Saints Row 4: Enter The Dominatrix review

Tune in, strap on, cock out.

Version tested Xbox 360

Enter the Dominatrix is potentially a fascinating case study in how games evolve. In its nascent form, it was an expansion pack for Saints Row: The Third until THQ decided it merited a full-blown sequel. This, then, presents a shorter, alternative take on the Zin invasion, with the simulated Steelport in which the Saints are trapped taken over by a rogue AI program, the titular Dominatrix.

Volition opts not to take the opportunity to discuss the vagaries of game development, and instead plays it for laughs. Which is probably for the best, as it turns out. This isn't a particularly great expansion in mechanical terms, but the way it's presented papers over a lot of cracks.

It all hangs upon a very post-modern conceit that, in other hands, could have been horribly smug or indulgent. The action is framed as previously unseen footage, revealed by the cast to journalist Jane Valderama on her TV show. The Saints, including characters from previous games that didn't make the cut in 4, comment on events throughout, winking to camera during the interstitial interview snippets, and in one case - namely, SR4 absentee Donnie - moaning about their lack of screen time.

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Ah, videogames.

Somehow, it works, and it does so despite committing two cardinal comedy sins. For starters, it riffs on The Matrix. As great and influential as the Wachowskis' pioneering sci-fi was, we should, perhaps, be past referencing it some 14 years after its original release. Secondly, it does that horrible thing that a great many other games have done, in satirizing game mechanics by simply presenting them and pointing out how dreadful they are. This is not good satire, even if I did stifle a mild chuckle at Kinzie's rant about "four consecutive escort missions".

"There's a faint whiff of missed opportunity about Enter The Dominatrix, but four or five really good laughs are enough to warrant a cautious thumbs-up."

It just about gets away with both by virtue of being genuinely funny. It's all in the delivery: there's a brilliant gag involving a ridiculously long health bar that I'm certain would have fallen flat elsewhere - and may indeed have been done before. All I can say is that I laughed out loud at the way it's told here, and that certainly wasn't for the last time. A throwaway line of dialogue in a sex club in the middle of the game forced me to pause the game to collect myself. And the climactic scenes are right up there with Saints Row's Biz Markie singalong, although it's even more unhinged and surreal. You mustn't let anyone spoil it for you.

Elsewhere, it finishes missions with concept art of the incomplete cutscenes and, in one memorable instance, as rough footage of a Volition staffer holding two figurines and making the sound effects himself. In every instance, it's almost certainly funnier this way than would have been the case had the cutscenes been produced, although it has the side effect of making the whole production feel decidedly low rent.

That thriftiness may be deliberate, of course, but the rest of the content is a little cut-and-paste in places, too. You'll face off against the Dominatrix - imagine Maleficent if she'd fallen on hard times and become a sex worker - several times over the course of this DLC, and on each occasion it's simply a case of gunning her and her goons down and repeating the process, occasionally pausing to disable the odd machine by punching it to death.

This isn't entirely unrepresentative of the bulk of Saints Row 4's missions, of course, but the variety and unpredictability there did much to compensate. There are attempts to do the same here, though most riff on variations we've seen elsewhere: a spaceship sequence, a bit where you use telekinesis to throw people (in this instance lobbing Furries into cages in the aforementioned sex club), and a BDSM chariot race where you simply need to destroy the opposition to win. Otherwise it's your usual mix of superpowers and shooting a parade of lookalike enemies.

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Is that a four-foot dildo bat in your hand or are you just pleased to see me?

At least you get a set of new weapons with which to do said shooting. There's a heavy minigun, a flamethrower and a grenade launcher, and you'll get a clutch of new vehicles to add to your Saints Row 4 garage once you're done, too. Not that you really need vehicles when you can get around quicker by running up the nearest skyscraper and gliding to your destination, but still, it's the thought that counts.

By the time you're done, you'll also be able to call upon a selection of new homies to join you should you fancy mopping up any quests you didn't finish, and once I'd spent the couple of hours or so it took to finish this slice of DLC, that's exactly what I did - and, in truth, I probably had a better time just doing my own thing.

Which isn't to say that Enter The Dominatrix isn't worth your time, though your appreciation of it will likely depend on what you loved about Saints Row 4. If the idea of five missions' worth of wry gags about creaky gaming tropes with the occasional belly laugh every so often floats your boat, then you'll find a lot to like here. If, however, the prospect of shooting waves of gimps carrying giant purple dildos over and over doesn't particularly appeal, then you're not missing out on too much (and you could always watch that ending on YouTube later).

There's a faint whiff of missed opportunity about Enter The Dominatrix, then, but four or five really good laughs are enough to warrant a cautious thumbs-up. Volition's made a half-decent fist of reheating its own leftovers, and with the injection of fresh ingredients, the next episode - brilliantly titled How The Saints Saved Christmas - promises to be even more of a giggle.

6 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Saints Row 4: Enter The Dominatrix review Chris Schilling Tune in, strap on, cock out. 2013-10-22T15:00:00+01:00 6 10

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