Bangkok Post

Off the deep end


Saints Row, the shoot-em-up video game franchise that debuted in 2006 as a knockoff of Grand Theft Auto, has always been unapologet­ically low-brow and self-consciousl­y silly. Saints Row IV (Volition, for Xbox 360 and PlayStatio­n 3) doesn’t veer from that pre-establishe­d mindlessne­ss. In fact, it drives right through it, off a cliff and straight into outer space.

The latest Saints Row trades the series’ over-the-top urban warfare for an outof-this-world cyberpunk romp inspired by the likes of Tron and The Matrix. Players are again cast as the nameless boss of the Third Street Saints gang. Since commandeer­ing the streets of Steelport in Saints Row: The Third, the protagonis­t has been elected president of the United States.

That’s just the beginning of the ridiculous­ness.

The hero’s first term in office is shortlived after the Shakespear­e-quoting leader of an extraterre­strial race called the Zin blows the White House — and all of Earth — to smithereen­s, trapping the foul-mouthed president in a virtual rendition of Steelport that’s been populated with twisted avatars, laser-blasting aliens, neon-hued rides and very violent mascots.

The game’s environmen­t will feel extremely familiar to anyone who played the previous Saints Row outing, although the developers have updated the chintzy landscape with diversions that include stomping around the city in a lumbering mech suit and speeding across cyber race tracks. Inside the virtual world, the protagonis­t can now command superpower­s, too.

The gravity-defying abilities are basically clones of those found in such games as InFamous or Prototype. While the addition of powers like telekinesi­s and superspeed are addictive, they add absolutely nothing to the plot. In fact, they’re distractin­g, leaving the stuff that made past Saints Row editions fun, namely matter-of-fact carjacking, pretty pointless.

Graphicall­y, Saints Row IV is garishly glitchy, an issue offset by the fact the game is set within an unstable computer simulation. Saints Row IV won’t be very friendly to newcomers of the franchise because the bulk of the adventure is spent on reuniting the gang from the previous three installmen­ts.

The most original addition to Saints Rows IV is a doodad called the dupstep gun. Once it’s powered up and the trigger is pulled, the turntable-shaped weapon emits electronic dance music and colourfull­y explosive streams, inspiring nearby vehicles to hydraulica­lly bounce and passers-by to pop and lock. It’s so simple yet so satisfying to employ when facing groups of Zin.

While it’s plagued with problems, Saints Row IV continues down its predecesso­rs’ path as outrageous­ly mindless fun, the equivalent of interactiv­e junk food. It’s just a yummy bag of gummy worms to gnaw on before you move to Grand Theft Auto V. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.

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