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Saints Row Preview - The Saint, But Different

Saints Row Preview - The Saint, But Different
Images: Volition Games

Written by 

Joseph Kime

Posted 

18th May 2022 15:00

Well, well, well. Look who's back.

Truthfully, it was hard to imagine a future for the Saints Row franchise. After Saints Row 4 launched, it seemed that in many ways, the series had lost itself down the rabbit hole of its absurdity, giving players over-powered superheroes to bitch-slap aliens in a purple-coated Matrix rip. It was a lot to handle, and with DLC that sent leading man Gat literally to hell to fight Satan, Saints Row flew for the horizon, yet too close to the sun for its own good.

Since 2015, the series has been dormant - and now we've got a brand-new game on the way, titled simply Saints Row in an attempt to completely reimagine the franchise and move on from the stories of old. And as a recent hands-off preview that we were lucky enough to see, it seems as though it hasn't completely shaken its past.

Saints Row - Why Reboot?

Saints Row Preview - The Saint, But Different

Saints Row takes place in the dusty Santo Iliso, a state made up of nine different districts of contrasting flavour, and puts you in the shoes of a small-time criminal who robs a payday loan store to pay the rent. It marks the start of your criminal empire, and Saints Row will let you customise every step along the way. The new location looks fascinating, but it begs the question - why reboot the series?

It was suggested in a Q&A with the game's team that the choice to reboot the franchise rather than opt for a straightforward sequel was that they had "closed that chapter" of Saints Row narrative, and wanted to move forwards with a brand-new story that doesn't necessarily have a responsibility to tether itself to the adventures of Gat and his pals.

So, as it tries to distance itself from its past and become an entirely new series - why does it feel so familiar?

Saints Row - Going Back To Your Roots

Saints Row Preview - The Saint, But Different

Taking a look at the gameplay of Saints Row, it's quite hard to discern what's entirely new about it beyond its narrative and location - but frankly, you could call that a good or a bad thing depending on your relationship with the series. The gameplay feels incredibly familiar, with the game seemingly taking notes from the polish of the series' later games for its UI and character design. The weapons seem to feel comfortable, and the menus and in-game UI look exactly the same as we remember them - so what's new?

Volition seems to be putting a whopping emphasis on the huge amount of customisation that the game can offer, bringing back the more bizarre character alterations with some extra oddities, plus, vehicle customisation seems to be amping into overdrive with 80 presets to alter to your heart's content, the addition of new abilities like an ejector seat, and the chance to sideswipe other vehicles clean off the road. 

The city of Santo Iliso is an interesting departure for the franchise, or at the very least, incredibly different to Steelport - the map features nine different districts, like your bog-standard towns, a Vegas-style Casino district and the dusty dunes akin to the sweltering Routes that course through the American South.

It's certainly a fascinating location to attempt to bring Saints Row back to life with, but even though the game is introducing off-road vehicles to deal with the sandier terrain, the map seems as though it could struggle to make these spots feel compelling or essential, much like Grand Theft Auto's Sandy Shores. Of course, the game's missions could take you there often enough to let you fall for it, but chances are you'll probably just want to gravitate to the most popular areas that have all of the roads to take your fancy cars out on and all the pedestrians you could hope to flatten.

Saints Row - Back To The Madhouse

Saints Row Preview

Of course, though the game looks like it's trying to forge itself a brand-new identity with its new cast of characters and location, there's absolutely no silliness left off the table here. It's clear that Volition is continuing to learn the lesson that shooting to topple GTA is futile - instead, there are footballs that hoist enemies into the air and explode, a wingsuit ability that allows the player to pogo from pedestrians' heads, and a perk that gives you a Captain Falcon-esque flaming punch to play with.

The Saints Row franchise is no stranger to the strange, with a notable example being the floppy behemoth that is The Penetrator (that so far, isn't confirmed to return - which hilariously could be a dealbreaker for many), and it's clear that the game has no intention of leaving it all behind. Yet, the way that the silliness is reflected has change.

With Santo Ileso being a fairly regular-looking place (aside from all of the themed clothing stores, like Cowboy outlet Buckaroo Leggin's), slapping something daft onto a fairly naturalistic city has a vastly different effect to the same thing in Saints Row 3 & 4's Steelport. It's a gamble, but it seems that the Saints themselves will be bringing the ruckus to the unsuspecting state.

Saints Row - Return To Form(ish)

Saints Row Preview - The Saint, But Different

There's clearly an awful lot of fun to be had with Saints Row, but the effectiveness of its new features in distancing itself from the existing series remains to be seen. Narratively, it could well be different - but this really feels like Saints Row.

It may well be coming with a new location and some extra goodies, but if you loved the twists to its previous formula that Saints Row 3 made, and the absurd customisation that let you play as a shiny, obese Emerald man battering baddies with a massive purple dildo, then Saints Row could be the fresh injection of insanity you've been robbed of in recent years. Just make sure The Penetrator makes the cut, yeah, Volition?