''Saints Row IV"

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Genre: Action

Publisher: Deep Silver

ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 4 stars (out of 5)

The "Saints Row" franchise has changed dramatically from one edition to the next. I don't think a single gamer would think the first and fourth games came from the same franchise if played side by side.

The sheer lunacy of "Saints" can't quite be quantified. When I first played "Saints Row" about seven years ago, I enjoyed the violent-yet-slapstick way players rose up the ranks to eventually conquer the city of Steelport's mafia landscape. It was Godfather Lite, with a distinctively street-level emphasis on lifestyle and violence, and it worked well. Subsequent iterations have ratcheted up the crazy, however, to the point where now, in "IV," the main character becomes president of the United States and acquires superpowers in a digital/fake version of Steelport (a la "The Matrix").

Toss in the constant winks, nods and overt references to pop culture and you have to wonder if the Zucker brothers were behind the making of this game. To top it off, every time the game strains and nears disaster, something happens to pull players back from the edge and everything makes sense. In short, this game makes no sense and yet everything about it makes total sense.

''Saints Row IV" plays smoothly, even as players get thrown into about 75 video-game scenarios. Third-person shootouts, flying sequences, 16-bit side-scrolling fights, just about the entire gaming library appears -- except for maybe a Pokemon character. The action switches styles so often that if you don't keep your eyes glued to the screen you might forget which game you're playing.

Some gamers may compare the action in this franchise to that of a headless chicken, what with all the random gameplay elements and juvenile setups (coarse language and customizable outfits that even allow nudity). But a worthwhile game exists here, and those who have stuck with the "Saints" franchise might as well dive into the crazy and play this one, too.

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