There was a time, not all that many gang slayings ago, when Saints Row games were designed to be the cruder cousin of those Grand Theft Auto steal-a-car-and-rampage-through-the-city titles. As such they upped the genre's already foul and bloody inner-city gangbanging quotient by at least a notch or two. But then the sinful Saints opted for a different path: a zanier path. And a new kind of "comical" open-world crime game was born.
Now that we've come to the release of Saints Row IV, though, we have a game that pretty much tries to be all things to all players at all times. It's part third-person stealth shooter, part space alien-blaster, part gangland spoof, part political parody, part leap-tall-buildings-with-a-single-bound superhero game. You name it, and it's likely to be found in the mix of this crazy creation.
He Don't Need No Stinkin' Secret Service
It starts with your character—a guy or gal eventually known simply as the Boss—setting aside street gang roots to take up paramilitary arms and save the world from a nuclear terrorist threat. The Boss' heroic deeds turn his gang mates (Saints) into household names. You know, action figures, personalized energy drinks and the like. Then your Boss is elected president by a nation looking for something new, and he brings his cronies along with him to the White House. (Who knew the path from thug to mercenary to leader of the free world could be so easy?)
In Washington, the Boss leaps into action. He cures cancer. He installs a Siberian tiger in the cabinet room. And if a congressman threatens to filibuster, why, this is the kind of POTUS who simply lets a good slug to the crotch get legislation moving again.
Just as this punchy prez is about to propose that the country change its Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation under me," however, space aliens attack and an evil alien overlord starts beaming up notables. The baddie inserts the Boss and his buds into a series of Matrix-like computer simulations designed to crush their resistance and cripple their minds. Oh, and then the former Oval Office occupant starts exploiting ubiquitous data clusters and developing faster-than-a-speeding-bullet superpowers.
And that's all in just the first hour or so of play. From there it gets really outlandish.
Weapons of Mass Salaciousness
As goofy as that may sound, though, it doesn't mean the renowned Saints Row foulness has been sluiced away in a flush of fantasy. Nope, f- and s-words, bloody visuals and vulgar sexuality all take their places around the cabinet table. For instance, when in the computer-generated city world of Steelport, tasks include the need to obliterate aliens, police officers and innocent civilians with cars, tanks and a wide variety of unique weapons that range from nail-studded baseball bats to machine gun pistols to shotguns to RPGs to the much, much weirder.
The Inflato-Ray gun is a laser-like weapon that causes a victim's head to expand with bulging balloon eyes until he or she explodes in a shower of goop. Large penis-like "dildo bats" can be used to bash heads and splash gore. And an anal-probing device called the "Rectifier" can be jammed up into someone's backside and triggered to launch them off as a fleshy, scene-splattering projectile.
The sexual part of that gory equation actually starts way back at the game's early moments when you create your own very detailed male or female avatar. You can make your character look like just about anyone you desire. And as they stand there in skimpy underwear, you get an opportunity to dial up "sex appeal"—which essentially translates to adjusting how snugly he or she fills out bra or briefs. If you decide to leave your character dressed in any number of little-to-nothing outfits, realistic visuals lend jiggle and bounce to the subsequent action. There are transsexual and fetish outfits, revealing pictures of buxom pinups, nearly naked combat (with lightly blurred frontal and rear nudity) and the opportunity to crudely proposition and have (offscreen) straight or gay sex with numerous male and/or female characters.
A drug-related mission involves the use of alien narcotics to get high and improve your superpowers.
A Righteous Row With Saints
All of that lusty, violently sexual, drug-themed, obscenity-laced reward play is what triggered a ban of Saints Row IV in Australia. Even with the availability of the relatively permissive R18+ rating (the country's newly installed equivalent of a halfway point between the ESRB's M and adult-focused AO ratings), the game still had to be trimmed back before officials down under would let it end up on top of store shelves.
Here in the States, however, no one raised much of a fuss, as most gaming critics and corporate muckamucks just shrugged off the yuk-it-up nastiness. But Saints Row IV is without argument an evil-minded, breast-bouncing, gender-blurring, brain-blasting, crotch-thumping, profanity-voicing, gore-spewing menace. And it can't cover that fact up, no matter how much random absurdity, satirical silliness or over-the-top craziness it props up in positions of power.