PAX East 2013 Preview: Saints Row IV

Aliens, superpowers, and dubstep guns.

In Saints Row IV—a game with aliens, superpowers, dubstep guns, and mech suits—the leader of The 3rd Street Saints has made his logical progression of power—to the President of the United States.

He’s the leader of the free world, yo. And he’s packing all sorts of heat.

“One of the things we love to do at Volition is make fun new weapons,” said senior producer Jim Boone. “We always have a lot of fun with that.”

The first of two new weapons introduced at PAX East was the Inflato-Ray, a gun that blows up the heads of enemies and citizens until it inevitably explodes. The second, and perhaps the most important, was the Dubstep Gun, a music-based weapon which fires a blast of dubstep that causes people to dance and cars to bounce.

“Those are just a couple of our more exotic weapons,” added Boone. “We’ve got a number of other ones we’re not revealing today.”

Weapon customization, first introduced in Saints Row 2, is returning in Saints Row IV. Players will be able to upgrade their weapon’s damage, fire rate, etc. But while that’s an important part of customization, it’s not the highlight. Players can now change the design of their weapon—say, for example, by making a rocket launcher look like a guitar case. It will still behave exactly the same, but the weapon’s look will change.

There’s much more over-the-top, though.

“We decided that we needed a mech,” exclaimed Boone.

And a mech, they added. The suit, which can ultimately be unlocked for use in the game’s open world, can be used in “Mech Suit Mayhem,” one of Saints Row IV‘s many new activities. Activities from previous games will also return. There are three levels of completion for each activity: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Each activity is replayable, and if you manage to score Gold, you can earn “a number” of different unlockables and toys.

But perhaps the wackiest of Saints Row IV‘s new features—at least, the wackiest shown at PAX East—are Mr. President’s new superpowers, which Boone says are “really intuitive” and “really addictive.” Powers include Flash-like super speed, super jump, gliding, telekinesis, freeze blasts (those frozen can then be shattered), and brutal super combat. One move has the enemy tossed up, caught, and slammed to the ground. Superpowers are “designed to be used together” with weapons.

“You don’t have to toggle between them [superpowers and weapons], or anything like that,” said Boone. “I can fire a [freeze] blast, pull out my weapon, and immediately shoot it.”

You won’t go into Saints Row IV with superpowers from the get-go. You’ll get the core superpowers as you progress through the campaign, and there will be optional missions to get even more superpowers. Volition promises “a lot of stuff.” Each superpower is upgradable, too—jump higher, freeze people longer, sprint further, etc.

But Saints Row IV‘s superpowers only exist within a virtual simulation—one you’re placed in by the game’s main enemy.

“Sometimes, as the story progresses, you’ll go outside of the simulation, into the real world where you have no powers,” said creative director Steve Jaros. “Now, all of a sudden, the gameplay has changed up a little bit. And you have different challenges that you can’t go to overcome just by jumping over them.”

Enemies in Saints Row IV no longer consist of multiple gangs. Though, for fans of the series’ territory takeover element, area control is still a “core part” of the gameplay. And there are a lot more rewards—not just cash, but weapons, etc. for doing it.

“When you do takeover areas, they change, they become sort of glitched out,” said Boone. “They’ll almost entice you to come back and look at just how messed up it is once you’ve taken it over.”

The Zen are Saints Row IV‘s only gang, alien forces who invaded the Earth, abducted the President of the United States and the Saints, and placed them in a virtual prison. The Zen have more enemy types than all the gangs from Saints Row The Third combined, and can pop out of red portals from anywhere in the ground. They also have their own equivalent of a superhero, “someone sufficiently powerful enough to challenge players,” called The Warden.

Unfortunately, however, for all of its eccentricity, there’s always something even nuttier that didn’t make the cut: a flying dragon.

“Some guys broke off, and they went off, and made a flyable dragon,” said design director Scott Phillips. “You could hop on, ride it around the city, and shoot fireballs out of its mouth. It was amazing—it was great. We absolutely said ‘no, this is great, if we do this we will absolutely find a way to fit this into the game.’

“The only problem was, we were going to have to cut this and this and this in order to get it in. So it’s like, ‘I would love to have the dragon, but we would have to do all of these other things.’ So there’s a lot of cases of that, where we have the genesis of something amazing, but we have so many things we have to do, and we can’t do everything.”

Boone added, “That’s why we love DLC. It gives us the opportunity to explore areas that we couldn’t in the main game.”

The current plan, DLC-wise, is to release add-on content in a similar fashion to Saints Row The Third. But the kinks are still being worked on, of course.

Saints Row IV is coming to PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, but not PlayStation 4 or the next Xbox. The reason, according to Boone, is time.

“The big goal for us is that we wanted to do all of these fun new features, and there was no way we could do both these new additions and try to do a whole new platform with new technology and tools and everything,” said Boone.

“Going back at our past, we did Summoner as a launch title for PlayStation 2. And we were very proud of it, but there were so many things that we wished we could have done for that game that there was no way for us to do because of the timing of it and trying to hit launch. And so we feel like we learned a lesson on that one to be applied in the future.

“For Saints Row 1, for example, we didn’t even consider that as a launch title for Xbox 360, the thought being like, giving us time to do it right. And the same thing goes with Saints Row IV here, in the sense that we knew roughly when this stuff [next-gen consoles] was going to come out, and we didn’t want to have to spend all this time just to barley get it on these platforms. We’d rather do it justice and really add all this new fun stuff that we wanted to.”

Saints Row IV is due out on August 20, 2013.

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