'Jumping the shark' traditionally pinpoints the exact moment when a brand shoehorns in a moment so stomach-turningly ridiculous it kills the qualities that made it such a smash in the first place. Saints Row 4, however, embraces the concept like an old drinking buddy.
What was, in March 2012, announced as a DLC add-on for Saints Row: The Third called Enter the Dominatrix, has since morphed into a full blown sequel, and over the course of the ensuing year its absurdity has swelled. "Our core focus is not, 'what's this super-compelling narrative that's going to make you cry?'" says Jim Boone, Saints Row 4's Senior Producer. "It's, 'how can we make them have an awesome time?'"
For starters, In Saints Row 4, you're the President of the United States. Oh, and aliens have invaded Washington DC. Because why not, right? With stovepipe hat in the colours of Old Glory and sleeveless denim jacket to show off your literal political muscle, it's your civic duty to defend Steelport, defeat the evil E.T.'s., and (possibly) win reelection for a second term.
BENEATH A STEEL SKY
It's not the same Steelport as the last game, though. Now, shiny red and black geometric pillars busy the skies and pollute the air, giving the game a darker, smokier palette. From them, aliens beam down for brawls, but for all their bluster, they seem to fight like regular bipedal thugs. There's no cover-shooting (Saints Row, we're told, is "not that kind of game"), so just as in the previous games, you'll trade shots whilst running and gunning. Besides Wardens - who are bigger and nastier mini-bosses with charging attacks - regular grunts just feel like skin-swaps for gangbangers and could represent a missed opportunity for mixing up combat.
Good thing you are packing new moves. As we watched a live fifteen-minute demonstration, Mr President whipped out the Dubstep Gun and the soundtrack suddenly pulsed with crap music. Cars bounced madly on their suspensions and citizens convulsed with that particular brand of wide-eyed rhythmic spasm specific to patrons at a Skrillex gig. It's this year's dildo bat.
Says Boone, "We got our designers together and spitballed, and somewhere along that thread, these two words got thrown together - 'dubstep gun'. We didn't even know exactly what it meant, but we knew we could do something with it."
The Inflato-Gun forces heads to swell and eyes to bulge - and then both to pop
Once its wielder grew tired of wubwub, he unleashed another torrent of ludicrousness courtesy of the Inflato-Gun. Taking aim at a cop squadron, heads swelled and eyes bulged like something straight out of Looney Toons - and both head and eyes later burst with a bright balloon-like pop. There are more conventional weapons - sub-machine guns, snipers, assault rifles, rocket launchers - and they can all be upgraded too, both functionally and visually. An RPG, for instance, was redesigned to look like a guitar case and even a lawyer-baiting Nintendo Super Scope.
Then it was onto melee moves. Sure, you could perform the new wrestling-informed powerbombs and Stone Cold Stunners, or you could use something with a bit more bite - like full-blown superpowers. Because again, why not?
We watched as the player shot ice from his fingers and shattered his frozen foes with a sweeping punches, then levitated and launched cars at the horizon. It reminded us of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, but the aim here is to make powers less clunk and more crunk.