1. Saints Row IV [official site] (2013)
Publisher: Deep Silver
Saints Row IV is the distilment of everything an action game can and should be. It’s the genre captured in a way that’s beyond absurdity, beyond satire, into a whole new realm of ludicrous. And it’s done with a degree of refinement and finesse that defies logic. It should be the antithesis of action gaming, and yet we’re proposing it’s the best example of it to date.
And from such shitty beginnings. The original Saints Row was not just a nasty GTA knock-off, but also a truly nasty game. Spiteful, misogynistic, and pathetic, it stood to demonstrate just how talented Rockstar really are. And yet the characters poorly established there find their greatness here, in a game that was meant to be an add-on pack.
Saints Row The Third saw the series find its own way, escape its origins, and distinguish itself from GTA by putting aside severity for a light-heartedness accompanied by some brilliant writing. As Volition found themselves caught in the messy collapse of THQ, their next planned expansion became embellished into a full-size standalone game, despite still repurposing many of the assets, and indeed the same city, as the third game. These things tend to be enormous warning signs of a game that will over-stretch a small idea, and feel like a retread, not a fresh release. And yet Saints Row IV feels like none of those things. It feels like the best action game.
The opening sequence (a brutal and brilliant satire of modern warfare shooters) sees you – your character created from one of the most versatile and entertaining character creators you’ll come across – eventually clinging onto the side of a nuclear missile, attempting to dismantle it in mid-flight. Manage that and you fall back to Earth, crashing through the roof of the White House (“White Crib”, of course), and landing in the President’s chair in the Oval Office. Which, naturally, means you’re the President of America a few years later. Then you’re captured by aliens.
Good grief, that’s how to start a game. Saints Row IV is then set in a computer simulation created by the evil alien overlords. At first it’s the most incredible parody of those who condemn such games, a 1950s neighbourhood where swearing and violence are banned. It turns out this is a hell created for your character, so opposed is it to your philosophy of killing stuff and saying swears. But rescued from it, you learn the rest of the Saints are in similar hellish prisons, Earth gets a bit blown up, and you return to the simulation of the city of Steelport to avenge the billions of deaths. Yeah, Earth gets blown up.
Being a simulation, the rules of physics no longer need to apply, so your character quickly developers superpowers, like leaping tall buildings and running faster than a speeding bullet. Superpowers! Cars, in a vast city with all driveable vehicles, quickly become irrelevant as you zip about through the air. And then, yes, then, things start to get really silly.
It’s certainly a fair criticism of SRIV to point out that its missions are minigames with a cutscene at the start. Thing is, when that cutscene is so brilliant you want to quote it to your friends, and playing the minigame is a proper laugh, it’s hard to begrudge its not being an over-scripted escort mission or whatever. And who cares, when it’s all within a game that recreates the classic fight scene from They Live, using the original actors. Or one of the funniest moments in gaming where you and your chums sing along to Biz Markie’s wundersong, Just A Friend. And we could never spoil a joke that appears midway through the closing credits that caused us to laugh so hard we genuinely hurt ourselves.
It features some sublime writing, some of the best acting you’ll hear in a game, and smart satirical commentary on gaming like nothing else. For this to have come from an expansion pack to a third sequel to one of the nastiest games we’ve seen is beyond extraordinary.
The game was originally going to be called Saints Row: The Third – Enter The Dominatrix, which itself was announced only as an April Fool’s joke. The title was eventually used for DLC for this fourth game.
The game only saw a release in Australia when they removed the anal probe weapon. Poor Australia.
Read more: Our review.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The more recent Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell has a lot going for it too. Plus if you’re loving this, you’ll get a lot of out the GTA games, and perhaps the anarchic nature of Prototype 2.