The Digest

Games Of August 2013: Saints Row IV

Making sense of nonsense.

By John Teti • September 16, 2013

The Digest had a short hiatus last month—in part because we all took vacations at various times, but mostly because we struggled to find three July releases that we wanted to talk about at length on videotape. August was a different beast. The struggle this time was narrowing the lineup down to just three titles, but we ended up with three very strong and very different games. First up is Saints Row IV, the satirical open-world game that I reviewed shortly after its release. Drew and I talk about the accessible nature of Saints Row’s satire and debate how much time is appropriate to spend in the game’s goofy character customization interface.

“Back to school” is the theme for the digestibles this week, and first up is Smucker’s PB&J-ables or whatever the hell they’re called. It’s an oversized ravioli of white bread with peanut butter and jelly inside. I should note that these sandwiches are supposed to be kept in the freezer and then thawed on a careful schedule in advance of eating. Instead, we threw them in the refrigerator a few hours before shooting—something the package specifically tells you not to do—and hoped that they would end up close enough to edible. We did this because we were busy and did not feel that eating pre-packaged peanut butter sandwiches should be more trouble than just making the sandwiches ourselves. We apologize to Smucker’s for the patently unfair conditions of this food-item “review.”

Here’s a fun fact! (The fact itself is not much fun, but it is a fact about fun.) In a subtle send-up of the video game industry’s “sequel-itis,” each sequel to Saints Row has had a different numbering scheme. There was Saints Row 2 (arabic numeral), Saints Row: The Third (written ordinal number), and now Saints Row IV (Roman numeral). How will the fifth Saints Row game be numbered? They’re running out of options!

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122 Responses to “Games Of August 2013: Saints Row IV

  1. NakedSnake says:

    I would humbly like to submit 5aints Row as an appropriate name for the next sequel.

  2. Citric says:

    Saint’s Row: ReVelations, or 5aint’s Row.

  3. PaganPoet says:

    The Gameological Society

    I’ve had worse

  4. HobbesMkii says:

    The 5 minute Rule for character customization is something I’ve never encountered before, but I cautiously like it. One thing I encounter with customization is a wealth of options that often take way too long before I actually get into the game. Skyrim comes to mind. So does Saints Row, come to touch on it.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Aw, man.  Character customization is usually my favorite part of the game.  And not just for wacky extremes.  I really enjoy trying to craft a really well-made character as replete with a visual personality and identity as the limits of a customization system allows.
         I’m like Pygmalion without the wanting to bone my creations part. 

      • Merve says:

        Unfortunately, the George Bernard Shaw play had a profound lack of boning.

      • Fluka says:

        I’ve occasionally booted up games I’m not playing, just so I can play around with the character creator.  I played with the SR4 Inauguration Station for hours.  I’m completely addicted to them.  *Should probably just admit to herself that she wants to buy the new Sims.*

        • ProfFarnsworth says:

          Fluka…I happen to have the Sims 3 and the first expansion pack. If you want it…I don’t have time for it.

        • Fluka says:

          @ProfesorFarnsworth:disqus That is *very* kind of you to offer, and I am extremely tempted to take you up on it.  But alas, I am on a strict backlog-reduction jag for the rest of the calendar year (nooo neeewww gaaaaames noooo tiiiimeee).  Thank you very much anyway. :)

      • PPPfive says:

        I’m with you, I spend at least an hour creating my character, especially if it’s a game i’m going to spend a long time in. I always end up with a fat old man with a moustache

    • caspiancomic says:

       Oh man, my lads and I go nuts for a good character creation mode. When we found a character creator we really liked it wasn’t unusual for us to spend hours creating characters, playing the first few missions of the game with them, then deleting them and creating brand new ones. Even today I spend ages creating custom characters, I must have spent an hour at least creating my Shepard.

      Even in games without an explicit character “creation” mode I tend to zero in on those parts of a game that best allow me to create my version of a character. I always experiment with all the clothing options in Dead Rising (usually ultimately settling on the tried n’ true tuxedo + Servbot helmet, occasionally going for the “Wes Anderson variant” red track suit + Servbot helmet), turning CJ into a morbidly obese afro’d cyclist was one of the only parts of that game I legitimately enjoyed, and the physical changes that powerups cause in The Binding of Isaac is one of the reasons I spent over seventy hours playing that game and will buy it again when it hits PSN.

