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I’m scared. I just finished the preview build of developer Volition’s open-world crime game Saints Row IV after about eight hours, and I know that this game is going to consume my life when it releases in full for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on Aug. 20.
Saints Row IV isn’t just Saints Row: The Third in a new setting. It is Saints Row: The Third with superpowers. This difference, as tiny as it may seem, is gigantic and addictive.
This is still Saints Row — or at least the bizarre, hilarious Saints Row universe that Volition established in the last game. It opens with a rote shooter section that has players controlling the leader of the Saints gang (who is also the president of the United States) as he goes after terrorists.
Gamers will aim and fire just as they do in any number of third-person shooters. Only this section ends — and I don’t want to spoil it too much — with gamers climbing up a rocket to disable it while the biggest summer jam of 1998 blares across the soundtrack.
After brilliant West Wing and Leave It To Beaver parodies, both of which don’t even come close to overstaying their welcome, Saints Row IV unfurls into something new for the series.
That something new is a Saints Row that players can explore by running at supersonic speeds, leaping over buildings, and gliding through the air. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Saints Row IV is the latest in a lineage of open-world titles that began with Crackdown and includes Prototype and Infamous.
These are extreme power-fantasy titles where the digital cities become jungle gyms for gamers to test their platforming abilities. Like many of those games, Saints Row also has an overarching collection aspect that is the key to upgrading those superpowers.
Those collectibles, called data clusters in this instance, cover the city. They are on nearly every rooftop and along many walls. In my eight hours, I collected around 400 clusters, and that is only about a third of the total available. I’m also not nearly done. In fact, I want to stop writing so I can get back in and collect another 400.
This is an ice cream-and-cake situation. It’s the reason that I’m convinced I will spend more time playing Saints Row IV than any other game in 2013.
Volition is incorporating Crackdown’s collect-athon and progression mechanics brilliantly. It is a delicious icing layer on top of one of the funniest and stylish worlds in gaming. Saints Row: The Third was refreshing because of its funny dialogue, its use of music, and its absurdist “only-in-video-games” action pieces. Somehow — maybe it’s talent – the studio is recapturing all of that same energy.
This is a game I love spending time in. A game in which I never get bored. A world that will suck away dozens of hours of my life later this summer.