Few games do ‘fun’ with as much enthusiasm and self-awareness as Saints Row. While GTA tempers its acerbic tone and pop culture devotion with a firm set of in-game rules, Volition’s open-world series has always aired towards the silly and the slapstick. Want to throw yourself into oncoming traffic and ragdoll your way to insurance riches? It’s got you covered. Want to fight off zombie hordes? Star in your own sci-fi B-movie? Have tank battles while in freefall? Check, check and check.
And from its earliest moments, right through to the roll of its credits, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected never lets that grin slip from its face. One moment you’re climbing a nuclear weapon while Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Close My Eyes’ croons in the background. The next, you’re piloting a spaceship through an alien mothership – naked, naturally – while Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’ blares like the ’90s banger it truly is. And that’s just within the first hour. Just hearing Nolan North – one of many voices you can choose for your charismatic avatar – spewing out secondary school-level one liners and swearing like a trooper is far more hilarious than it has any right to be.
For Saints Row IV – and its newly released Re-Elected port for Nintendo Switch – that sense of power fantasy has been taken to the next level. From a technical perspective, this is largely the same as game as the third instalment in the series – you’re once again battling for control of the city of Steelport, with the same onus of wrestling control of districts back from an enemy faction while shooting everything that even remotely dares to move – but now with a set of superpowers that completely change how you play. One moment you’re jumping into a car to traverse the city in classic open-world urban style, then you unlock a super jump that lets you leap over buildings and scale skyscrapers. Then you gain access to a super sprint that outstrips most vehicles. And that’s just the first bite of this metahuman-themed cake.
After a while, Saints Row IV stops feeling like a ‘GTA clone’ (a term that hasn’t applied to this series for years) and starts playing more like Xbox-exclusive Crackdown. Even before you unlock some of the elaborate powers Saints Row IV has to offer, your relationship with the city around you completely changes. You’ll use the highest buildings to glide from one neighbourhood to another, slamming down to Earth only when you need to deal out justice to the alien empire that’s decided to ruin your newly elected status as President of the United States by invading and enslaving the planet.
Yes, all those powers are in fact your way of hacking the simulation you and the rest of humanity find yourselves suspended within. Can you guess the film reference, there? Because it’s very subtle. When you’re not ‘getting your Neo on’ in the simulation you’ll return to the ‘real world’ aboard a ship that’s in no way a pastiche of the Normandy from Mass Effect. The fact you can rescue characters and build a crew – who you can also ‘romance’ at will – is purely coincidental. Look, Saints Row IV is having so much fun – as you will, too – that its satirical nature never feels mean spirited. Although, while self aware, it’s devil may care attitude to being PC means some players might find its sense of humour a little puerile.
As a port, Saints Row IV is a solid one, offering a far smoother transition than the one afforded to the third entry in the series. There’s the occasional bit of pop-in and you can see where some textures and details have been downgraded to free up memory and processing power, but on the whole this is a game that manages to retain most of the semi-cartoonish looks found in other console versions (being set mostly at night probably doesn’t hurt, either). Even in handheld mode, we encountered very few instances of slowdown or technical hiccups. In fact, we experienced more crashes and problems playing the game on Xbox One than this solid Switch port.
Of course, some things port over better than others. The smaller analog sticks of the Joy-Cons have never been a particularly good fit for shooters and you’ll need to dial up the sensitivity quite a bit to help negate this issue. You’re also noticeably underpowered when it comes to combat in the first few hours, which, when combined with the unwieldy aiming controls, can make gunfights a lot less enjoyable until you start unlocking better weapon upgrades. Thankfully, the onus on greater movement agency helps temper this issue. Simply climbing huge alien towers with your super jump, or racing through the streets in super-powered races, becomes the game’s most enjoyable elements.
Players who have played the first game shouldn’t expect anything new in terms of content – although new players will be pleased to know the Re-Elected package includes all post-launch DLC. The only real ‘new’ addition is support for motion controls, which are decent and do help with the accuracy issues of gunfights if gyro controls are more up your alley. Support for co-op is also included, should you want to team up with a friend and unleash super chaos in Steelport. However, even as a purely solo experience, Saints Row IV ends up being one of Switch’s mostly action-packed open-worlders.
While Saints Row the Third proved a more inconsistent port – mainly because it was a much older game – Saints Row IV: Re-Elected fares far better with better performance, minimal input lag and a refreshingly solid output in handheld mode. Its gunplay is always going to be messy and its unashamed sense of humour will undoubtedly offend some, but having such an activity rich experience running so well on your handheld console isn’t to be sniffed at. And with so much extra content available in the Re-Elected package, Switch players have another long-term investment on their hands.