There’s a little over a dozen of us, and we’re all seated on plush purple cubes. The room is dimly lit with purple mood lighting and the producer next to me is wearing a purple Saints Row shirt. In the room adjacent is a Saintsified interpretation of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and a couple of presidential podiums with more purple cubes strewn about the floor. Saints Row IV and its marketing is, above all else, about its presentation. It just so happens that it’s also a terrifically fun game to play.
I think that played into the scheme that publisher Deep Silver had set up for us here. We’re all seated shoulder-to-shoulder so that we can easily see what those around us are doing. The opening bit is actually what appears to be the opening mission for the game. The leader of the Saints has been elected President of the United States and, quite frankly, isn’t coping well with the lack of degenerate activities. Walking through a hallway to a press conference, you see some familiar faces and set about making some World Leader-type decisions including whether to cure cancer with a bill entitled Fuck Cancer or solve world hunger. It was fun seeing everyone beside you pause as you considered your options and laugh along with the results.
As you approach the stage, Kinzie is trying to hold back the onslaught of White House press questions only to be greeted by a new front when aliens drop from the sky and descend upon the presidential platform. The Zen leader Zinyak abducts Kinzie and then proceeds to lay waste to the general area. You fall back to the Oval Office to stock up on weapons (natch) and then go about mowing down aliens while your Cabinet is also abducted. They’re somewhat bullet sponges, but it’s fun nonetheless.
You eventually make your way to a, uh, Presidential Turret and gun down some alien ships in perhaps the most ridiculous way possible (you don’t actually appear to be using your hands for anything besides being absurd). The last ship comes crashing down in front of you and you proceed to bash your way into the cockpit and engage Zinyak in fisticuffs. Things don’t go so well as you quick-time event your way through the cutscene and you are, by and large, defeated. Fade to black and…
We’re now several hours deep into the game. The conceit is that the Zen abduct people and put them into a virtual world that they control so as to break their collective bounty’s will. The thing is that the Boss is kind of a badass so he fights back and ends up with lots of guns and superpowers. We’re reminded before the demo starts that the left bumper is important because it controls all the cool stuff like super speed, gliding, and whatnot.
However, something catches my eye. In fact, it probably catches all of our eyes in the room. In my periphery, I can see at least the two people around me pause on the weapon select wheel (it returns from Saints Row: The Third)—on one weapon in particular, actually: the dubstep gun. Almost in unison, we use it, and we smile. It is, in fact, supremely awesome. There’s also a black hole gun that sucks everything together, a laser sword that chops things up real nice, and a burst rifle customized to look like a Super Soaker. And then there are some regular ol’ guns, but I’ve already decided to not use those at all for this demo.
The superpowers are pretty super. Running at super speeds is pretty fun, allowing you to crash into pedestrians and cars with reckless abandon. If you hold down the jump button, you charge your jump and can reach Hulk-like heights before pressing the left bumper again to engage in an Infamous-esque glide. It all feels incredibly slick and enables you to get where you want to go really easily. It adds a verticality that previous games simply didn’t have (I was able to get to the top floor of the 3 Count casino in a matter of seconds).
What they neglected to mention, however, was the B button (we were playing on Xbox 360s). It allows you to use your offensive, non-traversal powers like telekinesis, freeze power, rock slam, and a fire buff. You assign it in the weapon selection wheel with the D-pad and each power has its own individual cooldown, so you can keep swapping and to keep a constant rotation of active powers. Telekinesis allows you to throw things and people around while the fire buff sets yourself on fire so that if you touch anyone, they are instantly set on fire as well. Freeze power does exactly what it sounds like it would do and the rock slam is a super powerful ground attack that damages and knocks everyone around to the ground. I really enjoyed using that one after a super jump (apparently there is also a move called Death From Above that I missed out on, but here we are).
All we have to do is collect blue orbs that allow us to upgrade our powers, engage in alien outposts (much like you would with gang outposts in Saints Row: The Third), and do a side mission in which you race around Steelport at super speed and super heights. The rest was up to us, so I spent a good amount of time just—for lack of a better word—fucking around. I tried to see every dash-melee combo attack (there are some really good ones), I tried to combine weapons and powers (I liked freezing things and super kicking them), and I tried to steal some vehicles. The problem with the last part is that with the ability to run and jump anywhere I want, what’s the point of driving? Even the hoverbike I stole felt insufficient.
But most of the fun I had with the half-hour demo was the same fun I had with Saints Row: The Third. Namely, just messing around. I would shoot things until I got bored, then punch things until I got bored, then run and jump and glide until I got bored, and then I would blow things up until I got bored. Then the cycle would repeat itself.
A lot of the same things both good and bad in Saints Row: The Third appear to be in Saints Row IV except taken to the extreme. Superpowers are a must, and of course you’re the president. Aliens? You got it! The plot is appropriately insane and a knowing nod towards the popular http://deckers.die/ mission of Saints Row: The Third and appears to tickle the same itch as before for absurdity and insanity. It seemed like before, Volition was just lovingly caressing the kitchen sink, but now they’re just abusing it. And it’s amazing.
Look for Saints Row IV on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on August 20th.