An interesting evolution for the Saints Row series

The Saints Row series has been around since 2006, and right from the beginning has been praised by both public and critics for its free-roaming, destruction-dishing, over the top gameplay.

For better or worse, it’s been dubbed as a Grand Theft Auto clone which takes itself (even) less seriously, and Volition managed to exploit this aspect in a very clever way while developing the (inevitable) sequels: Saints Row 2 and Saints Row the Third built on every aspect of the respective predecessor by expanding the game world and introducing new and crazier activities to perform in-game.

Saints Row IV came out last month, on the verge of Grand Theft Auto V release: this chapter of the series takes an interesting turn and shifts gameplay from GTA-like to superhero-game-like.

In fact, while the core SRtT mechanics are still there (after all, SRIV was supposed to be a SRtT DLC), they’re almost completely engulfed by the new elements introduced in this chapter – superpowers drastically change the feel of the game in several ways: the roaming mechanic departed from the foot+vehicle combo so common in GTA as players are now able to jump and run à la Hulk while leaving destruction along their path; superpowers like Stomp, Blast and Death from Above outclass the traditional (and not-so-traditional) weapons available in previous chapters; Telekinesis allows the introduction of new challenges like Prof. Genki’s Mind Over Murder.

This prominent change in gameplay is paired with an interesting expedient (Volition employees must love Matrix) allowing devs to seamlessly weave completely different games like text adventures and even a beat-em-up into the main plot, while disseminating games and pop-culture related references and easter-eggs all over the place – following a consolidated tradition in the series (Easter Bunny in SR2 anyone?).

This is why, in its review of the game, Edge defined SRIV as follows: “It’s a love letter to an entire medium. In throwaway NPC quips, side-missions and key central mechanics it’s made clear that Volition has been playing the same games you have. It’s cherry-picked from the ones it’s loved the most, thrown them all together and made one of the most coherent open-world games in a generation that’s been full of the things.”

Maybe this evolution was prompted by the need of differentiating SR from GTA (and avoid dangerous comparisons with the upcoming-steamroller GTAV), or maybe the gratuitous violence, over-the-top action and questionable humour in SRtT couldn’t be topped while maintaining the faintest pretension to realism… In the end however, it really doesn’t matter, as the final result is an experience that will make every long-time gamer smirk – provided they’re able to appreciate the outrageous punch-lines and salacious gags they’ll experience along the way… After all, video games have become a mature medium, and the boundaries have been so stretched the likes of The Witcher, Manhunt and GTA itself, that mature-oriented games shouldn’t cause a ruckus anymore.