Saturday, January 04, 2014

Why don't I like Saints Row IV?

Recently Yahtzee put Saints Row IV in the top five games of last year. It made me re-think my evaluation of the game.

First of all, Yahtzee ranks games based on what they mean as a symbol, not on their actual worth. We have to view his high rank as an endorsement of its light-hearted attitude, not as an endorsement of the game as a product.

But why don't I like the game? After all, I really liked SR III. Part of it is probably the high expectations generated from the previous game; I was coming into this with a positive attitude.

Introduction Whiplash
I think something else was the main source of my high expectations: the introduction. Saints Row IV has such a great intro. It blew me away. It switches rapid-fire from stealth ops to presidential shenanigans to alien invasion. I would love to play any of those scenarios.* The problem is that after all those changes, you get dumped back into Saints Row III. They change everything, then immediately reset everything. Not only is the setting unchanged, but it's at even lower stakes, since it's all in the Matrix. The majority of the "missions" are just missions from Saints Row III, but with aliens attacking instead of police. Win over all the shops in this city? I already did that! Buy outfits and guns from the shops you open up? They're all the same!**

New Content
Lots of the new content is a complete write-off. The new weapons have nice visual and audio effects, but aren't particularly interesting. The music of the dubstep gun gets repetitive very quickly. Don't like the music? They added some additional options for other music! All you have to do is pay them real world money to have a weapon play different sound effects from the public domain!

"DLC" and "Saints Row IV" are synonymous. The game itself is re-purposed DLC, and their business model clearly relies on having a ton of pointless DLC that adds little to nothing to the game. We've already seen the Dubstep gun music changes, and the additional costumes are incredibly lame for something that costs real world dollars.

Super Movement
The super movement is mostly a negative for me. The super jump and super speed seem like a good idea, but they make the game really boring. Yes, you can get from place to place faster, but that travel time is just holding forward until you arrive. I fell into the trap of exclusively using super running to get around in my first play through the game, and I think that's the source of a lot of my bad feeling. Driving would require enough input that you don't get too bored as you get around. I would prefer some variety of super driving, and have any super running be incredibly brief.***

Super Weapons
The superpowered attacks are largely pointless. Once you get the first power, you don't really need any of the other ones. The initial Blast mode freezes all enemies and lets you easily headshot anyone. If you're lazy or a bad shot, you just have to wait until you get the fireball, then you can just throw that a few times. Either way, the powers you unlock later are almost purely worse than your Blast.

The Positives
Of course there are some good things. The voice acting is good. The first female voice in particular is fantastic. When they actually bother to give you some new content, like the "loyalty missions", you can see they still have the ability to make some novel content.

*A Saints Row 3.5 where you run for President would be rich with opportunity.
** There's still that stupid "Anime Kitty" backpack that functions mainly to trick me into checking the "backpack" slot every time I go to a shop.
***Maybe they could have just made running more interactive: if you could still collide with cars or enemies, that could be more interesting. The real problem with the super running is that the game and the map simply aren't designed to interact with those powers.

(I wonder how much my opinion is affected by the way the game is stuck in perpetual darkness?)

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