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Saints Row

Saints Row

Written by Elliot Hilderbrand on 7/21/2022 for PC   PS4   PS5   STA   XBO   XBSX  
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There’s a new Saints Row coming out near the end of August. To help build some hype for the game Deep Silver Volition, the game’s developers invited a select group out to Las Vegas to experience firsthand Santo Ileso, the city Saints Row takes place in. I wasn’t sure what to expect; it’s not every day that I get invited out to Las Vegas to try out a new video game. The hotel I stayed at, Thunderbird Boutique, had been taken over By Deep Silver and transformed into Santo Ileso. That’s the fictional city Saints Row takes place in, and it was a party.

One hotel room was turned into a dressing room. The idea was to dress up in whatever - sunglasses, leather jacket, chicken mask, and then make your way into the other rooms. Room one was made to look like your hangout. Cash, guns, and (faux) illegal substances were everywhere. There was even the outline of a body, a sign of less than a good time for someone. Room two was the tattoo shop, The Rusty Needle. Inside was less than desirable looking equipment, along with large amounts of cash thrown about, the walls decorated with tattoos with a Saints Row theme to them.

The bar served mocktails with the same theme. There was the Santo-Rita, Pantero Sunrise, and Saints Sour. Inside the bar was a blackjack table; even though this was Vegas, they were still playing with just chips, albeit with a Saints Row logo. There was also a claw machine to win Saints Row merch. As usual, I was not very successful. 

The outside courtyard was covered with a little bit of everything. Giant beer pong, fast cars, and a DJ played music all night. The pool even had a dead body floating in it; I don’t think it was real. A small storm came through in the late afternoon, but it cleared up pretty quickly and left the outside nice and cool for Vegas, I mean Santo Ileso.

The following day I had the chance to play the game. My time with Saints Row started as it will for everyone - at the character creation screen. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the character creator. The character creator has been released as its own stand-alone game, of sorts. Saints Row Boss Factory allows you to create your own boss ahead of the game’s official release. The creator is massive, allowing for all kinds of changes.

I played around with Boss Factory before attending the preview to understand how it works. Needless to say, it works. You can be as realistic or as cartoony as your imagination allows. Want to create a boss that resembles an actor? You can do that. Want to make the most true-to-life imitation of your spouse? You can do that too. Instead of spending all of my time trying to recreate myself in virtual form perfectly, I spent about ten minutes with the creator and moved on. Overall, customization seems to be pretty high. Whenever the mood strikes, you are free to pull out your cell phone and customize your boss as you want.

While you only play as one character in Saints Row, the story really is about four roommates as they navigate their way through the criminal world of Santo Ileso. You play the boss, who, at the start of the game, has just begun to work for Marshall Defense Industries. Marshall Defense is a private military company, bringing with them a sizable load of specialized weapons. While they may not be a gang in the traditional sense, they certainly feel like one.

Your roommate Kevin works for The Idols gang. They want to see an end to the “establishment.” They sport flashy neon helmets. When in combat with them, The Idols will stop and break down to some EDM music. Neenah, the only female roommate (unless you play as a female), belongs to Los Panteros. They began as a family gang; think of that film franchise family that drives cars together, and you’ve about nailed it. She is frequently the getaway driver for them. Last is Eli; he isn’t associated with any of the three gangs; in fact, he doesn’t even know how to use a gun. But he is the brains of the house, no doubt there. The core cast of Saints Row sounds, feels, and looks different from the previous titles. They are younger, fresher, and still unsure of themselves and their goals.

I was able to put in about four hours of playtime with Saints Row. After making my boss, I was thrown right into an opening mission about my first day on the job with the Marshall Defense Industries. Events start out simple enough but spiral into chaos fast. I eventually found myself on top of a tank, strapped on top of a moving helicopter. After a rough first day and not earning a performance bonus, I headed to the apartment I shared with my three roommates. Turns out they also did not have a good day at their perspective jobs. In order to make ends meet, we decided the best move would be to go ahead and rob a check cashing facility. During the robbery, events don’t go as planned, forcing the group to split up and eventually regroup back at the apartment. In the end, we were successful in our attempts to get semi-rich quick, at least for the time being.