      It’s one of the reasons I must never play Animal Crossing. A neverending Character Customization: The Game? I’d never be heard from again. It took me the better part of an hour just to get my Mii right.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      Which reminds me, we’re still waiting for “Narcisse’s Narcissism”.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I want it to be MST3K style, with Teti, Heisler, and Toal mocking the results as Evan tries to mold the character into his own visage.

    • JamesJournal says:

      The way I see it, it is my game and my time, and I’ll have to look at the character for hours and hours so I can take as much time as I want.

      Plus while in Saints Row you have the clear choice of “crazy design or make it look like you or someone you know” you can’t really apply that to a game like Dragon Age or Skyrim where it affects gameplay if you choose to be a Breton or a Dark Elf.

  5. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Glad to see Toal Teti bringing the professionalism we all know and expect from The Digest.

    (Were there some backstage shenanigans we missed? “How hard could hosting The Digest be,” Drew asked. “All you have to do is say the name and smack the box on the side of your head.” I’d be disappointed if the Gameological offices didn’t resemble a cancelled 90’s sitcom.)

    • NakedSnake says:

      I’m sure that GLOG is a big happy gang-of-friends in general, but for some reason I’ve always taken it for granted that John and Drew are Best Friends. I suddenly just realized, though, that I don’t think this impression has any basis in evidence, besides the banter-y good times. Am I wrong?

    • John Teti says:

      Backstage shenanigans: While we were talking to check audio levels, Drew did a mocking version of the opening patter, so I invited him (with a non-negligible element of spite, but all in good fun) to open the show this time. Drew did me one better and opened the show as me; I could only play along at that point.

      • ProfFarnsworth says:

        That is awesome.  I really like how you have a random theme of every month.  Last month was “tweet that treat”, this month could be: “Who best impersonates John Teti?”

      • Drew Toal says:

        HEY THERE, GAMEOLOGERINOISTAS, THIS IS YOUR GAMEOLOGICAL EDITOR JOHN TETI AND… Hey, relax johnny boy, I was just kidding around. Put down the knife, man, I was just… ARRRGGHHHH. *Dies*

    • Fluka says:

      He shall henceforth be known as Drohn Toalti.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I was going to make a counter suggestion, but it came out Jew Teal and that sounds misleading.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        And he shall have a compelling six-episode stint on Game of Thrones before being gruesomely murdered by oh, let’s say, Moe.

  6. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Was the subliminal shot of Toal’s Madden avatar a brainwashing trigger?
      Has the Digest been seeded with a series of dormant instructions that will now be executed?
      Sounds like a lot of trouble. 
      What do you need? A Manchurian candidate? Help moving? Money for a sandwich that has crusts? You could just ask, you know.  

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      They need someone to help them dispose of several thousand uneaten sandwich crusts, no questions asked.

    • Citric says:

      I tell ya, there’s something phony going on. There’s something phony about me, about John Teti, about the whole Uncrustables business… I said: ‘John Teti is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life, and even now I feel that way – this minute. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, something tells me it’s not true. It’s just not true. It isn’t as if John’s hard to like. He’s impossible to like. In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my whole – all of my life.

      • ProfFarnsworth says:

        Dear Citric, Please report to (REDACTED) for processing.

        • Citric says:

          True fact: A day after I watched the remake of that movie, I actually found a queen of diamonds lying on the street. I kept it in my car as a sort of good luck charm for about 5 years after that.

        • neodocT says:

           @Citric:disqus AND DID IT BRING YOU GOOD LUCK?!!!

        • Citric says:

          @neodocT:disqus In hindsight, no.
          And Angela Lansbury kept trying to get me to kill people, which got old after a while.

        • SamPlays says:

          @Citric:disqus Damn, is this why there was always a murder for Jessica to solve on “Murder, She Wrote”? I feel very “Soylent Green” about this revelation.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        I assume this was Toal’s monologue that got edited out of the end of the Digest.
           Newly married with his whole future ahead of him, only to be used and discarded by the avaricious and scheming plots of the of the shadowy video game journalism cabals.
           The folks who went to that wedding are going to want their gifts back.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         It’s not the first time that’s happened, @Citric:disqus

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Must… kill… the phoneys.

  7. Merve says:

    Re: the real fake violence vs. fake fake violence discussion – I think one of the things that differentiates Sleeping Dogs from GTA or Saints Row is that in Sleeping Dogs, you’re playing the role of an undercover cop, so you feel like an asshole every time you injure or kill a civilian. But when you’re playing as a gangster in GTA or Saints Row, killing civilians is kind of the norm, so it doesn’t register as a horrible action. As gamers, we tend to fall into the roles defined for us by the games we play. I’m sure Stanley Milgram would have something to say about that.

