Third Street Saints! Fuck Yeah! Comin’ again to save the muthafuckin’ day YEAH!
The Saints Row series holds such a special place in my heart.
It’s one of the few games my husband and I have been able to bond over. We’ll play each game together — tag-teaming on certain sections where one person is better than the other (or at least enjoys more). We quote phrases from the titles on the regular (“Tell my wife… I had another wife…”). We’ve been to concerts for musicians featured on the OSTs (Bloody Beetroots, we love you). Hell, we even played Saints Row IV‘s “Underdogs” by Liz at our wedding! So few games have been able to capture our collective attention like this series; in this house, we love and cherish Saints Row.
So when the review code rolled in for Saints Row IV: Re-Elected on the Switch, I literally jumped at the chance to replay one of our favorites — with, of course, some help from my player 2 😉 During this quarantine, we managed to beat the game in its entirety in a weekend… well, almost entirely (more on that later).
Originally developed by Volition and published by Deep Silver back in 2013, the Switch version of Saints Row IV: Re-Elected enlisted the assistance of developer Fishlabs to get this delightfully deranged title ported to the Nintendo console. The Re-Elected version boasts all the DLC, including the two bonus missions Enter the Dominatrix and How the Saints Save Christmas. Whether you’re new to the series or have been playing since day one, fans will find something to love about being able to take their favorite street gang on the go.
Summing up Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is a feat in and of itself, so here goes:
The Saints sign up for a mission in the Middle East to take down their old enemy, Cyrus, because *mumbles*. The Boss manages to single-handedly take down a missile headed straight for D.C. to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. The Boss then becomes the President of the United States of America and fills their cabinet with Saints, who are all then subject to an alien invasion by the Zin race and their overlord, Zinyak. Zinyak abducts the best and brightest among them, destroying everyone else in the process. The Boss finds themselves in a simulation set up by Zinyak, and after failing to play by his rules, the Earth is destroyed. The Saints are all rescued one by one from their respective simulations and meet up on a stolen space ship; the nine humans left vow to fight against the Zin empire and see about reclaiming their home planet. Super powers, power armor, and plenty of retro video games are involved. Also Jane Austen.
Now, my first Saints Row game I played was Saints Row: The Third, so I was already pretty prepared for the wonderfully wacky world of Steelport; however, for those who have played since game one, the newest full installment had been a pretty polarizing one. The series initially was more comparable to GTA — street gangs, drugs, violence, etc. etc., so to suddenly go from drug pickups to destroying an alien race and saving humanity? What happened?
From a storyline perspective, I’m (mostly) all in; I think the developers found an audience in gamers who have wanted to get into GTA but for whatever reason couldn’t. Here’s a series that does not take itself seriously, that celebrates all that is ridiculous, and pushes every boundary when it comes to player expectations. From start to finish in every Saints Row game I find myself with my mouth agape at every major turn, and Saints Row IV dialed that up a zillion notches.
As far as gameplay goes, here’s where it gets tricky — Saints Row IV: Re-Elected took the same map from Saints Row: The Third with the same mechanics and added a new layer of mechanics on top of them. In the previous installment, players would steal cars, enlist homies for epic gun battles, and really rely on teammates to get each job done, whether it be participating in insurance fraud schemes or taking out targets.
In Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, it’s still all that, with the added layer of the most absurdly OP abilities imaginable. Players can super sprint, super jump, glide, or use super powers like telekinesis or freeze blasts to destroy enemies. On the surface, it sounds awesome. In-game, it *is* awesome — to an extent. Gameplay-wise, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed IV over III; gliding from place to place is absolutely faster than stealing cars and travelling via surface streets. With that being said, the fact that stealing and customizing cars still being an option — like many carryover options from the previous installment — are basically rendered useless. Why would I put any effort into vehicles whatsoever when I can scale the tallest building possible and glide 2,000 km to practically the next city over?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — why am I doing any of these things from the previous version? Why am I still participating in insurance fraud schemes? Why bother calling homies for backup when I’m ridiculously overpowered? Why do I care about weapons if I can just One Punch Man everything to death?
