Similar to previous Saints Row series games, Saints Row IV is an open world action game with third-person shooter elements wherein the player is free to explore the environment and, at their leisure, play story or side missions. As the leader of the Saints, a street gang that has become the world's most "powerful and popular" organization, the player is elected President of the United States, receives superpowers, and fends off an alien invasion. Most often the player will engage in shooting and racing activities, though other activities vary from fighting crowds of zombies, shoot-outs in tanks, side-scrolling brawlers, fights against supersized, daikaiju energy drink cans, and using a dubstep gun to interrupt 1950s Americana. The player-character receives elemental powers and superpowers that greatly increase their jump height and running speed, such that the player can hop over buildings and outrun vehicles. The elemental powers include abilities to shoot fire and ice projectiles, telekinetically toss things, and create shockwaves upon landing jumps. As the player progresses through the game, they can optionally upgrade their abilities and weapons skill tree by using collectible "data clusters" scattered around town. If the player becomes too rowdy, the alien race's police analogue will intervene. As in previous games, the player-character's look and feel is entirely customizable via a robust character editor feature.
The game is set in a nearly identical simulation of Steelport, the fictional city setting from Saints Row: The Third, though individual story missions have new, custom-designed levels. Saints Row IV's story parodies science fiction video games, especially Mass Effect 2, as well as films like The Matrix and Zero Dark Thirty, and other "nerd culture". Some story missions are propelled by individual characters' existential crises, as each Saint character is stuck in a personal simulation of their own hell, and must be rescued by the player. Other elements borrowed from video game culture include BioWare-style character romances games and a Metal Gear-style mission with an unhelpful partner.
City districts are "liberated" from alien occupation as the player completes side missions in occupied districts. Liberated districts increase the player's hourly income, which can be spent on weapons, skills, and perks. Side missions include Insurance Fraud (where the player jumps into traffic to collect insurance money), demolition derby-style Mayhem, and superpowered foot races. Saints Row IV has a two-player cooperative mode.
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