Saints Row IV gameplay preview: Crazy just got crazier

Saints Row: The Third was a whacky gangster epic. But Saints Row IV? It's only gone and turned the loony dial up to 11. Pocket-lint donned our hardiest of protective headgear in the hope our brains wouldn't explode out of our ears and gave a preview build of Saints Row IV a couple of hours of our attention.

There was a time when Saints Row was seen as the title that could unhinge Grand Theft Auto or, more recently, the universal alternative to Sony's Infamous. Saints Row IV sticks to the third-person open-world format, like GTA, but has a feeling almost like a non-technical Batman: Arkham series meets Duke Nukem... on a large dose of meth.

The demo we played begins with you - the hench, tattoo-adorned President - walking down the White House's corridors. The slow pace soon breaks out in explosive style: Witty-tongued aliens suddenly find it's the appropriate opportunity to invade the planet. Amid the madness of unnecessary cleavage shots, stereotyped character one-liners and a hail of bullets as the White House more or less comes tumbling down the game seems to just about maintain its footing.

A giant defensive cannon launch and alien leader fistfight later and we're half way to la-la-land. Then upon being plunged into Saints Row IV's city scape - with superpowers in tow, but of course - the world is there to be explored like, well, no other game before it comes to mind. It's total freedom - almost too much so.

With superpowers come super responsibilities. Scrap that, this isn't Superman. The ability to fly through the air, combo hop up the side of buildings, crash into the earth with devastating effect and set people on fire just by walking past them are to name but a few powers. The world is entirely at your disposal - and by disposal we really mean you'll end up disposing of various destructible cars and objects in no time at all, even if by accident from time to time. It's free of morals and so completely and utterly bonkers it's adult themes feel so of the wall and tongue in cheek that the game almost takes on the feel of a cartoon or comic book.

The thing is, IV doesn't really feel like a Saints Row game. It's as if superhuman ability - which, we're told, will become accessible only later into the game when it's been earned - opens things up a little too much. There's little of the difficulty or skill - as far as we've seen from this demo at least - to make for tricky gameplay. Even bullets seem to fly through walls at the earlier stages.

And if you do find yourself in trouble then the arsenal of weapons available at your disposal is equally mind boggling. There's a black hole gun which sucks in pretty much any object that happens to be within its vicinity, a water-pistol-style machine gun and - wait for it - a Dubstep gun which blasts out face-tearing wobble bass which causes everyone (and pretty much everything) to dance Skrillex-music-video-style. The developers have clearly had some fun with Saints Row IV. Who said kids never grow up?

Without getting a true gauge of how the story unfolds and the difficulty progresses it's a tough call to judge exactly what Saints Row IV will be like when it launches in August. From what we've played it's standing in its own corner. It's the loon that nobody talks to but everyone's curious about - crazy, off the rails, or whatever other phrase you fancy throwing at this game.

We've been shot at by giant catsuit-wearing enemies driving dog cars, run past people in hot dog suits, teleported through water, jumped up the side of skyscrapes with no more than the click of heels and felt like a kid in a sweetshop. But too much candy makes Pocket-lint a sick boy. It's time to come back to earth - something Saints Row IV certainly won't be doing any time soon.



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