It’s at this point when the gameplay holes give way and affect the storyline — instead of teaming up with Shaundi or Pierce to take down the simulation piece by piece, I’m largely doing all of this on my own. Sure, they help… by telling *me* — their BOSS and the MFKN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES — what to do. I basically jump into my simulation and suddenly I’m their “gofer” instead of their leader. “Hey Boss, I heard X is doing Y at Z. Take them out.” With a dozen or so different activities in each section of Steelport, it’s lather, rinse, repeat until all alien territory is reclaimed by the Saints, and since I’m doing it all by myself, it’s actually kind of a lonely experience, especially in comparison to the previous installments.
Negatives aside, there’s actually way more good here than bad. For one, the gameplay is actually insanely fun. Saints Row IV: Re-Elected also heavily leans into the lore of the franchise, preferring to look back to older characters — even offering closure on their storylines — giving a little permanence to the Saints universe instead of offering what can sometimes feel like throwaway content. Because the new mechanics introduced were so dramatically different and utilized the city in a completely innovative way, I didn’t mind in the slightest that they re-used the map from its predecessor. Also, not gonna lie, but there is something really, really satisfying about being able to glide from the tops of towering skyscrapers all the way down to sea level.
While a lot of video games offer character customization, few feel as satisfying as Saints Row games, and this holds true for the fourth installment. I’ve always made a blonde bombshell (voiced by the magnificent Laura Bailey) to play the Boss since female characters were introduced in Saints Row II, and I honestly can’t tell you how awesome it is that I can have a hyper-sexualized character who literally wears nothing except a thong and some boots command the same respect that a fully-dressed dude would get. Boobs flapping in the high altitudes above the city, I was kicking absolute ass in my birthday suit and no one bat an eyelash. Equality absolutely exists in Steelport — at least, when you’re the leader of the Third Street Saints.
Amazing representation doesn’t end there — *SPOILERS*, but Johnny Gat is back in the game after having gone MIA in the third installment, and he’s arguably the best representation of an Asian-American man in AAA video games that have ever graced our screens. And for him to be romantically paired with a Black woman? Practically unheard of. Female representation is also A+, with varied personalities including the immensely intelligent Kinzie Kensington, the always-on-edge Shaundi, and new face Asha, the woman who could definitely kill you in 8,894 different ways. Best of all, none of it feels forced; organic representation is best representation, and the Saints Row franchise N A I L S it.
Where Saints Rows of the past have mostly been compared to GTA, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected feels more like Infamous but with more to do. Players will glide from data cluster to data cluster, collecting a whopping 1,255 over the course of the game. These data clusters are used to upgrade your powers, but after awhile it’s really just for the accomplishment. Pepper that in between shooting Zinyak statues, collecting audio logs, and finding Zinyak’s diary entries, and you have closer to 1,500 things up for grabs. This is, of course, all sprinkled throughout gofer missions, side quests, and main missions, but collecting and completing everything feels less a chore and more a joy when you have the ability to glide through the air or pilot alien spaceships.
Saints Row IV: Re-Elected‘s storyline, while competent, takes a HARD TURN right into glorious insanity. I mentioned above that this aspect felt pretty polarizing for some players since it was an incredible diversion from previous installments. How do you go from tagging back-alley walls to overthrowing an alien overlord and gaining access to his entire empire, including his time machine?? Some have really disliked it, but others, like myself, have waited for a franchise like this that doesn’t take itself seriously. Saints Row IV: Re-Elected revels in the absurdity, and plenty of gamers are totally here for it.
