The twist? The bomb was launched by a terrorist who refused to see his country withdrawn into political malaise with a million-murdering gang leader in the land’s highest political office. He may have been the final sane individual in Saints Row.
For its glossy demeanor of atypical idiocy, Saints Row IV does slink into the uncomfortable. In a roast of ’50s television conventions, where leisure suits roamed free and people tipped hats in unison to greet each other, the mission is to mow down innocents. Billed as the infancy of virtual alien intrusiveness, the abhorrent gun run of poodle skirted teens and stereotypical housewives is jarringly barbaric. Whereas Saints Row finds its splendor in comical physics or dildo bats, single round, precision headshots amongst romanticized depictions of ’50s culture is unnecessarily egregious. Its effect is doubled by modern grounding in gun acceptance, which this scene neither addresses nor challenges.
Through its other work, Saints Row IV slanders 24-hour television media and its aggressive, fear escalating reporting style, all within reach of mainstream mockery. Volition’s supposedly DLC-born sequel is no less involved in cultural stupidity than the franchise was prior, or rather once it left the skin of Grand Theft Auto’s lesser to dig into its lurid frame. This series is smarter than its passe pop culture zingers and newfound Dubstep guns would suggest. Inside lies a perversely sharp witted peak at our failings.
Saints Row IV doubles as an industry watchdog, willing to rip out nonsense cliches and treat them as appropriate failings. Volition is having fun with their freedom, and whether this comes at the expense of others is irrelevant. Zinyak’s cheerfully trifling design – and even the overarching silliness of his appearance at all – pierces holes in flamboyant, hollow video game narratives we have become accustomed to. Stereotypes are utilized fearlessly, without falling into repetitious traps.
Freedom becomes exploratory, the President avatar blossoming upgradeable, omnipotent-like potency thanks to coding cracks in Zinyak’s technological parallel. Leaps pass over skyscraper roofs, telekineses scatters disruptive authorities, and ground level mega sprints have removed Saints Row from clumsy open world driving. Still, Volition anchors their franchise to frivolous side missions, including never ending aerial flips in self-damaging insurance fraud runs. This expanded sequel has not lost its sculptured base of subdued (in comparison) lunacy.
While generalized (and polished) third-person shooting seats itself at the heart of mayhem, Saints Row IV avoids instances of repetition with off kilter, vector-based tank mini games, celebratory game shows, flight sequences, and other maniac activities worthy of inclusion. This series continues to embody a, “go anywhere, do anything” attitude, and with pathways introduced to splurge outside of reality, internal showmanship in digital vagrancy has led us here.
Saints Row’s paradox of simultaneously juvenile embarrassment and edifying societal failures is a send-up deserving of study, even if it allows sexual advances on Vice President Keith David. You cannot ask for more than this raucous blend.