When Saints Row IV Goes too Far

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Saints Row is explicit. Volition has born a series proud of its baseball bat dildo heritage (who wouldn’t be?), and its rambunctious lampooning of Grand Theft Auto is never less than colorfully rich in content.

Playful murder embraces the wild, with slung bodies ejected from the hoods of cars or super powered groin shots scattering innocent civilians in Saints Row IV. The latest even plants a personalized gang member as president after he or she saved America from nuclear annihilation. What’s not to like?

Minutes after aliens invade Saints Row IV’s scrumptiously stupid plot, the President is dumped into a simulation of ’50s era US television. With an exaggerated walk and housekeeper wife pumping out buttery pancakes, this computer driven virtual reality plays peppy music and enacts strict driving lines so no one is hurt… until they are.

In this idealism, your chosen avatar is prompted to kill. The simulation you’re faced with must be shattered, breaking “no fun” barriers of Donna Reed and Leave it to Beaver with a five minute execution of everything?

Outside of Saints Row often audacious, barrier challenging sense of idiocy, gunshots are unnerving. Instead of flying bodies and flipping pedestrians, a pistol round drops screeching teenagers or businessmen. They fall over when shot, limply hitting concrete, then lifeless. It’s calculated, produced in an era of mass shootings in unlikely, unexpected places. Under the bright skyline, bird chirps, and trees, the scenario is revolting.

Saint’s Row was never built for glimpses of our reality, but rather a sickly playful unreality. This ’50s era simulation evaporates with the first signs of gunfire, becoming a virtual fantasy with unnerving real world repercussions. Not only does the sequence exist, it exists without any narrative harness to support its unrelentingly vile framing. All elements of the supposed “simulation” are expunged.

Volition’s work pushes on as if nothing has happened: this a game where created Presidents can romance Keith David, playing Keith David as Vice President. Those infamous purple dildo bats return, and enemies are killed with dubstep. Saint’s Row IV is suitably insane, yet when shaken by the chilly opening, most of it lacked innocence.

This may be the goofiest entry in the franchise, but it’s hampered by an alarming loss of perspective.

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