Reading Edwin's downbeat reaction to a playthrough of Saints Row 4, I felt my ardour dampening. It began as a moistness at the periphery in my eagerness, as Edwin described his fatigue at Volition's bid to create "ever-more sensational opportunities for goofiness and carnage". When he shrugged, unimpressed, at a superpowered Presidential Saint sprinting and pouncing over buildings through an alien simulation of Steelport, I noticed my zeal was sodden.
By the end of Edwin The Human Raincloud's article, all my synonyms for ardour and dampness had been neatly paired off. Thankfully, all it took to reverse his work was to sit down and play the game for an hour.
But first! A common-sense tip to PR companies who run these events. Yes, Saints Row is a game with sexual themes. But you can easily address and defend against accusations of sexism at your events by matching every pole-dancing lady with a topless male go-go dancer on a podium. Especially with a game like Saints Row, which has sloughed its gangster cocoon, and transformed into a chaotic butterfly of sexualised equality. The Third had more male nudity than female, and it even treats its gimps with as much respect as gimps require.
Controversy-baiting eye-rolls aside - the Saints Row 4 prologue has our fully masked and bodysuited hero leading an assault on a terrorist base. They're about to launch a missile, for reasons that aren't important. What's important is the bickering of the Saints, who appear to be trying their hand at black ops for reasons that are similarly not important.
Anyway: long story short, you fail to prevent the missile launch, but you do manage to save the day, by leaping onto the missile and punching it to death as you're carried into the stratosphere. After which, you drop, without democratic process, into the President's chair. E pluribus unum, at the speed of sound.
Edwin: what didn't you like about this? What joybone in your sad body snapped, to make this not a happy experience? [I didn't get to play that bit - Ed] [Oh whatever - Log]
I chose my character, an unmodified archetype of a large/in-charge lady with the look and exquisite feel of Queen Latifah. (She would have made sure there were some topless dudes in this room, I thought to myself, as I casually made the presidential decision to solve world hunger, and not cancer.)
This is a good world. See what honesty, sex and chaos gets you? A functioning democracy. Forget those pious, embezzling self-interested psychopaths who actually rule us. This is the world I want to live in. This is the irrational, escapist goodwill that Saints Row generates in me, and it's why I'll forgive it more sins than most.
After the rocket-punching prologue, Saints Row 4 doesn't let up. You deal with an alien invasion, before turret-gunning a series of UFOs in the Whitehouse garden. Then you're transported into a 1950s Pleasantville sim-world that you're forced to break with your innate chaos. Only then are you dropped into Simulation 31, a virutal Steelport, and discover that collecting data fragments allows you to hack into your own code. Giving you superpowers, natch.
When you can run faster than cars in the first hour, that changes the nature of what was once a car-jacking game. To compensate, Saints Row 4 has slathered itself in the DNA of Prototype, and drunk a gallon of Crackdown's stem cells. How is this a bad thing, Edwin? [Stop angling for box quotes, you godforsaken fount of optimism - Ed]
I do have some reservations, naturally: after an explosive first hour, the game is inevitably going to settle into the icon-hunting map-scrubbing sandbox, and it remains to be seen how much fun that'll be. Also, it's uncomfortably clear that Saints Row 4 arrives at the end of a generation, and it really feels like it could do with some of the next-gen's processing power. The superpowers - sprinting, gliding, diving, and telekinesis - all test the engine in ways that it doesn't feel particularly prepared for.
But even with that feeling that Saints Row 4 is operating at the very edge of its own abilities, playing the game was like taking a hair-dryer to my ardour. Which, I'm pleased to report, is now bone-dry and bouncy fresh.