CHAMPAIGN — When "Saints Row IV" launches today, it will mark the culmination of "tens of millions of dollars" of development work by Champaign-based video game producer Deep Silver Volition.
The fourth game in the Saints Row series has been in the works for two years and involved the efforts of nearly 200 people, said Dan Cermak, the studio's general manager.
Within a couple weeks, Deep Silver Volition and its parent company, Koch Media, should have a good notion on how well the investment is paying off.
"'Saints Row: The Third' sold 5.5 million copies, and we'd love to see numbers close to that," Cermak said, referring to statistics released by the studio's former owner, THQ Inc. "Pre-orders are very strong."
Plus, reviews of the game have been overwhelmingly positive at the Metacritic website, with versions for the personal computer, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 platforms getting average ratings of 86, 83 and 77, respectively.
Cermak said it's hard to predict sales, given that Microsoft and Sony are expected to introduce new generations of their consoles — Xbox One and PlayStation 4 — during the holiday season.
The release of "Saints Row IV" comes at the "tail end" of the current console generation, which has lasted about eight years.
Although some portions of the video game industry are shrinking — games played on Nintendo and Facebook, for example — sales to core gamers, who play on consoles, are still growing, Cermak said.
Among that segment, the Saints Row franchise has a strong following, he said.
In many cases, sequels to video games don't do as well as the original. But that hasn't been the case with successive editions of Saints Row, Cermak said.
"Normally, ours have gotten bigger every time," he said.
This week, Deep Silver Volition will be "waiting for word from marketing to know how we're doing," Cermak said.
It'll take a few days to get some idea, he said, and he's eager to see how second-week sales compare with the first week.
Often, sales of a video game crest in the first two or three months after release, then tail off. But "Saints Row: The Third" had "a fat tail" and sold well for a long time, Cermak said.
Some video game stores planned release parties last night. But Cermak said Deep Silver Volition's big celebration was July 12 at the High Dive after Microsoft and Sony approved the game for their consoles.
"Saints Row IV" continues the adventures of the Saints gang, who got their start on the streets and worked their way up, engaging in outrageous, high-action situations.
This time, the gang's boss has made it to the Oval Office, and the country is being invaded by aliens, led by archvillain Zinyak.
The president — that is, you, the player — has been snatched by the aliens and dropped into a simulated world, Cermak said. But the upside is, you gain superpowers that can enable you to "free your friends, free yourself and defeat the bad guys."
Your array of weapons includes a "dubstep" gun, which causes your foes to "dance themselves to death," as well as a "black hole" gun that shoots — what else? — black holes that swallow the targets.
As in other Saints Row games, there are all sorts of customizable features, meaning you can shape your character as you like. Plus, in the new game, your character has the capacity to have romantic relationships.
Another difference: In previous versions of Saints Row, players spent a lot of time in a car. This time around, your character can take giant leaps through the air, hover above a city and swoop down.
That capacity to glide gives the game a different feeling, Cermak said.
"It makes all the difference in the world in game play," he said.
When asked whether the studio will develop a fifth game in the Saints Row franchise, Cermak would say only that "it's something we have to look at." One consideration is the new generation of console platforms; another is how well "Saints Row IV" sells.
"If it's another big hit," there will be pressure to produce another, he said. But "how and what we want to do with it" hasn't been determined.
For now, many of Deep Silver Volition's 235 or so employees are working on downloadable content for "Saints Row IV," including add-ons for the game, Cermak said. They're also planning for the next generation of consoles and developing tools for that work.