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I'm Keeping My Eye On Saints Row

18 May 2022

Saints Row has been a series that never quite felt like it had a solid sense of what it wanted to be. The juxtaposition between a serious gang drama and a balls-to-the-wall Hangover-tier sandbox shooter wasn’t something that resonated with me, and my limited time with Saints Row IV however-many years ago didn’t leave much of an impression. Sure, it was fun to moon jump around and whack people in the face with a giant dildo, but the substance beyond that was lacking.

I got curious when Volition announced that they were developing a current-generation reboot of Saints Row, stripping down much of the silly archetypes the series has become known for in favor of a toned-back—yet still playful—approach to its traditional narrative. And when I got an invitation to attend a behind-closed-doors hands-off gameplay presentation for members of the press, I thought, “why not see what else is up?” 

Aside from the shift in tone, something that’s been stressed frequently in the game’s marketing is the layers of customization to nearly everything. From tiny facial features of your character to the rims of your car and even what socks the members you recruit to your gang are wearing, there are seemingly endless options to ride around the Southwest-inspired city of Santo Ileso in style.

Much of the first half of the presentation was dedicated to showing off these options, which makes me a bit nervous. It’d be one thing if the options touted were fully utilized in the trailer, as opposed to having characters appear straight out of a randomizer. I’m a sucker for vast customization options when used well, but this display made me worried that all of their eggs were in one basket, especially when considering the limited color palette of a desert city.

When it comes to the meat of the gameplay, it’s more reminiscent of Saints Row 2 as opposed to some of the newer, more wilder entries in the series, which’ll be a test for players to see whether or not the stripped-back combat is worth going back to after nearly three entries. Gone are the crazy superpowers and funky weapons, trading them in favor of tighter gunplay and dodge mechanics.

One scene in the gameplay reveal showed the main character hopping onto the roof of a car to shoot at oncoming enemies, resulting in more accuracy and a wider range of attack while leaving you vulnerable to opposing fire. Neat additions like this seemed few and far between for what was shown combat-wise, and it seems like this time around, there’s more of a focus on making sure these systems have solid foundations as opposed to throwing anything and everything at the wall.

Saints Row was met with criticism when it was initially revealed at Gamescom last year. While I think it’ll be hard to make every fan of a series that has taken so many forms over its close to 16-year history happy, I don’t think this reboot is one worth writing off yet. Its tight combat, interesting setting, and swath of customization features could set this up to be one of 2022’s more exciting open-world experiences, but it really depends on how Volition prioritizes and positions these features. With a team that has stuck around with such a wild card of a franchise for so long, it’ll be interesting to see if a more mature tone will set Saints Row apart from a stacked release schedule this year.

Saints Row will launch on August 23rd, 2022 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.

Featured images courtesy of Deep Silver.