In your head, you're Peter Stringfellow. You're Steve Rubell, Jay-Z, or another more contemporary nightclub owner with loads of cash, champagne on tap, and cigars by the caseload in the VIP lounge. But in reality, you're actually an airport chauffeur who's back and forth more than a fiddler's elbow, or a hapless public relations officer that's incessantly promoting your inner-city spot by way of tiresome fetch quests just to keep the disco lights on.
Don't get me wrong, as a longstanding lover of techno music, I like many of the features introduced to GTA Online via its After Hours expansion of 2018 – a free update which lets players run nightclubs and host real-world talent such as the Black Madonna and Solomon on the wheels of steel – but, my goodness, maintaining a virtual nightclub can be a slog.
And, while the sheer volume of free content Grand Theft Auto Online has introduced to its sprawling San Andreas sandbox over the last eight years or so should be applauded, nightclubs and all, the map in today's game is so, so busy. Which is one reason I’m particularly excited about the Saints Row reboot.
Because if Lester isn't buzzing you every few minutes about a heist, Madrazo's hitting you up for a cartel hit. Ron Jakowski is never off your case to survey some Lost Brotherhood base or other, and Bryony won't leave you alone until you've purchased a godforsaken Arena Workshop. You seem lovely, pal, but please take the hint.
Add the multitude of business ventures now on the go and, even as a seasoned GTA player, it can all be a bit exhausting – to the point where I can't imagine how daunting it must be for newcomers. Complementary content is always welcome, but there's a creeping feeling of claustrophobia in modern GTA Online due to the amount of stuff there is to do, not to mention the age of the playground within which to do it. Familiarity breeding contempt and all that.
New world ordered
Everything we know about GTA 6 so far suggests a concrete release date is, let's say, some ways away, which means so too is a new Rockstar-shaped criminal cityscape for us to explore. As we learned at Gamescom 2021, however, a new Volition-shaped playground is just around the corner – courtesy of the Saints Row reboot, due to launch on February 25, 2022.
Everything we know about the Saints Row reboot so far, on the other hand, points to more level-headed, less balls out the bathwater affair than we've come to expect from the series – something which appears to have split opinion among series fans, in turn prompting the devs to publicly double down on their vision.
Gone are Johnny Gat et al, and in are the business-minded Eli, getaway driver Neenah, DJ Kevin, and quirky protagonist Boss. Gone are Dildo Bats and Dubstep Guns, and in are an arsenal of more conventional, less farcical weapons. Gone are alien invasions, White House destruction, and planet Earth's obliteration, and in is a more credible origin story which portrays the formation of a start-up criminal enterprise set in the fictional city of Santo Ileso in America's southwest.
No matter where you stand with Saint Row's shift in tone, the thought of ripping up its new nine-district world – from El Dorado's Vegas-esque casino sprawl, to the affluent Monte Vista and sky-scraping financial quarter to name but a few – in a fully-customised off-road truck on deck, or tearing through the air in a fighter jet above, thrills me to no end.
I understand the push back from supporters of Saints Row-of-old's zanier side to a point, but despite often marching to the beat of its own drum, some of the jokes and banter from previous outings really hasn't aged well. And, to be fair, the in-game footage that dropped last week showed off some pretty messy, larger-than-life shoot-outs and set-pieces all the same.
Given Saints Row has always been unashamedly inspired by Grand Theft Auto – try writing a games like GTA list without some SR representation – I'm now interested in how the latter reacts to the former. Like previous Saints Row games, it appears the reboot will cap its co-op at two players, with a buddy able to drop in and out throughout the game's entirety, which means no gangs or crews as per GTA. Moreover, growing your criminal enterprise in Saints Row will see you purchasing vacant lots and turning them rogue, such as drug-slinging food trucks, laundromats, car chop shops and, yes, nightclubs.
From what we've seen so far, there's a sense that these business ventures will tick over in the background, while you're out shooting up rival gangs, pulling donuts in the desert, and fending off hordes of pink-clad, melee-armed anarchists whose aesthetic somehow fuses Daft Punk and Mad Max with class.
GTA Online is at its best when revelling in its own action-heavy moments – when robbing Casinos, breaking convicts out of prison, and raiding a heavily-guarded drug lord's island hideaway and so on – and, for me, at its worst when taking itself too seriously and making me think far too much about the real-life logistics of running a business.
Last year's GTA Online's Cayo Perico update – which gave players an entirely new island to explore – was a welcomed change of pace and is perhaps a sign of things to come for the enduring crime sim, even if the fact you can't currently travel to and from the archipelago in free mode makes it feel a touch disconnected.
Ultimately, I love sipping pretend champagne next to a pretend smoke machine and boogieing my pretend arse off all night long. I care less about handing out fliers, acquiring speakers, and taxiing bar staff around the city in my spare time. Shift in tone or not, if the Saints Row reboot keeps this side of things simple and light then it's onto a winner. And then it's Rockstar's move with an eye on future updates.
"Keep it strange, Santo," reads a sign at the border of Santo Ileso. Simply keep it fun and I'm sold.
Fancy some more Saints Row reboot reading? Learn how developer Volition took inspiration from Baby Driver, Hobbs and Shaw, and John Wick in our Saints Row reboot preview from Gamescom 2021.