The president of the United States fights for humanity against an alien invasion in the addictively gratuitous third-person action game Saints Row IV: Commander in Chief Edition (Deep Silver and Volition Inc, rated Most Mature, $59.99).
The latest sequel to the popular Saints Row series acts like the sophomoric little brother of the mega-popular, open-world game franchise Grand Theft Auto as it turns a free-roaming adventure across a large city into a sci-fi B-movie film that now even grants superpowers to its main protagonist.
A player controls this leader of the Third Street Saints gang who is currently the U.S. president, but before our hero ever puts a searing hole in one of the bad guys’ noggins, a player can meticulously customize the commander in chief down to his (or even her) facial bones, hairstyle, eyebrows, skin tones, tattoos, body type and even face makeup.
I built a fellow who looks like a cross between Rob Zombie and Glenn Danzig and chose as the voice of the prez, the deeply disturbed Nolan North. Remember the actor and his potty-mouthed hilarity from the recent Deadpool game? Nuf said.
So after suiting him up in slick purple suit, applying some patriotic makeup, I made a few quick decisions (do I sign off on the cure for cancer or feed the world?), admired a few pole dancers in the West Wing and, the next thing I know, I am sitting behind a massive anti-aircraft gun blasting away at spaceships as a damn alien invasion screws the president’s life up.
My new buddy then gets sucked up into a virtual version of his favorite city Steelport, now controlled as a computer simulation built by the hostile extraterrestrials called the Zin.
Let me be clear before we proceed here. This is a very mature game loaded with unlimited violence and immature sexual themes while playing out like Seth MacFarlane providing a raunchy, R-rated parody of the “Matrix.”
Specifically, this construct world should be very familiar to fans of Keanu Reeves’ Neo, if he was played by a 1980s version of Andrew Dice Clay.
I now control my hero as he unleashes his superpowered wrath against the minions of Zinyak (our Galactic Overload and Head Emperor Supreme of the Zin Empire) and tries to rescue friends and bring down the simulated world.
During the escapades, he moves between both faux-Steelport and a renegade spaceship controlled by his Cabinet.
Much like any open-word game, a player explores every part of the city without near any limits to find icons and begin missions to propel the plot or move around large mapped-out areas loaded with citizens walking around and chatting away. Vehicles move up and down up streets, and police officers and Zin are on patrol looking to attack troublemakers.
He can take part in secondary missions to gain cache (the game’s currency) or hack into stores to change appearance (I eventually wore a Uncle Sam outfit), buy ammo and weapons, or use warp doors to travel back to his spaceship.
With so much to do to decimate the plans of Zinyak and so little time before my wife screams at me to stop playing the game, it’s a good thing I get plenty of support.
Computer genius Kinzie Kensington is back and guides me to new objectives with her soothing voice. My vice president, actor Keith David as Keith David, is ready to pop down from the ship and help me battle the foes with a simple phone call. By the way, a second player can jump in for a co-operative round of alien butt kicking.
Of course, outrageous weapons, vehicles and superpowers play a key role in this president’s success.
Under firepower, how about an RPG built by Zin technology, or quirkier devices that make foes dance before they die, or on that blows up the head of its unlucky victim like a balloon (you bet it pops)? Much more impressive was an item found in the Commander in Chief edition of the game, a bonus weapon called the ‘Merica.
This big bad boy balances on the hip and not only plays the “Marines’ Hymn” while being wielded but boasts multiple turrets to quickly toggle between firepower such as a rocket launcher and flamethrower all rolled into one.
Now superpowers are an additional nice twist. By the end of the game, a player is nearly Superman with super-speed and jumping/gliding in the simulated world with even the additions of a freeze and fire blasts, mind control and telekinesis.
Access to vehicles (from sports cars to tanks) and their customization are also included to quickly move around the city. However, it begs to ask the question: If I have the ability to power jump to the tops of buildings like the incredible Hulk and run faster than the Flash with Montezuma’s Revenge, why would I ever need or want to drive a car, no matter how cool or souped up I can make it?
I found little reason, especially with the use of another bonus granted from the game’s special edition.
Specifically, the chance to pilot the Screaming Eagle, a jet fighter looking like a bird and complete with a laser and guided missiles. Flying that around the city in this finely honed craft is absolutely one of the coolest moments of the action.
Just so a player never gets bored with simply killing waves of aliens, police officers (that can transform into aliens) and armed toilets, variety constantly spices up the missions.
I might need to use a weapon that creates black holes to suck up hostiles and disrupt Zinyak’s world, or climb into a mech suit and cause some explosive mayhem. I will initially escape back to the real world in a dizzying spaceship battle. I can catch what’s comparable to a golden snitch to stop an enemy in hot pursuit.
I take part in a Tron-like motorcycle chase to free a fellow human. I can super-jump to platforms to scale one of the tallest alien towers in the city, a feat so daunting it actually kicked in my acrophobia.
I can even fling myself around like a rag doll, taking enormous damage to my body just to collect points for upgrades.
This radical approach to the latest Saints Row turns the more realistic efforts of urban warfare of previous games into a nearly non-stop Tex Avery cartoon while occasionally spending the time to spew a stream of tasteless moments peppered with profanity and dirty wrestling moves.
Suffice to report: The enjoyment of the intentionally cheesy graphics and ludicrous action will suck up dozens and dozens of hours of a twisted player’s life
Ultimately, when the hippest U.S. president has absorbed the last of the slobbering wardens (who look like Superman’s nemesis Doomsday), Saint’s Row IV is not only quite the beefy third-person adventure and all-round offensive game but offers a stupidly hilarious alternative to Grand Theft Auto V hitting stores next month.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) — after watching too many agonizing shots to the crotches of Zin warriors, the innocent slaughter of police officers from missile launcher shaped like a guitar case, uncensored discussions about potential sexual encounters and frozen citizens shattered into a thousand pieces — decided to label this game “M” and that stands for mature, adults 17 years and older need only try to take part in Saints Row IV. So don’t let your 15–year-old convince you that “this is ‘Independence Day’ starring the Looney Tunes.” Saints Row IV relishes in being part of one of the most unassumingly offensive franchises in the history of gaming, and it gloriously maintains the tradition.