    • NakedSnake says:

      That’s an excellent observation, and is true in my experience. It really bothers me when I cause senseless destruction if my duty is to protect and serve.

    • SamPlays says:

      Perhaps an even better example is Zimbardo’s prison study, if only because the participants mostly defined the roles of “prisoner” and “guard” on their own. Milgram’s study was focused on authority and obedience. Not surprisingly, Zimbardo and Milgram were buddies. One can only imagine what got discussed during a brainstorming session…

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        “The experiment requires that you pick up the lunch tab.”

        “I don’t remember assigning you the role of jackass!”

    • Roswulf says:

       I don’t disagree with any of this, but do want to flag that in Saints Row IV you ARE playing the President of the United States.

      The killy-ist president since Andrew Jackson (or TR if you count non-humans), but still the President. It’s interesting how, despite constantly emphasizing your political office, the game doesn’t trigger the horrifying abuse of authority button within.

    • JamesJournal says:

      I completely fall into the role. In Sleeping Dogs/LA Noire you are a cop, so you can’t just go around running people over. 

      In GTA or Red Dead Redemption, you are a criminal … but you aren’t THAT kind of criminal. Morally ambiguous anti-heroes like Niko Bellic and John Marston are not psycho active shooters.

      In the Saints Row universe things are too outrageous to matter.

  8. neodocT says:

    Hey, this is the first Digest I’ve watched, despite being here forever! Sorry about that, it’s just that I used to Gameologicize from work, and felt bad watching videos there. And now that I went back to school, I essentialy don’t have too much free time. But this was fun, and got me a lot more interested in Saints Row IV (not so much in the Smuckers)!

    • PPPfive says:

       I watched it just to find out what an ‘uncrustable’ is. This game is irrelevant as of midnight tonight!

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Prior to this video, I thought Uncrustables were the lowest caste of sandwiches in India.

      • neodocT says:

        It’s inscrutable is what it is!

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I bet if you put one on your kitchen counter for a few weeks it will become rather crustable. Stage 2 decay dries this thing out, right before the liquefaction sets in.
        If you watch a lot of chopped off heads turn green outside your window, you learn about decay whether you want to or not.

  9. Cloks says:

    I like this new John Teti. When are we going to see him as Pete Strackmeier?

  10. Jason Reich says:

    Ladies and gentlemen: The Inscrutables!

    I liked The Third a lot. Excited to play IV, but this and GTAV at the same time sounds exhausting.

    • duwease says:

      Currently playing SRIV, and I think the superpowered influence makes the gameplay very different from GTA.  It’s more like Crackdown, except even LESS focused on the vehicles.. as the review noted, you use vehicles for a smattering of required missions, but otherwise you’re soaring over the city and raining fiery death down below, before descending to deliver a nuclear nut punch.

      • Fluka says:

        That “nuclear nut punch” is completely absurd.  At one point I had to clear out a huge nest of aliens and murderbots downtown.  I just ran up the side of the highest skyscraper in town and Death-From-Above’d them.  Problem solved.  Excessively so.

        • duwease says:

          It really says something about the game that I’m very close to having done everything there is to do, but I’m still interested in going back and just smashing stuff.. which is in direct contrast to most open-world games where I’m sick to death of going back and forth and completing everything before it ends.  It helps that it’s so easy to zoom around the map, but I think the overpowered death you can easily rain just makes it SO viscerally satisfying as well.

  11. duwease says:

    John, if you’re going to run around in your underwear, you might as well go full thong.  Although if you do so, try to avoid gliding around the city spread-eagle.  It’s…… confusing.

  12. The_Misanthrope says:

    Haven’t you heard?  Uncrustables are old news!  For the student who doesn’t even have time to process food, I give you the future of foodstuffs:

    Digestables!  The meals your kids love, prechewed and packed in bile for your convenience!

    [Memo to Design Dept.:  I’m thinking the logo will be a mama bird regurgitating food into the mouths of its babies.]

  13. Fluka says:

    This (most excellent) Digest talks mostly about how the simulation aspect distances you from the violence, and I fully agree with that.  I’m one of those people who actually feels bad when I cause unnecessary suffering to “real” virtual civilians, and here I was happily sucking the life force out of the “simulated” ones, knocking them off bridges in my tornado-like wake, or running them over in a tricked-out Smart Car.

