The Saints Row series began as a fun, yet clunky, Grand Theft Auto clone. What it has turned into is anything but. Saints Row 1 placed players in the shoes of the recruit chasing gang-bangers across the mean streets of Stillwater and completing various missions in an attempt to take over as much turf as you could all in the name of the Third Street Saints and the color purple. Saints Row 2 evolved into a much more competent game, but held the same basic premise. With Saints Row: The Third developer Volition took their fun little open world gang game and blew the doors off making the Saints Row series less synonymous with Grand Theft Auto, and more synonymous with the word “insane.” We have now come to Saints Row IV, a game that essentially started as a crazy expansion to Saints Row: The Third titled “Enter the Dominatrix” and then later became a full game when now-defunct publisher THQ landed on some hard times. I’ve seen people say they hope Saints IV is not “just a $60 expansion” and I can 100% confirm that this is not the case. Saints IV is a full-fledged sequel to Saints Row: The Third and it fixes nearly every problem I had with the previous entry. Even though the game features the same city Volition has made the game feel leagues better than its 2011 counterpart with better activities, better gunplay, more weapons, and a hilarious story and overall it feels “new.”

The plot in Saints Row IV is just as crazy, yet better written overall, than the plot in Saints Row: The Third. The game starts with you, the leader of the Saints, becoming President of the United States. I do have to say that the first 30 minutes of this game may be one of the best intros and missions I’ve played in a game to date, as it’s fun to play and absolutely hilarious in presentation and dialogue. Once President your character, who you can customize fully and have voiced by numerous actors and actresses (two of which being the “default” boss Troy Baker from games like The Last of Us & Bioshock Infinite, and voice actor extraordinaire Nolan North from Uncharted playing himself) finds himself under attack in the White House by an alien race lead by Zinyak, one of the best antagonists the series has had to date. Zinyak captures the President and puts him (you) into a series of simulations, ultimately ending in a simulation of Steelport, the city from Saints Row: The Third. The simulations are some of the best parts of the game’s missions, so I won’t spoil them here, but just know that each simulation takes subtle jabs at many game genres and game series’ and they are generally very fun to play through over the course of the game. The plot unfolds through the rest of the game through a series of main missions and side missions and wraps up around the 20 hour mark. You may get through quicker doing only main story quests, but you’d be missing a lot of fun side stories. Overall the plot is a lot of fun. It’s funny, entertaining, and features a TON of callbacks to the previous games in the series that should make any Saints fan happy. It’s well worth the price of admission alone, even without the side features and awesome open world.

The gameplay in the Saints series has always been based around third person shooter mechanics. Saints Row 1 & 2 controlled fine, but The Third refined the controls into something very solid. Saints Row IV continues that trend and nails down the combat and movement even more to the perfect level, you really feel like you have complete control of your character in most situations, whether gliding through the air with super powers or getting in a shootout with the police. Speaking of powers, another new thing to the series overall is the powers you attain while inside the simulation. You end up with around 10 powers, the most useful of which being a gliding power for flying around the city and a super speed power for running through the streets. Among the other powers utilized for combat most all include elemental tweaks that allow for fire, lightening, or even health regeneration. You get a super stomp, fireballs, ice bolts, and eventually even telekinesis, which I found to be the most useful of the powers while in combat. All the powers control exactly like Volition has been making superhero games forever, and while not always very useful most of the powers are a lot of fun to play with. Saints IV is closer to a Crackdown game than it is to Saints Row 1, 2, or even 3, and it feels great. Driving, which is largely made pointless once you can glide, is rock solid and air vehicles control well.

The mission structure in Saints IV is controlled through your quests menu. It gives you the main quest available then a handful of side missions that range from loyalty missions which get you more backstory on each character to the activities including things like mayhem and insurance fraud. Volition has handled the activities much better in Saints IV giving you incentives like power-ups and weapons for completing them in your quest log. The activities themselves are also better, and there were very few times I became frustrated when attempting them. After some bad activities in Saints 3 this is a welcome change. The missions themselves were nearly all fun and all had very different themes, sometimes taking you into hilarious new simulations as well as into some old favorite locations. Overall the missions are fun to play with only the occasional frustration, which unfortunately includes the final boss battle of the game. The final battle brings to light a few of the small combat and A.I. issues you run into during the main game, but amplifies them as you’re all locked in a room together. That battle aside, most of the missions provided little to no frustration, a lot of variation, and were a good amount of fun.

The game also features a level up system as per past games in the series. This time everything is controlled through the back button menu and it’s a fantastic layout. I had some issues with how information and screens were presented in Saints Row: The Third but Volition has really overhauled everything in IV to make the experience much nicer, and every screen looks clean and easy to understand. The game has you collecting Crackdown-like orbs from around the city (over 1000 of them!) to gain points to level up your super powers. You also gain traditional levels by beating enemies and missions. Gaining cash lets you buy weapons and upgrade them, buy clothes, and level up your base player traits and unlock new ones like extra health. Overall the level up system and orb system always gives you something to do all the way to the end of the game and beyond.

There are plenty of things to keep you playing long after you finish the 15-20 hour main storyline in Saints Row IV. The side missions and activities have been vastly improved and the gameplay mechanics have continued to improve over the course of the series. Saints Row IV is not merely just “a $60 expansion,” it’s a full game and one that is filled with humor and fun. SRIV is exactly what a video game should be: fun, enjoyable, relaxing, and exciting all at the same time. From coasting around listening to the amazing soundtrack while collecting orbs to beating down enemies in a level parodying Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, you’ll never have a dull moment in the game. Saints Row IV is a worthy game in the series and a fantastic open world game in its own right. If you like open world games, like super powers, and love to laugh this is the game for you.