Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
We were all left mystified as to how Volition would follow up Saints Row 3’s epic nonsense. Few guessed it would be by Saints Row 4 [official site] having you become President of the USA, then get captured by aliens, the Earth blown up, and you and your crew trapped in a computer simulation of the previous game’s city. Oh, and you get super-powers.
Obligatory reference to how the first Saints Row game was a hateful thing. There, done. By 2 the series realised its niche, and that niche heavily involved spraying shit over neighbourhoods to lower property values (a feature they’ve devastatingly failed to repeat in later games). In 3 they realised that there was nothing to be gained by emulating GTA, and instead they should be something other, something far, far sillier. And by 4, well, they demonstrated that most games are so severely underestimating their potential for fun.
This is all despite Saints Row 4 being in many ways a cost-cutting measure. The same city, but re-rendered, very similar tasks, major plotlines using side-quests rather than bespoke challenges. But this was all hidden away beneath some of the most stunning writing you’ll find in a game, the ability for players to create a character of either gender or mix between and have the game notice but not alter itself in response, and the ludicrous addition of super-powers, including leaping tall buildings, speedster dashing about, and ridiculously powerful attacks – the most satisfying super-powers since City Of Heroes.
And most of all, it’s hilarious. Not “hilarious for a video game”, but genuinely guffaw-inducing. There are moments that made me beam, the extraordinary recreation of the notorious scene from They Live, complete with the original actors, or glorious sing-a-long with Biz Markie’s always wonderful Just A Friend. And then the final joke during the closing credits – I do not exaggerate when I say that I couldn’t breathe for laughing.
It’s understandable that so many were put off by the wretched first game, and then further put off by the vile, misogynistic marketing for the subsequent games, especially Saints Row: The Third (which was a game that represented female characters often extremely well, and so horribly didn’t deserve the marketing disservice). But Saints Row 4 is above all of it, and just a joyous pile of silliness, cleverly belying some extremely sharp writing, and even moving moments.