    I also like, however, how the game openly acknowledges that you, the Boss, are a horrible, horrible person.  Rather than some super-broody guy who needs character development to go with his rocket launcher, you’re essentially a completely unrestrained id.  You giggle maniacally during the “Mayhem” sections, shouting “Suck it, fake Steelport!” as you cause hundreds of thousand of property damage.  You get a side mission with the name “Kill Kill Destroy Kill” and the description “Who needs context?”  And the villain, Zinyak, not unreasonably asks “How many have died because you decided driving driving on the sidewalk is faster than driving on the road?”  Eeh, he’s got a point!  It’s a refreshing bit of honesty in gameplay.  You’re doing this because you *want* to see what happens when you throw a tank into a UFO.

    And of course, this year’s best catchphrase: “I’m not a psychopath.  I’m more of a puckish rogue.”

    • duwease says:

      Another interesting distancing effect in the game that I was thinking about last night, and which isn’t even subject to the simulation aspect:

      Remember all the hullabaloo about male same-sex relationships in the Mass Effect series?  It’s hilarious that, just a couple of years later, SR4 has all of its testosterone-heavy male characters suddenly down for a quick man-fling, and there’s nary a peep of outrage to be found.

      What made the former so offensive, but the latter not?  Is it the romantic angle?  If it commitment the draws the public opinion line between “disturbing life choice” and “freewheeling frat initiation”?

      • Fluka says:

        I think it’s being snuck in via comedy?  The romances are, on the face of it, so ridiculous that (unlike some tried to do in Mass Effect) you can’t really argue “But it’s not part of the Boss’ character arc to have gay sex!”  What, you’re saying that I can be bright blue and have superpowers, but I can’t share a tender moment with that particular homie?  And most of the romances are totally ridiculous (“Hey, how about casual sex?”  “Yeah, sure, why not!”).  But they’ve stealthily stuck in some serious content: at least two of the romances (one for each gender) are actually quite touching.  Boss/(Redacted returning character) 4EVA.

        Speaking of Mass Effect.  I view this game as being the secret sequel to that series, where Shepard has totally overloaded his/her biotic powers, gone 100% RENEGADE, and decided to (literally) just say “fuck it!” and sex the entire goddamn crew.

      • NakedSnake says:

        I hadn’t thought about it, but that’s a good question. Honestly, as I think about it, maybe the anti-gay crowd have more of an issue with gay romance than gay sex. That would certainly explain some of the recent nonsense.

      • JamesJournal says:

        The “romance” in Saints Row is way less significant. You have to be nice to people for 30+ hours to score a romantic scene in Mass Effect that will have actually partial nudity in it.

        Saints Row

        “Hey wanna fuck.”


        Cut to Black

        Back to normal gameplay

    • duwease says:

      Also, my nomination for “year’s best catchphrase” is from the LIZ song on the Mad Decent station: “Bitch, I’m a unicorn”.  I’ve already managed to slip that into at least one conversation..

  14. Sam_Barsanti says:

    I like Uncrustables! Or I did, last time I ate one…which was many years ago. The trick is that you have to let it thaw out for, like, many hours. There’s a small window of time in which it actually tastes like PB&J.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I wonder if they timed it to match school lunch schedules. Let it thaw out in your kids lunchbox and by the time they’re eating it it’s like a regular sandwich almost! Genius!

      • ProfFarnsworth says:

        Unfortunately, they just changed many of the school lunch schedules.  Now the “Uncrustables” are either bricks of solid, frozen PB&J or mush.

        • Chum Joely says:


  15. skaoreo says:

    But is Saints Row satire? It’s really more of a parody since so much of the humor is predicated on poking fun/reverance at shit you liked when you were a kid.

  16. Unexpected Dave says:

    So, the reviews of GTA V are starting to come out now. I’ll be interested to hear the Gameological perspective, especially in Digest form.

    • Chum Joely says:

      Eh, they probably won’t review it here, since it’s kind of a minor niche game that nobody who reads GS is going to be interested in anyhow.

    • GaryX says:

      Me too. I’m ready to complain about the score and curse Teti till the world ends.

  17. Chum Joely says:

    Well, the video isn’t working for me in any browser at the moment– maybe my new job blocks this type of video or something. I’ll check it out at home, but in the meantime I did click through to (the real!) John Teti’s review of the game from a couple of weeks back, and had a hearty laugh in our quiet office at his mention of “hoverdroid-on-man fellatio”.

