A Familiar But Refreshing Reboot

A Saints Row image showing the player-character The Boss and their op mobbing the city streets of Santo Ileso in what appears to be a red Impala.

Volition’s rebooted Saints Row isn’t out yet, but some sites got some time with it via a recent hands-off preview. Impressions of the 40-or-so minutes of gameplay, full of the explosive and wacky hijinks series fans have grown to expect, are making their rounds online and the sentiment seems to be the same: This new Saints Row game is familiar and refreshing, with so much customization you can really put your unique stamp on the world.

Saints Row, revealed in August 2021, is an upcoming reboot of Volition’s long-running open-world action-adventure series. These games typically put you in control of some street gang member who ascends the ranks to become the squad’s leader while protecting its affiliates. Saints Row has a similar story. You are The Boss, a gang member disillusioned by the state of gang affairs in the fictional American southwest city of Santo Ileso. So, you leave your old crew to start a new one with the sole purpose of seizing power from the three gangs that control Santo Ileso: the greaser-muscle heads of Los Panteros, the anarchist outfit the Idols, and the international private military corporation known as Marshall Defense Industries.

This narrative setup is the foundation for Saints Row’s bonkers action, according to the hands-off previews. There’s still some polish the game could use and the tone is a total shift for the series, but those invited to the preview event walked away at least hopeful that this reboot is seemingly maintaining its over-the-top action while providing something different—in the form of a new setting and characters—for long-time fans to get lost in.

Saints Row hits PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on August 23. Here’s what some of the gaming sites are saying about the game so far.


During my hands-off preview, I got to see the new team of Saints in a variety of missions. These include a loan agency robbery gone wrong that results in a big car chase, a raid of a car-loving Panteros gang’s headquarters in a helicopter, and a rescue mission for one of the player-character’s friends after he’s kidnapped by a bunch of Deadmau5-looking crooks from a gang called the Idols. The new cast of Saints seems likable enough, but the ‘angry but endearingly funny millennial’ tone of each character’s writing has yet to be nearly as endearing as classic Saints Row characters like Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. The ‘try-hard lulz’ writing that the series was known for isn’t as funny now as it was in 2015 when the last Saints Row game was released. It’s hard to tell from this early look if Volition’s writers will succumb to the same unfunny writing problems that plagued 2019’s Borderlands 3.

Saints Row still looks as if it holds the potential for fun. Be that because of the amusing way you can bop off pedestrians’ heads to gain a boost when using your flight suit (an item even fellow Saint Kevin seems to have access to, despite being shirtless in all the footage I have seen so far) or because you can change up your character’s appearance on the fly as and when the mood takes you. And by changing appearance, I don’t just mean simply adding a new hat or item of jewelry to your Boss character. I mean a complete head-to-toe switch-up. In fact, in the preview I saw of the game, the player’s Boss went from being a young, casually dressed female to a stocky male with a full-blown cowboy aesthetic. This all happened in a mere matter of moments before the player went back to continuing with their business.

Customization was a big focus of the event, with Volition showing off plenty of ways your Boss can look. However, character customization is not a one-and-done opportunity in Saints Row. With the push of a few buttons, you can swap your style at any time from a handful of presets you create at Saints HQ; not just clothes, but each body customization and clothing option are on the table. Want to hulk out with a beefy green behemoth in a slick suit for a mission and switch to a stylish yet casual look with a completely different body shape, skin color, face, and hairstyle? As long those customizations are part of your visual loadouts, you can be a whole new you whenever you want. Shops around Santo Ileso will stock up on more clothing and weapon options as you progress through the game, adding more ways to make The Boss your own as you take over the fictional American Southwest city. Brian Shea recently previewed all the things you can customize in Saints Row, and you can read all about it here and dream of how you’ll make your Boss look.

Saints Row’s Santo Ileso setting plays a huge role in striking the balance between old and new. Despite the enduring appeal of past Saints Row games, the last main series entry, Saints Row IV, launched way back in 2013. Its Gat Out of Hell DLC arrived two years later, and while Saints Row: The Third was given a modern makeover in 2020, it’s been a long nine-year wait for players seeking something new in this universe. GTA Online has gone from strength to strength in the same time frame via a slew of extensive complimentary updates—not least last year’s Dr. Dre-starring The Contract—but, as a result of being tied to the same setting throughout, part of me has always longed for a new landmass to probe and plunder.

It’s here, in this new setting, that Saints Row should show the most intriguing potential—the developer is touching on a completely different culture, presenting the possibility for new types of stories, gang activities, musical expression, and player interaction to freshen up a nearly two-decades-old franchise. And though I haven’t been convinced Volition has done that here, I can tell that a great deal of effort went into creating the set-dressing for Saints Row’s story.

One thing Saints Row has always benefited from is its vast range of unique weapons and that’s no different here. I’ve seen guns that shoot bullets through walls as if they’re paper, finger guns that fire bullets from giant foam fingers, and my favourite—the Thrustbuster, a throwable football that sticks onto enemies and vehicles, sending them flying into the air before exploding into tiny pieces. Every weapon, even the more conventional ones, have their own unlockable signature abilities too, such as turning a simple pistol into a quickfire machine pistol with the click of a button. As you’d expect, the action and violence is all very cartoony. It’s fluid too, and finishing off an enemy with their own weapon before diving feet first into a nearby car for a quick escape—then climbing onto the roof to fend off chasers while car surfing—looks very slick. Enemies do look a bit bullet spongy, with some taking several shots in the head to take down, and it’s often completely ridiculous, but that’s always been part of Saints Row’s charm.

The old cliché of the city being part of the cast is alive and well, but at least with Saints Row it’s a cliché Volition has earned the right to use, especially after the eccentric, lively cities of Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV. Each district of Santo Ileso is meant to have its own vibe and NPCs, not just wandering the streets but getting into trouble with the law—or at least getting parking tickets—or just hanging out listening to an impromptu musical performance. Possibly from you. Of the 100 emotes you can bust out, you’ve got musical options, and ones that let you keep walking, so you can strut down the street while strumming your guitar as people dance and applaud. Around here this would probably inspire a mob to chase you down and smash your instrument over your head, so this makes a nice change.

Not everything’s been revamped, however. The series’ lowbrow humor is alive and kicking, and you’ll hear more f-bombs than you would in a Tarantino movie. Its gunplay, character comedy, and heaps of customization options are all staples of the series. The Saints Row reboot, however, has adjusted the formula to try to make them that much more sincere.

Saints Row is shaping up to be an interesting addition to the selection of games released this year. While the last couple of games in the series weren’t massively well received, this reboot of the series wants to remind you of why you loved Saints Row all those years ago, and it wants to show you what is possible in the new generation of consoles when it comes to this series. One can only hope it feels as good as it looks, and that developer Deep Silver Volition has made this game one that you won’t be forgetting soon.


Based on these previews, Saints Row seems poised to make an interesting comeback. While not everyone’s sold on the writing and the open-world checklist nature could make it a drag to get through, the fluid combat and emphasis on customization at least make this reboot sound like a fun time.

 

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