Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Saints Row's world of Santo Ileso is apparently “a place that bleeds attitude”. It's the “weird wild west”, where practically anything goes. It also represents developer Volition's “new vision” for Saints Row, and, based upon our latest look at the forthcoming reboot, that vision appears to be every bit as extreme as what's come before. You can stuff a grenade down an enemy's shirt, then throw them at a vehicle or into a crowd. You can use an ejector seat to shoot out of the roof of your car, then glide through the air using a wingsuit. You can kick people square in the crotch. This is still very much Saints Row.
The primary twist here is a narrative one, dealing as it does with the origins of the Saints and their rise to power, as four disillusioned gang members join forces to form an entirely new faction. Initially, you'll have to scrape out a living by pulling off low-grade jobs just to make rent, which, during our hands-off look at the game, involves robbing a payday loan store. Grabbing the cash from the safe is the easy bit, but the inevitable police chase that ensues is less clear-cut. Your objective here is to lose the heat, which is infinitely easier given your ability to sideswipe pursuing vehicles, pushing them off the road.
Once you've shaken the cops, the plan involves switching rides, except the rival Los Panteros gang has stripped your second getaway car for parts. The solution is simple: murder 'em all, then steal one of their dirt bikes and ride off into the desert. This is where we're first shown the aforementioned stuffing-a-grenade-down-the-shirt move, affectionately known as the 'pineapple express', and one of the invaluable off-road vehicles you'll need for navigating Santo Ileso's rocky desert terrain. As a primer for what Saints Row is all about, this first mission is really only the tip of the iceberg.
When our gameplay presentation shifts to the city's El Dorado region, we're shown the wealth of opportunities and side hustles you can partake in, which in this specific instance involves blowing up a parked armoured truck and scooping up the cash it dispenses. As you grow your criminal empire, by building certain enterprises in allotted areas you've seized, more and more opportunities and ventures will become available, offering repeatable ways to earn XP and expand your coffers. Insurance Fraud, Mayhem, Drug Running, and Chop Shop missions are among some of the ventures you can expect. And you'll have plenty to spend your hard-earned loot on, from statues for the foyer of your church HQ, in the heart of the city, to new clothing and accessories from the numerous outlets dotted throughout Santo Ileso's retail districts.
Customisation in Saints Row is hugely expansive, eclipsing the previous entries with countless items of apparel to mix and match. You can dress your bespoke crime boss as a firefighter, then decide to change things up with a full cowboy outfit. What's more, you can mess about with your character's look on-the-fly at any time, bringing up your in-game phone's 'Style Lab' app to access every customisation option you've unlocked thus far. You can even completely change your character's physical look entirely, switching gender, body type, face… everything, if you so desire. The Style Lab will also save several different presets for your customised characters, so if you're sick of being a lumbering, musclebound meathead, you can become a leaner, meaner boss in a matter of seconds. Or vice versa.
Volition has also squeezed in vehicle customisation, which goes to similar depths with interchangeable paint jobs, body kits, and other parts, including ejector seats, nitro, and other extras. If you happen to be a passenger, meanwhile, you can shoot from out of the window, or climb out to lay on the roof and shoot from there. Should you blast yourself from the ejector seat, you can deploy your wingsuit, and, if you start to lose altitude, you can boost skywards by bouncing off pedestrians. Sir Isaac Newton would almost certainly not approve of such gravity-defying silliness. When you factor in the game's untethered co-op play, the scope for creating unbridled havoc is immeasurable.
Further missions we're shown deeper into the demo see the Saints stealing an attack chopper, then raining fiery death upon a Los Panteros forge, before touching down to get in close for some slightly more granular destruction. Volition notes that you'll have a massive arsenal of weapons at your disposal, with the option to change your loadout at the HQ. Each weapon has its own signature ability, while passive perks can also be applied to your character, to give you an edge amid a chaotic encounter. Examples we're shown include a personal taser that electrocutes anyone who touches you, fire resistance (useful in the forge, as we quickly found out), a fiery punch, the ability to dual-wield weapons, and any number of finishers and outlandish skills unleashed by activating your 'Flow' gauge.
Skills like these can be respecced at any time, so you can make preparations for specific scenarios, or when facing certain types of enemy, like specialists or mini bosses. In a fight, multipliers rack up the damage and ramp up the rampant mania – taken to even greater heights when you rope in a friend for drop-in/drop-out co-op. Should you choose to enter a co-op session – and the entire game can be played through with a buddy - “all of the content is dialled up,” says Principal Designer Damien Allen. You'll earn and share rewards, too, so there's no arguing over who gets to have the foam finger guns, the exploding thrustbuster football, or the guitar case rocket launcher. If you've no one to play co-op with, or would prefer to go it alone, you can always summon your fellow Saints – Eli, Neenah, and Kevin – to come and lend a hand.
If Saints Row is sounding every inch the classic Saints Row experience, with off-the-wall violence and action, plenty of casual swearing, and an incredibly loose grip on reality, then rest assured that, while that is the case, there will also be serious moments in the mix. “You're doing absurd things, but it [all] feels like it matters... There's a groundedness to it, [to] even the most absurd things you do in the game,” says Lead Writer Jeremy Bernstein. “It has the feel of a Saints Row game, [but] it's not all goofy.” Narrative Designer Jennifer Campbell adds that while the tone is a “little bit crazier” than it was in Saints Row 2, “the humour is a lot closer to Saints Row: The Third”. It's “tonally in a sweet spot between Saints Row 2 and Saints Row: The Third.” That sounds like just about the right amount of silly, to us.
Saints Row is coming to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on 23rd August.
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