    I have yet to play through more than 10% of the previous Saints Row game, so I’ve got some catching up to do anyway. Really, I’m just sad that I can’t see Drew imitating John by smacking a snack against his head RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      I’m John Teti, yes I’m real Teti
      All you other John Teti’s are just imitatin’
      So won’t the real John Teti please stand up?
      Please stand up, please stand up

      [hundreds of people dressed up as John Teti enter the VGAs]

      • Chum Joely says:

        “Drew Toal don’t have to cuss in his reviews to get page views.” Well I do. So fuck him and fuck you too.

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      The AV Club/Gameological video player gives my browser (Firefox) fits on frequent but unpredictable occasions. I was able to watch the clips of yesterday’s Simpsons review fine, but had to reload today’s Digest four or five times to watch the whole thing. It’s weird.

  18. M North says:

    Is anybody else busy being very apathetic towards the release of the industry’s newest critical darling? Some may say the advert I saw on the side of a bus pushed me into my negative persona but I say that I’m cynical by design, or at least my milk-shake hasn’t been spiked with enough of the hype-juice that makes people go gaga.
    GTA V by the way.

    • Fluka says:

      You’re not alone.  The adoration and hype given to the game just kind of perplexes me, like there’s some mass joke that I’m not in on.  Which is weird, because I loved the above mayhem simulator.  Maybe it’s because the series’ sense of humor has never jibed me, or maybe it’s because I’m one of them-there humorless feminazis.  Or maybe it’s because Rockstar apparently doesn’t like the PC.  But yeah.  Shrugs all around here too.

      • Chum Joely says:

        I’m gonna vote for the “humorless feminazi” option, that pretty much sums you up. I picture you as dour and stony-faced, with German glasses and a spotless lab coat, just glowering at all things fun from the depths of your high-tech laboratory.

      • Merve says:

        I’d say it’s the not-on-PC thing. I can’t get excited about a game I can’t play. Blerg.

    • GaryX says:

      I’m pretty pumped for it myself (I’m getting both it and Bleeding Edge this week so I don’t think I could be more excited about my soon to be entertainment consumption), but I think it’s just fine if you’re not.

      • Fluka says:


      • M North says:

        From Pynchon to Pinching: The Story of Gary X’s afternoon

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Yeah, I’m a little bummed out I’ll have to wait a full extra day, for it, in fact. Amazon apparently shipped a bunch early, which caused Rockstar to force them to freeze shipping until today. Meaning it won’t show up until Wednesday. Guess I maybe should have preordered it from a brick-and-mortar shop, but the only one in town is the Gamestop in the mall and…I just…I just couldn’t. 

        • GaryX says:

          Same thing happened to me, I think. It says it’s supposed to get here tomorrow, but if it shipped today… well, we’ll see.

    • Girard says:

      I have, like, zero interest. But I’ve never especially enjoyed GTA games. I played a little of four because of the Slavic overtones and the reportedly trenchant, novelistic storytelling, but pretty quickly set it aside out of boredom. I don’t think GTA is bad or that people who like it are. But the games definitely don’t interest me at all.

    • Drew Toal says:

      Yeah, don’t really care. I’m good with nuclear nut punching in Saints Row. 

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        I’m glad I still have lots to do in Saints Row, because that means anytime I get stuck on a mission in GTA that I’m not enjoying I can just pop in SR4 and go ape-shit to blow off steam.

        Hopefully this won’t be like the last time I was in San Andreas, when that goddamn race around the lake in a Bronco made me quit playing for two months.

    • mizerock says:

      The Rock Band message boards have been going nuts in anticipation. Well, the two dozen people left there. Their enthusiasm is infectious, I pre-ordered it. The only $60 games I have pre-ordered in the past 4 years:

      1) Rock Band 3
      2) XCOM: Enemy Unknown
      3) GTA V

      I haven’t even played it yet, but just from ready reviews / early play experiences of others I am already convinced it was just as smart of a purchase as the other 2.

    • JamesJournal says:

      I basically haven’t been able to do anything other than GTA5 today.

  19. chaddrobinson says:

    my gf’s daddy just got Nissan 370Z Convertible by working online… linked here w­w­w.M­A­X­52.c­o­m

  20. justingentile says:

    5 Saints. Five playable main characters.