’s Saints Row
is certainly due for a reboot. That’s not said because the series is dated or that it needs a fundamental refresh. After four games the narrative reached a point where a relatively small gang called the 3rd Street Saints somehow ended up becoming world leaders... and then were put in charge of facing off against an alien threat. Of the invasion kind. After the events of Saints Row 4
, it didn't really make sense for there to be a Saints Row 5 in any sort of traditional sense.
With Volition back at the helm, alongside an expanded team, this new Saints Row is a reboot but one that carries the charm and chaotic fun that endeared the series to fans in the first place. It reigns-in the absurdity of intergalactic warfare with a welcome return to street-level criminality, but still features a system where you can use a cable attached to a helicopter to pick-up cars with your co-op partners in them and have them shoot it out with the fuzz from mid-air.
As last year’s Saints Row The Third Remastered
re-release showed, it wasn’t long before the series reached a point where it became more than a riff on the style of open-world action found in Grand Theft Auto
. Where that was grounded satire and excessive in its style, Saints was scrappy, silly, funny, and comical. This new Saints has you embarking on a life of crime with the same focus on closely knit characters; you join Neenah, Kevin, and Eli as the Boss of The Saints. But, there’s the same manic spirit and undercurrent of over-the-top cartoon freedom that feels like a proper next step for the series.
This new Saints Row is a reboot but one that carries the charm and chaotic fun that endeared the series to fans in the first place.
The first major change is the setting. Santo Ileso, a city modeled after the American Southwest, serves as the new fictional backdrop for the action. Within its limits you’ll find a mix of downtown locations, skyscrapers to freedive and wingsuit off of, suburban outskirts to grab a big ol’ steak from a themed restaurant, and wide open deserts to explore. It’s the largest area, size-wise, in the series to date.
That cable attached to a helicopter? You can also attach one to an off-road vehicle and drag a port-a-potty through campgrounds populated with tents... knocking them around.
The fresh faces of the new Saints Row are vibrant and feel more grounded than the larger than life figures from the original quadrilogy. And by that we mean the story here is contemporary and deals with modern issues like debt, wealth-gap disparity, and what it might feel like to start a criminal empire in that sort of reality where that could be seen as a grass-roots start-up sticking it to corporations.
As opposed to being a standard movie-like street gang that wears purple, this is the sort of reboot-like shift that feels right. Aesthetic in nature and one that doesn’t affect how the action is perceived or presented. Fans though will be pleased to see Prince’s favourite shade pop up quite a bit.
This focus on building up a criminal empire and facing off against rival gangs (one of them being the prerequisite social media obsessed tech gang) is pure Saints Row, and the basis for giving players the freedom to do as they please. It supports drop-in, drop-out co-op with a new system called “pranks” that’s still to be revealed but is alluded to as being an actual game system where you’ll be able to play tricks on each other.
“Co-op has been a part of Saints Row from the beginning, and this Saints Row is no different,” Rof Loftus, Executive Producer at Volition confirms. “When we think about the way we build missions or design missions, co-op is a necessary part of that.” With a wide range of vehicles, aircraft, wing-suits, weapons, and various activities not to mention countless customisation options the team at Volition are keenly aware of what made the series resonate with players over the years.
This focus on building up a criminal empire and facing off against rival gangs (one of them being the prerequisite social media obsessed tech gang) is pure Saints Row, and the basis for giving players the freedom to do as they please.
On the pure player creator front, this pushes the series forward. Look how you want to look, wear what you want to wear. Something the team sums up as “a world built for players” where “everything should deliver gratifying fun”.
Gang Related Destruction
“Not only is this the best looking and the biggest Saints Row game we’ve made, but it’s also the most dynamic,” Jeremy Bernstein, Lead Mission Designer at Volition says. “There was a philosophy within the VFX team, ‘the world wants to be destroyed’. And that encourages you to just drive and explore in a setting where it’s not punishing. It's rewarding because you can haul ass through this city. It’s a blast.”
This approach to designing the new open-world play-space of Santo Ileso has led to it being exactly that - an open-world play-space. With vast desert areas to explore, vehicle physics now extends to off-road. Except that in Saints Row, that fancy wheel suspension used to traverse rocky terrain can be used in town to drive over and crumple traffic thanks to the interplay with the new and expanded destruction system.
This is the sort of detail you can’t help but get excited about, especially in a game that can be played co-op in addition to a narrative-driven solo outing. It’s also indicative of the wider approach in everything we got to see as part of an extended preview session. New vehicle physics just for the sake of being able to drive off-road or to take part in a few desert races only scratches the surface. And that applies to just about everything else too.
“There was a philosophy within the VFX team, ‘the world wants to be destroyed’. And that encourages you to just drive and explore in a setting where it’s not punishing. It's rewarding because you can haul ass through this city. It’s a blast.”
“It’s one of the most drivable games that I can think of or have played, period,” Jim Boone, Chief Creative Officer at Volition adds. “Not just in the Saints Row universe. I mean how often are you playing a game where you’re driving on the sidewalk and there’s any number of things you can bump into that will stop your forward momentum.”
“Most of the things you see in Saints Row you can drive right through them, blow the hell out of them with your car,” Jim says. “And it’s amazing because you’re drifting all over the place, going wherever you want, and driving through stuff. Things destroy and fall apart as you’d want them to. You can go full speed ahead and not even worry about traffic sometimes. You can run over pedestrians, but that’s up to you. The point is things won’t bring you to a dead stop and that feels amazing.”
A Return to its Criminal Roots
There’s always been a sense of outright silly fun in each of the Saints Row games, and here that interplay of fun for the sake of fun with action-heavy story missions is shaping up nicely. With its release date set for February 25, 2022 for PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s also arriving on the previous generation of hardware. With that this new Saints Row has been in development for some time, and in a state that gives a fairly good indication of what to expect on day one.
The series has never been at the forefront of visuals, so heading into this preview we weren’t expecting Red Dead levels of detail. It looks decent enough, but it’s also scrappy in a way that’s endearing. The focus looks to have been on creating a true sandbox and play-space for crime to flourish and that’s great. Because after all, the world wants to be destroyed.
Saints Row is out February 25 2022