Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: Saints Row IV

Saints Row IV. By Deep Silver and Volition, Inc., for the PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Rated M.

Welcome back, faithful cultists. I thought I would take a step back from the Mythos, the horror and the Lovecraftian to talk about a new video game that really has none of that. Oh, sure, it has some zombies in it somewhere, but then, can you name anything these days that don’t? And there is also a great WTF?! moment in this game that literally had me laughing until tears ran down my face. Sadly, to tell you about it would be to spoil the impact of it, so I’m not going to do that. I will say that fans of John Carpenter films will love it.

So, zombies and good ol’ J.C. – isn’t that enough of a reason for me to tell you about this game? Oh, it is also all about alien invasion and has a Matrix-like virtual reality featured heavily in it.

Still not enough? Well, how about this? This game is fun. Pure and simple, first and foremost, this game is fun with a capital F.U. Yep, that’s an allusion to the obscenity you’re thinking of. If that offends you, then stop reading right now and just walk away from this review. This is most certainly not the game for you. But if vulgarity doesn’t frighten you, and you want a crazy, over-the-top and – most importantly – FUN game, then Saints Row IV is the game for you.

And yeah, I keep harping on the F-word (fun) here because that is something many video games have forgotten to be. Especially now, in this in-between time when one generation of game consoles is dying and the next generation has yet to be born. Historically, this is not a good time for video games, but the mad minds over at Volition seem to have said, “Well, screw that noise” and they have delivered one of the most fun (There I go again) and funny games I have ever played. So much so that I thought it warranted me to break from the norm and give it some special applause here. After all, games should be fun, right?

While Saints Row IV is the fourth game in the popular sandbox franchise. Previous experience with the Saints is not necessary here. Part IV does a good job of bringing you up to speed on how your character, the one-time leader of a street gang, has become president of the United States. Yeah, you read that right. Oh, if you think that is far-fetched, then your mind might be blown when aliens invade, capture everyone, and place them in a virtual reality prison. But that’s only the beginning here.

Because most of the action this time around takes place in a computer simulation, as the Thug in Chief that you are, you quickly learn to break the rules in proper Neo fashion. In this VR world, your character can jump half a mile in the air, run at 100 mph., glide over the length of a football field, and chuck fireballs, ice bolts, or just use telekinesis to smash people flat. And if I said it once here, I’ll say it again (For those who made a drinking game out of every time I drop the F-word, get ready) – all this is just so much fun. Not only does this make you feel like a total badass, but now, getting from point A to point B is, yes, FUN. I actually liked running around in this game, plowing over cars as they got in my way, or jumping up the side of a skyscraper, only to come slamming back down to earth, causing calamitous ruin in my wake. Is that at all realistic? No. Is it fun? Oh, hell, yeah.

Now, just being able to do lots of cool stuff is one thing, but if that’s all this game had going for it, even that would get boring after too long. Thankfully, there is a solid “We’ve got to escape this artificial reality” plot here. It is broken up into multiple chapters, and filled with nods and winks to pop culture, movies, and other video games.

As if that weren’t enough, there are dozens and dozens of optional side activates that offer a nice, wide array of game mechanics to play around with. In one, you jump into an armored mech suit to cause as much havoc and chaos as possible in a short time limit. Another has you using your super speed to outrun baddies on Tron-like cyberbikes. Another has you tossing around giant wrecking balls with your mind powers. There’s the ever-popular “Hey, would you steal me a car?” mission, although here, each vehicle is a computer virus you’re loading into the system to crash it.

Perhaps my favorite is an old one from all the Saints Row games that has been given a much-needed and improved update: the insurance fraud mini game. That’s where you throw yourself into oncoming traffic (you know: good, family fun) to rack up points. But now, because you’re in the VR world, things just get drenched in crazy sauce. When you get slammed by a car now, you can go flying, tumbling and ragdolling for miles, smashing into buildings and people all along the way. The first time I did it, I had to pause the game, I was laughing so hard.

Mentioning laughing brings me to the final check in the win column for this game. Yes, it is fun (drink), and yes, you get more than your money’s worth with all the activities and missions to accomplish, but it is also laugh-out-loud funny. Now. if you’re not a gamer … then why are you reading this?

But if you’re not a gamer, you might be saying, “So, what? It’s funny. Big deal.” But that is a huge deal when it comes to video games. Look, comedy is hard. It’s tough to pull off well in movies, standup, and on TV, but it is doubly tough to do it right in video games. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I cannot tell you how many quote/unquote “funny video games” are anything but humorous. Most are lucky if they can just get you to crack a smile.

But Saints Row IV will have you guffawing and chuckling if you’re a fan of crazy and often nonsensical humor, an old school gamer, a fan of cult movies, or any sort of consumer of pop culture. I wish I could go into more detail, but then that would ruin the jokes. So, sorry, you’re just going to have to take my word on it that I haven’t played a game this funny in a long time, if ever.

Final Verdict: I cannot overstate how much I loved this game. If I gave out numerical ratings, this one would get a 10 out of 10. Sure, I hit a bug or two, but that’s par for the course when it comes to the massiveness that is an open world, sandbox game. Also, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but then, it’s not interested in doing that. It just wants you to have fun and fun I sure had. Oh, and for those keeping count, I have said ‘fun’ in this review fourteen times, so you know it must be true. Consider Saints Row IV a must-have game for anyone who loves fun.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has been critiquing all things horror, science fiction, dark, or just plain icky for over a decade. His reviews and columns can currently be found in the pages of these magazines: Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem and Dark Discoveries, and on these websites: Horror World, The Black Glove and now here. Not being satisfied at being a humble and handsome critic, Brian has penned a few tales himself. They have appeared in the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, Dark Animus, and Horror Carousel, and in the anthologies Arkham Tales, Cthulhu Unbound Vol. 2, Horrors Beyond, and Twisted Legends, among others. He has also written extensively for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, in an attempt to corrupt as many new, young minds as possible. Despite all this, Brian is often described by his neighbours as "such a nice, quiet man", and he loves animals.

Brian M. SammonsColumn: Cthulhu Eats the World: Saints Row IV