Saints Row Preview – Proof That Being Your Own Boss Never Gets Old
Would you believe that it’s been nearly a decade since the last Saints Row? Nine years ago, Saints Row 4took the series to the most absurd place it could venture – Congress. Oh, and space, the Matrix, and superpowers were a thing too I guess.
After such an extreme tonal leap, the only direction for the Saints to realistically head in next was a complete reboot, which is exactly what Volition’s newest entry aims to be, replacing the Saints we know and love with a new group of much younger characters in a completely new city to wreak havoc in. As a big fan of the Third Street Saints, this game is something I've been looking forward to since its announcement, even if I had my reservations about its modern approach and tone.
Thankfully, after several hours of hands-on time with it, it's clear this reboot is still a game for the fans, one that blends together the essence of Saints Row 2 and Saints Row: The Third to create something warmly familiar yet excitingly new. Whether its story will stick the landing is something that'll take more time to tell, but its first impressions are very strong.
My preview took me through the first four hours of the game, introducing me to the Boss and their friends that'll eventually make up the Saints. This little play session establishes their main reasons for diving into the criminal underworld – they need money for rent and student loans. Relatable, eh?
The biggest point of discussion with this reboot is the characters who are all young hipsters worrying about rent and mounting debt, something that seems like a far cry from the gangsters of the first two games. This approach never bothered me personally as an origin story – hell, I'd probably take over a town to get HMRC to piss off for a bit – but I was very curious to see how it would be handled.
The highlight of any Saints Row game is The Boss and that’s in full force here thanks both to the incredible character creator and their distinct personality. Despite the whole student loan thing, The Boss gives major Saints Row 2 vibes here and is only really interested in making money, killing people, and building the gang up. But the key difference here is that those Saints are already established friends rather than random gang members our character comes to love.
As for those friends, that's the only bit about Saints Row that hasn't really grabbed me yet. Kevin, Neenah, and Eli are all fine, but they don't match up to the energy that your own character brings and certainly don't hold a candle to Gat, Shaundi, Kelsie, and Pierce. It's not even necessarily because they're all young hipsters, they're just not that deep or interesting. My biggest hope for Saints Row is that it ends up making you care about these Saints, because I didn't when I left the preview.
Anyone who's played Saints Row will know exactly how this reboot plays, as it's pretty much the exact same game with a few tweaks and upgrades. Guns are weighty, enemies are plentiful but get taken down by light gusts of wind, and driving is very arcadey and loose. The main changes to the formula are a new combat roll that stops players from becoming a sitting duck in the midst of firefights, takedowns that restore health, and new special moves on cooldowns, such as being able to attach a grenade to an enemy and turn them into an explosive.
While there aren't many changes to the overall formula, the ones made feel fitting for Saints Row and essentially replace older systems with more modern iterations. The wingsuit is the real highlight here, though, and gives the player a new way to move around in the air that's far more fun than a V-TOL or flying motorcycle that has trouble weaving through major city environments..
Thankfully, the one completely new thing about Saints Row, its world, is also its most impressive feature. Saints Row started out strong with Stilwater, a cityscape that felt real and had tons to see and do, but Steelport was by and large a grey cityscape with very little unique about it, save from that one glowing skyscraper and the zombie island. There just wasn't much to see or do outside of scripted missions and activities and it was a disservice to the colourful identity that Saints Row had carved out for itself.
Santo Ileso couldn't be further from Stilwater. Not only is it more visually distinct with its clear southwest inspirations but it feels alive in a way that the last couple of Saints Row games just didn't. Saints Row is very clearly not a looker, essentially on par with Saints Row 4, but its world design is far stronger.
I spent a decent amount of time just exploring the city to see what I could find, and I walked away having barely scratched the surface. Collectibles and side missions are littered everywhere, stores are all wholly unique from one another rather than being chain locations, and some of them even have their own little minigame attached, such as one store out in the desert that had its own shooting range.
This was all in the opening hours when certain activities and gameplay concepts like buying businesses hadn't even been introduced. I'm confident from just a little bit of time with the game that it's set to be one of the most interesting worlds that Volition has created, and it's going to be an absolute blast doing every activity and seeing the Saints completely take over.
Anyone going into Saints Row hoping that it'll reinvent the series is going to be disappointed. At its core, this reboot is just more of the same that we've seen in the past but in a new setting and with some modernisations to the formula. Considering those tweaks are strong and the world is shaping up to be the best in Saints Row history, that's far from a bad thing. Almost everything about this reboot is shaping up to be exactly what I want from a Saints Row game, we just have to hope that those tweens end up being more than flat stereotypes.
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