Saints Row has dropped dildo bats. Its dubstep guns are gone. Johnny Gat is out. Alien invasions are no more. And I'm pretty certain its protagonists have no intention of running presidential campaigns. I guess that last part remains to be seen, to be fair, but what is crystal clear at this juncture is that Saints Row – Volition's latest take on its long-serving open-world action-adventure series – is a proper reboot.
That's not to say it's gone all sensible. The tone of the reveal trailer at Gamescom last year was more 'smart but casual' in pitch, and the first glimpse of in-game footage we saw at the Game Awards a few months on showcased a self-confident game unafraid to try something new while paying deference to its roots. In the grand scheme of Saints Row, I reckon the latter point is crucial.
Game Saints Row
Publisher Deep Silver
Platforms PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Release August 23, 2022
How do you satisfy long-standing fans while appealing to a new audience? That's a question I assume is asked at the beginning of every 'let's reboot X game' discussion, simply because getting it right, in theory, will naturally maximise how well your game sells. The first Saints Row is, somehow, 16 years old later this year, with its sequel having landed in 2008, its third instalment in 2011, and its fourth main series entry arriving two years after that. Nine years on since the last, and the landscape of open-world games is completely different – as are the needs and wants of its player-base. Plenty of sandbox worlds have risen and fallen in that time, with the ever-evolving GTA Online now unrecognisable against its first iteration at launch in late 2013.
Reaching a definitive answer to the aforementioned question, and reaching a middle-ground for both sets of prospective players, is hardly straightforward – something developer Volition has borne witness to. "We are not backing down on this game," reads an official tweet from the developer (opens in new tab), posted in August in reply to a seemingly disgruntled fan on Twitter. "We get it, it's new and it's a shock reaction to a reboot like no other."
The sentiment among some long-term Saints Row admirers is that what has always stood the series apart from the likes of GTA, Just Cause and similar action-heavy open-world games is its penchant for nonsense. The dildo bats, the dubstep guns, the alien invasions, and outlandish superpowers are what make Saints Row Saints Row; that with each passing iteration of the series, players have grown to expect things to get messier and less coherent simply because that's what makes the games so hilarious and inviting. A root and branch reboot, then, would appear to steer the series in the complete opposite direction.
New face, same chase
Speaking to the in-game footage that came from last year's Game Awards, though, is this really the case? Because less than 20 seconds into that gameplay trailer, after we're shown some pleasantly tranquil shots of the game's fictional Santo Ileso cityscape setting, we see a burning police car hurtling down a freeway. We see what looks like the player character in third-person view shooting at the squad car while lying flat on the roof of their own speeding vehicle. And we then see the police car losing control, flipping over and careering straight into the player, before the shot abruptly cuts to black.
Fast forward another 15 or so seconds, and we see multiple characters unloading a healthy arsenal of automatic weapons, we see rocket launchers, explosions, helicopters whipping cars off the road with retractable industrial-strength magnets, wingsuits, stunt bikes, speed boats, hoverboards, tanks, ornate cannons, neon-glowing sniper rifles, fighter jets zipping between skyscrapers, quad bikes, a busy customisation suite, gun-toting mascots wearing silly costumes, and, deep breath, laser-spraying rail guns.
These snippets of frantic in-game footage are peppered with lines from self-assured, borderline obnoxious characters who seem to take the ultra-chaos unfolding around them in their stride. And you're telling me this isn't Saints Row as we know it? Of course, there will always be a contingent of fans who will not get over the fact this version of Saints Row does not include the stars that made the series what it is today – Johnny Gat and his catastrophe-causing crew – but, for my money, that more reflects a reluctance to accept change than a rebuttal of what Volition is doing here. Volition, of course, knows this, which makes it doubly pleasing to see it defend its new vision so steadfastly in public forums.
As much as I love Grand Theft Auto, I've spoken before about how Saints Row's chaos is going to be a welcome change from the business-focused GTA Online. In place of gangs and crews as per the latter, the Saints Row reboot will once more cap its co-op at two players, and will allow buddies to drop in and out of games throughout. Purchasable criminal enterprises will tick over in the background, meaning the action detailed in the latest gameplay trailer can take centre stage. And that's when Saints Row has always been at its best. Here's to the reboot continuing that trend in 2022.
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