Saints Row Preview – A reboot that turns it up to 11

saints row gameplay reboot story missions header

Let’s be honest, rebooting Saints Row was just about the only thing that Volition could possibly have done to keep the series alive. This was a game franchise that started off as one of the many GTA imitators of the 2000s, but blossomed into a weird and wonderful pastiche that then went on to jump shark after alien invasion shark after trip down to Hell shark. There was nowhere else to go with the story, and Steelport was feeling more and more like a cul-de-sac where a franchise had gone to die.

So, time to pull out a fresh sheet of paper and start over. Saints Row will be a brand new origin story for the notorious gang, with a completely new cast of characters, a brand new city, and new rival gangs to go up against. The only legacy here, really, is in the overarching lighthearted and slightly silly tone as well as some existing gameplay ideas.

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We were privy to an extended gameplay demo of Saints Row, delving into various parts of the game. At the very start of the reboot, you join a group of four roommates – the Boss and their three buddies – just trying to make rent while working as underlings for the city’s four main gangs. So, what are they going to do? Well, what they know how to do best, and hold up a payday loan shop (because they suck) to get the cash they need.

Saints Row Preview Cop Chase

The opening mission picks up as you hop into your getaway car with the cops in hot pursuit, helping to introduce you to one of the game’s new inclusions. Vehicular combat has been enhanced with Burnout-style side-swipes, wildly swinging into the sides of vehicles to deal damage – the faster you go, the more damage you dish out – and eventually turn them into burning wrecks. There’s also a rather nice escape mechanic of simply trying to find a big enough leap or jump that the cops can’t follow you over to give you a chance to cut off a tiresome chase. If, on the other hand, you’re riding shotgun in co-op play or with the Riding Shotgun side hustle missions, you can blast away at enemies from the car window, or clamber up onto the roof, giving you access to all of your guns, but also leaving you rather exposed to incoming fire.

That’s far from the only thing they’ve done with the driving, which has overhauled vehicle handling and new customisation features. Each of the 80 or so vehicles in the game can be extensively modified, each also having signature abilities to unlock that could include crab steering, a wrecking ball mod, and an ejector seat that neatly transitions into the wing suit that your character seems to be equipped with no matter what they’re wearing. Wing suiting has one of the most bizarre little twists of being able to ‘boop’ off pedestrians when you get near them, bouncing you back up into the sky so you can keep on flying. It’s very Saints Row…

Saints Row Wingsuit Boop

Customisation in Saints Row is about as comprehensive as you could possibly hope for. Literally everything can be tweaked and modified, from your character’s hat, right down to their socks and…. modesty pixel art. You can pick your body type using a three-point slider, swap skin colour from realistic tones to greens, purples, and metallics. There’s asymmetrical face customisation, prosthetic limbs, vampire teeth, elf ears, and you can have enough colours in your hair to make McFly swoon. All of this is accessible on-the-fly through the in-game phone app. You can be walking down the street, decide you want to just be a completely different being, spend three hours getting it just right, and then get back to whatever it was you were doing.

A lot of this also applies to the guns as well. You’ve got some of the craziest skins, with glossy and metallic textures, decals, and even wholesale model swaps. Want an RPG that’s a guitar case? A gun in a cane? An SMG thigh bone? What about Finger Guns? Sure, whatever you want!

At its base level, the third person combat looks exactly what you’d expect. Your weapon choice could shift and change depending on the enemy that you’re going up against, so while Los Panteros are tough nuts to crack and might require a shotgun or a weapon that can knock and stagger them to keep them at a distance, the Idols come in large numbers, so you’ll probably want to pull out an SMG. Be wary of the mid-bosses that could appear and that feature in story missions.

Saints Row Combat

Alternatively, go all in on the weird and wild. The Thrustbuster looks like an American Football, but it sticks to whatever you hit it with and then acts like a rocket pack that explodes after a few seconds. There’s a Pinata launcher which feels like something out of Ratchet & Clank, and you’ve got gadgets like the Quantum Aperture, which throws up a high-tech phase field that lets you see and shoot through walls. Wonderful!

Getting up close and personal for a bit of melee, you have plenty of unlockable perks and abilities. Applying one tases enemies that hit you in melee is particularly useful during a bar brawl, as is the flaming punch skill, while the Pineapple Express shoves a grenade where the sun doesn’t shine, and then has you throwing the hapless enemy away. This also leads into new finisher moves that add a bit of cinematic flair to lean on when ending a fight.

It’s pretty clear through all of this that Volition has really looked back on the series’ strengths and sought to amplify and build on top of them. That applies to the world and the story as well, from the repeatable side hustles that will earn you a little bit of cash, to the bombastic story missions.

Saints Row Panteros Fight

As you start to branch out into the nine districts of Santo Ileso, you’ll have to tap into each region’s potential by setting up criminal ventures. There’s 14 to choose from to fill empty lots in each region, each unlocking a particular type of side-mission to take on. JimRob’s mechanics acts as a front that unlocks a garage and car customisation for you, while gun running with Sgt. Vicarious unlocks the Mayhem game mode to blow stuff in the name of showing off your merch. Each venture unlocks multiple instances of that game to complete, in order to exert greater control over a region.

It’s all brought back together at the Saints’ HQ, a run-down church that you rebuild and fashion in your own image. Missions can reward you with specific unlocks, such as a helipad so you can take to the skies more easily, with plenty of rewards to decorate your dwellings.

There’s a rapid, almost breathless quality to trying to describe everything that’s new, returning and changed for the Saints Row reboot, but at it’s core, you can sense that it’s capturing the essence of the series. It’s more modern and grounded, there’s a brand new city to explore, new characters to meet, but underneath it all, you can still tell that this is Saints Row.

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