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'Saints Row 4' preview: First look at superpower-filled sequel

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Saints Row 4

© Deep Silver

Saints Row 4


Saints Row 4 marks the return of the fan-favourite open-world franchise. Starting life as a Grand Theft Auto competitor, the series finally hit its stride in the third instalment with over-the-top action and a perfectly pitched sense of humour that made it one of 2011's surprise hits.

Perhaps quite suitably, Saints Row 4's premise is quite possibly the most bizarre we've encountered.

After the events of the last game, the influence of street gang The Third Street Saints has seen them climb the ranks of the government, with its leader becoming the President of the United States.

With such a lofty title, what could possibly be a threat to the leader of the free world?

Simple answer: Aliens. With the Saints abducted by an outer-space empire known as the Zen, the creatures attempt to indoctrinate the crew using a twisted, virtual version of Steelport.

The result is a rule-breaking world with super powers and alien adversaries, and a story that could easily top the ridiculousness of the third game.

The first images of 'Saint's Row 4'

© Deep Silver

The new Steelport is dominated by dark alien structures.



Welcome to virtual Steelport

Tonally, virtual Steelport is very different to what it was in Saints Row The Third. Although it has a familiar layout, the skyline is dominated by towering alien structures and ships, offering a far more dark and twisted feel.

But while the city size is similar, the virtual environment allows them to take the setting and the missions in far more creative directions, and hint at offering "other simulations" as a way of doing that.

"The way we wanted to go was just give you more variety, rather than take the city and expand it a little more," senior producer Jim Boone explained in a press conference attended by Digital Spy.

"It was something we did in Saints Row 2, and we liked that, but our thought was [to] be more creative and come up with different areas that you can go in and counter.

"Because of the fact that you've been abducted, it gives us the opportunity to do that, even though it's an open world game, we have a fictional way, a narrative way to being able to bring you to different places."


Dubstep guns, Mech suits and customisable weapons

A hands-on presentation showcased several weapons that instantly brought grins to our faces.

The first was the 'Inflato-ray', a gun that saw its hapless victims comically expand like a balloon before exploding.

The other was the Dubstep gun, which shoots a ray that forces citizens and enemies alike to start robotically dancing to the tune of ear-splitting music. Even objects like cars are susceptible, which also bounce along to the music.

There will be more far-fetched activities available outside of missions. One such example was a Mech suit, that tasks the player of going on a mayhem spree to blow up anything that moved for cash.

There is also the promise of more customisation, which was one of Saints Row The Third's draws.

As well as more silly costumes and extra weapon upgrades, guns can now be reskinned to look different. Want a rocket launcher to look like a guitar case, or the SNES Super Scope 6? You got it.

Also expect more character customisation. One area that has the development team particularly excited is voice modulation, allowing the player to adjust the pitch of the main character's speech.

"It sounds like a subtle thing, but when you start to see it in cinematics and the kinds of conversations we have in the game, it's pretty significant," explained Boone.

The first images of 'Saint's Row 4'

© Deep Silver

You are now able to fly through Steelport.



Super powers let you take to the skies

In a Matrix-style twist, the leader of the Saints now has superpowers to use when exploring Steelport.

You'll be able to leave the car in the garage and super-sprint to your destination, leap hundreds of feet into the air onto a skyscraper and then glide away. Watching it in action gave us a Prototype vibe.

There are also superhuman abilities in combat. Telekinesis lets you lift foes into the air, while an Ice Blast freezes enemies on the spot.

The question is, with all these possibilities, why choose would you ever choose guns?

"The big thing is that you can use both [weapons and superpowers]," Boone explained.

"We have these exotic weapons that we think people are going to play just because they're so cool, and different from anything else you've played.

"The key [playability] factor, I think, is because you can do both. I can shoot them with the Ice Blast, and shooting them again [with a weapon] shatters them. We've tried to design these things so it's very interchangeable the way you use them."

Just like the Freeze Blast requires a weapon afterward to kill someone, telekinesis doesn't injure enemies but simply throws them out of the way, letting you clear the battlefield momentarily to focus on other enemies.

As for the enemies you'll be facing, the Zen comes in many different varieties, and can also counter your powerful new abilities with 'super hero' types of their own, which are said to be "incredibly damaging".

The first images of 'Saint's Row 4'

© Deep Silver

Ice Blast is one of the new super powers.



Why move from an expansion to a full sequel?

Between the reuse of Steelport as a destination and its roots as starting out as an expansion to Saints Row The Third, the feeling that Saints Row 4 might be more of the same could prove hard to shake for some.

But as design director Scott Phillips explains, turning add-on pack Enter the Dominatrix into a full sequel was an essential for the types of features it wanted to implement. Players can also expect a game length that will match the price point.

"We started out as Enter the Dominatrix, and further along we recognised, 'We like a lot of the stuff that's happening here, but we're going to get it to where we want it to be'," Phillips said.

"We're not going to be happy with it if it comes out the day it was originally intended to. That's when we pulled all the stuff out and said, 'Alright, lets put it into this bigger package, let's make it a full game'.

"It means that [all the things that matter to] gamers – length of content, the story, how big it is – we wanted to hit all that.

"We want to make sure that perception is not, 'Oh this is just DLC that they've turned into the main game'."

He added: "We wanted to make sure that it's as big as people are going to expect from a full game."

Saints Row 4 will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from August 23 in Europe and August 20 in North America.

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