Every gamer has a certain genre that they just cannot get into, no matter how many times they have tried; for me, it is the open world action-adventure game, typically full of shooting, driving, and generally causing havoc. I have picked up each Grand Theft Auto with the best intentions, only to get frustrated with failing the same early mission over and over. In L.A. Noire, I forced my in-game companion to do most of the driving, cursing whenever I had to take over for a high-speed chase. So, when Saints Row IV: Re-Elected slid across my virtual desk, I was concerned I would not be up to the task. However, the game’s focus on playfulness over precision quickly sucked me into a charming world full of superpowers and silly jokes.
Despite seven years passing since the original release of the game, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected feels thoroughly modern. The virtual city of Steelport is utterly bursting with content: each corner offering activities like a hacking mini game to open a shop, a super-speed race through the streets, control points teeming with enemies, or even an injury mini-game where the protagonist is thrown down the street like a fleshy katamari. The wealth of content is made all the more impressive in how the vast majority of it is optional, and the handful of plot-required diversions only need an easily-achieved bronze rank to progress. Not a fan of driving? The protagonist quickly gains the ability to run at super speed, rendering cars obsolete. Bad at gunplay? Whomping enemies with a tentacle-shaped bat is just as effective.
The game encourages players to take things at their own pace, and respects the player’s time. The many activities could have easily been used as a gate to progress, padding out the length of the game, but the main storyline marches on regardless of the city’s current state. Skilled players do not go unrewarded, however, as gold ranks in the various mini-games will improve the protagonist’s abilities, allowing them to jump higher or blast telekinesis waves further.
Superpowers are a welcome new addition to the series, and serve as the core part of Saints Row IV: Re-Elected‘s appeal. Super speed and the ability to leap over a building in a single bound are unlocked early on, making traversal through Steelport fast and playful. Fistfuls of fire and ice complement the gunplay perfectly, dealing extra damage or freezing enemies in place respectively. Telekinesis powers let the protagonist juggle just about any item within Steelport’s streets, tossing around cars and pedestrians with wild abandon. Each ability can be further upgraded in any order, allowing the player to prioritise favourite moves, or cover weaknesses in their play style.
The balance of rewarding skilful play, but not punishing newcomers, makes Saints Row IV: Re-Elected an extremely approachable playground that can be dipped in and out of as the mood strikes. This hands-off approach let me take on the mission types I disliked at my own pace, and by the end of the game I had actually improved a great deal, occasionally hitting headshots in battle and not driving the car off a bridge every time. While I tried to focus on working my way through the main storyline, the lure of just messing about in the world was hard to resist, a sandbox perfectly executed.
Despite being laden with pop culture references, the humour of Saints Row IV: Re-Elected does not feel dated, even though the original game was released seven years ago. Jokes are pulled from a wide array of sources, from The Matrix references to Star Fox barrel rolls and Mass Effect-like romances. While some aspects of the writing were a bit too juvenile for my taste (the breast size slider labeled ‘sex appeal’, for example), the characters have a lot more depth and heart than I expected. The protagonist is an aggressive adrenaline junkie, but they genuinely care for their ‘homies’, helping one friend re-enact his favourite fan-fiction, and another reconcile her party girl past with her current serious self. The main storyline utilises the virtual world to throw the Saints through a whole range of video game styles, from text adventures to racing on a Tron bike to stomping enemies with a battle mech. Each new mission is a surprise, with a different part of gaming history celebrated.
Saints Row IV: Re-Elected runs well on the Switch, with little stuttering except for a few instances in the flying sections. The graphics look a touch dated, with simple textures and animations, but the game maintains silky smooth performance even when the player is zipping around like Sonic. Players using handheld mode will want to turn the brightness up a few notches, as the world can be a little dark at times. The short missions and generous checkpointing make the game well suited for handheld play, easy to bounce in and out as desired. HD rumble is used sparingly, but works well to add weight to the world, feeling the protagonist tense up for a jump or get knocked back. The sound should always be cranked up where possible, too: apart from an excellent range of radio stations, the music sets the tone of the story and is sometimes a joke itself throughout the main campaign.
Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is a chaotic, playful delight. By letting me progress slowly and offering myriad side activities to complete, I finally understand the appeal of causing mayhem in an open world. While the story is silly from beginning to end, strong character work made me care about this band of misfits. Whether you are a long-term fan of the series or are trying out the genre for the very first time, Saints Row: Re-Elected is pure power fantasy fun.