If you?ve been keeping up with the news recently, you?ll have heard that Volition?s upcoming open-world gangster game, Saints Row IV, has been refused classification in Australia. The reason? The inclusion of an ?alien anal probe? that can be inserted into NPCs by the player at any given time. So, if you?re wondering whether this sequel has been toned down in favour of a more serious approach... well, you kind of have your answer already.
While the brief gameplay demo I experienced wasn?t quite as absurd as to include the offending weapon for me to, ahem, test... there was more than enough insanity packed into the code for me to run amok with all kinds of inventive superpowers and destructive weapons.
First, the plot. The whole thing kicks off at the White Crib - the new name for the US President?s office of business. As the leader of the Saints gang, you play as the ?POTUS with the Mostest?, donning a sharp purple suit and facing a huge number of domestic and international concerns. The opening cutscene highlights just how boring things have become - en route to the press room, you have to choose to enact certain bills. Such as whether to cure cancer or solve the issue of world hunger.
All worthwhile deeds, to be sure, but the Saints leader is having none of it. He misses the fun and frolics of working his way to the top, and now he?s President of the United States with a real job to do, things are pretty dull. Until, of course, aliens suddenly come along and decide to blow all of your shit up.
The invading force is a race of international conquerers known as the Zin, and they have plans to take over Earth and control it using their hi-tech gadgetry. Immediately, the President?s top brass is abducted and the White Crib begins to crumble under a relentless alien attack. The rather straightforward gameplay sequence that follows involves darting to the Oval Office, grabbing as many guns as you can and escaping the building whilst shooting down as many Zin soldiers as you can.
After an encounter with the Zin?s leading general (which takes place once you?ve used a massive turret outside the White Crib to blow up as many incoming ships as you can), the demo jumps to a later point in the game?s story. The President is dressed up like some kind of revolutionary from The Matrix, with a flowing leather jacket and snappy sunglasses.
We are to assume that here, in this open-world section of the demo, that the Zin have pretty much taken over the country and the Saints leader is leading a grass-roots revolution to take back his land from the invaders. Cities have been drowned in darkness, with highlights of purple, red and green neon that remind you of a dodgy 1980s sci-fi flick.
In order to effectively take on the Zin, the President seems to have gained supernatural powers. Holding the A button, for example, will allow you to perform a moon jump, while the Left Bumper will make you glide around whilst freefalling. On foot, LB makes your character run at lightning speed, knocking almost everything over in your path - cars, lamp posts, civilians, the lot.
You also have a number of elemental and psychic abilities that can be assigned to the Right Bumper. These include a freeze shot, an aura of fire, an earthquake and the power to pick up people and objects using PK energy. As you would expect, these have some rather devastating - and humourous - effects on enemies and innocent bystanders alike.
The psychic ability in particular came in handy when taking part in a side quest called Professor Genki?s Mind Over Murder, with the objective being to ?pick up? different coloured items from the world around you and fling them towards hoops of the same colour for points. Those dudes wearing green sweaters didn?t know what hit ?em.
Another side-quest I could participate in was called Blazin?, and was a simple race around a certain section of the world map. The usual persistent challenges remain in Saints Row IV
, and on top of Story Quests you can discover areas where the Zin have taken the city and kill them all to reduce their influence. Collectible data clusters are dotted around the world too, curing the itch for those who love hunting for feathers in Assassin?s Creed
The rest of the demo was focused on allowing you to cause as much chaos as humanly possible, through the medium of guns and destruction. There was a range of weapons at my disposal, but only three stood out from the typical SMG/pistol/machine gun fare. The Supersoaker is a rapid-fire assault gun that shoots lasers at a target. Nice. The Blackhole Gun sucks everything around you into oblivion - including you if you?re not careful!
But it was the Dubstep Gun that stole the show. Requiring a charge-up (which you can hear in the form of a club song preparing to bring the drop), this long-range weapon shoots soundwaves at a specific target, digitally disintegrating anything in its path when given enough focus. While this is happening, any humanoid NPC around the soundwave beam will start doing the robot, and any vehicles in the area will bounce up and down as if on hydraulics.
I had so much fun with the Dubstep Gun, that I managed to attract dozens of Zin before the game locked up on me. Yep, dubstep killed my early playtest of Saints Row IV
, such is its power. Naturally, game hangs like that will be ironed out ahead of the game?s release, but it simply proves that dicking about with the Saints remains a most engaging and cathartic exericse. And no doubt there?ll be plenty more laughs to be had when the game is released in August.