Of course, some great things return from the previous games in addition to the new changes, and I’m mostly just talking about the soundtrack. In terms of the spirit of the series, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected continues to play with music in addition to just using it as background filler. While some absolute bops do sneak in, like “The Source (Chaos & Confusion)” by The Bloody Beetroots and “Underdogs” by Liz, critical moments where specific songs are used as veritable gaming power ballads are where the OST really shines. When the Saints give a tearful goodbye to the Boss as they’re climbing up a launched missile to deactivate it from the stratosphere, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” sets the overly-dramatic tone. After the Boss acquires the long-awaited power armor, “The Touch” by Stan Bush blasts through the speakers, giving veritable goosebumps to anyone within earshot. And the long-standing car karaoke song? “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul — not as perfect as the third game’s “What I Got” by Sublime, but still catchy and beloved nonetheless. Even the dubstep gun song is a genuine triumph. The Saints Row franchise always uses popular music as a cinematic tool for setting the tone, and they definitely stepped up their game for this title.
Another fantastic return? Personality. The Saints Row games have always had big personality, and Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is simply oozing with it. The writing alone is worthy of all accolades, as fully fleshed characters with deep backstories fill the screen yet again. Some, like Zinyak, were approaching the cliche at times; perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the game was self-aware and mentioned this on a few occasions. Others were definitely out of left field; at one point, one character splits into two — a current self and past self — while a sentient being who had faded into the simulation and later gains a mechanical body sounded robotic in voice yet blossomed into something more human over time. My favorite character? The Boss — who evolved from rougher catchphrases in previous games (“sure beats dancing”) to more refined quotes that befitted a president (“almost beats dancing”). The sarcastic, witty humor throughout provided endless entertainment, serving as a calling-card for the beloved, bold franchise.
So — for the moment you’ve all been waiting for — how does Saints Row IV: Re-Elected work on the Switch?
In terms of control scheme, the game runs fine. If you were able to master the controls for the Switch version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can handle this one. For those who like to use the versatile console on their TVs, you’ll be happy to know that the wireless Switch controllers are compatible with the title, making this play practically as well as the previous console editions. Unlike said editions, however, the graphics did suffer ever so slightly (my character had what appeared to be scars on her face), and there were a few times the game glitched out (I fell through the map on occasion in some mini-games). It’s hardly anything to complain about too wildly, and certainly nothing worth stopping you from buying the Switch port.
There is one thing that I absolutely must warn everyone about, unfortunately: remember how I said I didn’t quite beat the game in its entirety? That’s because I was locked out of the DLC, and a reddit thread indicates I’m not the only one. The two DLC missions and all their content said they unlocked for me via a pop-up after receiving the ship, but nothing actually appeared and I was never able to start the additional missions. I emailed support who told me to try deleting my save and re-installing, but after beating the final boss, that’s not really a solution I’m interested in. Further digging indicates that this bug has been around on other versions and that it does not affect everyone, so perhaps you will be luckier than I was and avoid this issue; fortunately, it does appear that the developers are actively working on a fix, so here’s to hoping they find one soon.
Here’s the way I see it: 2013 was a different time, and maybe gamers who poo-poo’d this wonderfully wacky title were expecting something a little more straightforward from their GTA lookalike back then. In 2020, however, it’s the absurd that captivates, and The Saints Row IV: Re-Elected has stood the test of time in that particular regard. The fourth installment of the Saints Row franchise aged surprisingly well, and playing it again for the third time was a lovely walk down a familiar road. If you’re a long-time fan of the franchise and didn’t love the total deviation from the first few games, now might be the time to pick it up and try it again; if you’re new to the series, you’re in for a dramatically deranged treat. At this point, if you enjoy wild rides like Netflix’s Tiger King (literally that level of absurdity) and you enjoyed Infamous, give The Saints Row IV: Re-Elected a whirl. Who knew saving the human race could be so ridiculously fun?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS3, XBox360, PS4, XBox One, PC, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Deep Silver; Developer: Fishlabs, Volition; Players: 1 – 2; Released: March 27, 2020; MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Saints Row IV: Re-Elected given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.