Wednesday, August 25, 2021
By the end of Saints Row IV, developer Volition had taken things so far from the comparatively humble gangster beginnings of the first three games that the series really had nowhere else to go. We mean 'humble' as a relative term, of course, but where could you conceivably go next with Saints Row 5, after all of the super heroics, aliens, and your ultimate status as ruler of the world? The answer, obviously, is to reboot it all and start from scratch with a clean slate. Simply titled 'Saints Row', Volition's latest open-world venture is completely new, a total tabula rasa, with very little – if indeed anything – carried over from the original saga of the Third Street Saints. And we'll be damned if it doesn't look like a sandbox designed entirely around having fun, not unlike Stilwater and Steelport before it.
Although all vestiges of what Saints Row once was have seemingly been swept aside, the DNA of the series appears to be very much intact, albeit with new characters, who promise to provide a fresh perspective and a contemporary story about the beginnings of a criminal empire. And while there's currently a disturbing lack of Johnny Gat and neither hide nor hair of the rest of the crew we've come to know and love, Saints Row's narrative is aiming to be slightly more intimate, with four disillusioned friends striving to carve out a bright future for themselves, even if it means bending the law until it snaps. The game's four lead characters have all been stifled by society, so, naturally, given the opportunity to break out, they begin to carve a rep across the all-new urban playground of Santo Ileso, situated in the American southwest.
The city comprises nine districts, all “built for fun”, according to Volition Chief Creative Officer Jim Boone. “It's the biggest and richest Saints Row game we've made”, he adds, noting that the remit, right out of the gate, was “fun first”, above all else. As such, Santo Ileso is the largest and most diverse Saints Row sandbox to date, boasting far more verticality, aided by your character's zipline (used to scale buildings) and wingsuit (for then leaping off them). Deprived, crime-ridden districts rub up against more affluent regions, bristling with towering glass skyscrapers, and in the middle of it all there's rampant gang warfare raging, as your fledgling Saints take on the tough, brutal 'Los Panteros'; a brash, anarchic gang motivated purely by fame, called the 'Idols'; and a private military company armed with cutting-edge weaponry, known as 'Marshall Defense Industries'. Each faction has its own turf, and your Saints allies have splintered off from Los Panteros, the Idols, and Marshall to help you, the Boss, form your burgeoning criminal enterprise.
Eli is the brains of the operation, Neenah is keen to work for herself and determine her own destiny, and Kevin is a DJ and people pleaser. Your character, meanwhile, is described by Volition as “a charismatic murder machine”, a fully customisable creation whose goal it is to take over the entire city by whatever means necessary. During your rise to power, you'll be able to seize territory from rival gangs, then choose what to do with it, placing new buildings and businesses - like an arms dealership or a drugs enterprise disguised as a fast food joint - wherever you like. The world is your oyster, and it's up to you how you shape it. Building new ventures will also unlock new gameplay possibilities, so you'll need to think carefully about what you want from each new business you establish on the turf you've violently snatched.
As your empire expands, the cast of characters will also grow, and you'll gain access to increasingly outlandish weapons, new side hustles, vehicles, upgrades, and more. Vehicles can be tailored for certain conditions, like driving across the desert (Santo Ileso is partially inspired by Las Vegas), while combat very much adheres to the classic “run-and-gun” formula of Saints Row gone by. Any concerns that the reboot will be dark and gritty can also be put to bed, when you learn that the madcap Insurance Fraud side missions are back, and that Volition has absolutely no intention of moving away from the series' signature offbeat humour. “We've still embraced absurdity,” assures Principal Producer, Rob Loftus, who compares Saints Row IV's excesses to James Bond's sojourn into sci-fi in 1979's Moonraker. “We had to pull it back,” he says, much like the filmmakers did with 007. Trouble is, they ended up with For Your Eyes Only (fine), then Octopussy (not quite as fine).
Hopefully, we shouldn't worry too much about having to defuse bombs while dressed as a clown, although that does sound like something that would be on-brand for Saints Row. But with untethered cross-gen co-op for two players; talk of a multiplayer 'pranking' feature; and a host of cinematic references slightly more grounded than Moonraker – Volition counts John Wick (for the game's combat, action, and brutality), Baby Driver (for its vehicle handling), and Hobbs & Shaw (for its “over-the-top nature”) – and the Illinois-based studio has never felt more confident about where it's going with the reboot. “We feel like Volition is back on top,” Boone enthuses, “and we are very excited about Saints Row”. We're pretty excited about it too, Jim.
Saints Row is coming to Xbox, PlayStation, and PC on 25th February 2022.
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