Both of those missions, titled First F@$!ng Day and Making Rent, feel like tutorial missions. You learn basic combat and vehicle gameplay, as well as allowing the game to establish the world you live in - a world that feels different from previous Saints Row games. The town Santo Ileso has a different vibe than any of the mainline or spinoff titles. Do you know how when a film or tv show takes place in Mexico, they use a different filter over the lens? It's that sort of deal. But all is not lost and replaced with this new identity. Side activities feel more like traditional Saints Row fare. Insurance fraud, for example, is classic Saints Row hijinx. New side hustles like toxic waste disposal give off those vibes while still providing a new, fresh take and gameplay.

The city of Santo Ileso feels massive. Early in Saints Row, most mainline missions take place in close proximity. Early on, I did not venture out too far. But after a few hours and completing what felt like the first big arc of main missions, I began to explore with my last hour of gameplay in Saints Row. Making my way out of town, I quickly learned that the beaten path is just that. Roads are smooth, and you only have to worry about other drivers when traversing them. But once you take the road less traveled, I found that moving through the world wasn’t as easy as I thought. Dirt roads handle differently than traditional roads; rocks, mountains, and all other kinds of debris make the beaten path feel and handle in a unique way that requires more attention.

Vehicles in Saints Row do not feel like vehicles in other open city games. There seems to be a wide range of vehicles to choose from. Vehicles of the same size seem to handle very similarly from one to the next. Motorcycles look different from each other, but handle pretty much the same. Bigger vehicles feel slower than smaller ones. Overall, I felt vehicles went a little slower than I expected. While I didn’t feel like I was flying down roads, overall control of the vehicles felt better than in most driving games. Swerving in and out of lanes and dodging cars while running red lights was a more enjoyable experience.

The only time I would go crazy in a vehicle was when I tried to drift more than I needed. Overall I liked the driving part of the gameplay. Cars also have a health pool to them; it is possible to do too much damage to them. You can also damage other cars, like cop cars, to get them to flip or explode. Vehicle combat was easy to understand and a bit of a challenge when facing off against a slew of cop cars. While cars don’t feel super fast, the controls are tight. I never really had an issue with driving, other than it didn’t feel super fast, but it did feel more realistic in comparison to how a car really drives.

There were a lot of little things that made Saints Row feel like Saints Row. I really dug the humor. It was the little things that I was able to notice, walking by NPCs, for instance, that really showed me this was Saints Row. While the humor may feel a little different from what came before, it does feel a little more inclusive. A man does not randomly slap a woman for talking, like in franchise's history. Random one-liners, like your boss walking into the apartment and hanging up his gun instead of the keys, and the roommates thinking nothing of it.

Once you complete the two tutorial missions, you are left to your devices in Santo Ileso. You can continue to work on the main missions of Saints Row or wander around and find trouble yourself. Your cell phone holds the key to everything here. You can hop on and see the map, showing you a handful of side hustles you can work on. Want to fly around on a wingsuit blowing up radio towers for a less than above-board company? You can do that. The wingsuit becomes available as soon as the free roam begins. Thinking about becoming a hitman for hire? There’s an app on your phone that allows you t become a man-for-hire.

Combat in Saints Row looks and feels familiar. If you’ve played an open-world city game with guns, then the controls and feel are not going to come as a surprise. Running, jumping, aiming down the sights, all pretty standard. I played Saints Row using a Xbox controller and found the auto-aiming to feel like it was a little too good. I’m willing to chalk this up to being a preview and the developers wanting to make me feel like I was naturally gifted.

I don’t want to talk much about the plot; I think Saints Row will have a very story-driven narrative. Each of the main missions moves the story forward at a brisk pace, at least for the first three hours. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the plot start to slow down going forward, letting more of the gameplay take over. I spent my fourth hour of playtime really exploring and getting into odds and ends. Just driving out in the desert, I came across an area I felt was a bit of dead space. I continued on a little further and found that I had stumbled into a RV bandwagon in the middle of nowhere; they just so happened to be cooking drugs. So the lifeless desert wasn’t actually lifeless.

I had fun in Santo Ileso, it’s as simple as that. I found the story to be engaging, making me care about these four people. Saints Row was nowhere near as zany as the last mainline title, but there was enough humor, especially the subtle humor, that kept me entertained while I played. Main missions pushed the story at a brisk pace while also being intense. Laying on top of a car while chasing after a convoy, and suddenly a dust storm blows in is just one example. The foundation set by early Saints Row titles is here, but this isn’t your dad’s Saints Row. Sure, the humor is more refined and less edgy, but that leaves a game more accessible to a wider audience. And if there's one thing the Saints are down for, its relentless expansion.

Saints Row is scheduled for release on August 23, 2022 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Google Stadia.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).

While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).

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