We've spent some time in the desert town of Santa Ileso, in Volition's reboot of the classic action series.
Saints Row hasn't been very good, in my opinion, since the second game in the series, and I've been dying for a remake of Saints Row 2. So, when the day came, when a reboot of Saints Row was announced, I was fired up despite the disappointments of the past few years. Could it finally be time to reclaim the glory of this series once and for all?
The game starts with you being a new employee at a security firm that goes by the name of Marshall Industries. Your first week on the job goes anything but well because you succeed in being promoted and then are fired on the same day. So what do you do then? You start a criminal gang of course to take away the pain of defeat and failure! During the prologue, freedom is limited and you are herded like cattle on the way to the slaughter and you shoot at just about anything that moves. Here you also learn the game mechanics. The prologue feels unnecessarily long because throughout it I just sit and wait for a chance to go out on a journey of discovery, stretch my legs and really look around. When the time finally comes, the city of Santo Ileso is spread out before us, promising plenty of mayhem and chaos.
We play as The Boss, a gun-happy adrenaline junkie who acts first and thinks later and to help us we have our three BFFs and sidekicks. Eli, the group's nerd who, instead of fighting with his fists, uses his well-developed brain and acts as the gang's strategist and planner. DJ Kevin, who seems to be allergic to fabric and constantly goes bare chested and has a six pack, is the man with contacts. And last but not least, we have Neenah, the group's car-mad self-proclaimed driver and grease monkey. These form the very core of our little gang as we work one day at a time to form a criminal empire and rise to the top, and they are needed because going it alone isn't a smart option, at least not against other gangs.
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Talking about gangs, there are plenty of them in Santo Ileso. In one corner of the ring we have the tough gang Los Patrones with their muscle cars and red colours. In the other corner of the ring we have The Idols, who are a bunch of anarchist ravers who like neon colours and baseball bats. You might think that these two big gangs would be enough, but no. Last but not least, we have the Marshalls, which is a large private army with tons of resources and weapons to back them up. For those of you who were hoping for some familiar faces, I unfortunately have to disappoint you because this Saints Row reboot has a brand new story and a brand new slate of characters. That means no Johnny Gat, this time around.
Instead, it is clear that Volition wanted to attract the new generation of millennials, those who grew up on both Fortnite and Snapchat. You need only look at the characters' appearances and how the menus are offered as mobile apps to understand the age group the developer had in mind.
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The game world feels quite large, a whole 17 districts if I counted correctly, which are filled with a lot to sink your teeth into. Unfortunately, I can see that the game developers could have done more to make the city feel more alive, because the city of Santo Ileso is quite lifeless. When you whiz through the streets in your car, you don't notice the whole thing, but when someone like me, who loves to investigate, starts to explore, you notice that it becomes a bit like a backdrop. I've found so many cool places in my explorative efforts like a big casino and a power plant, but none of them are available to truly explore. There's nothing to do in any building, except if you want to get a tattoo or buy clothes, and I find it a bit difficult that there are seemingly only around eight different character models for people on the streets, and enemies. It's like fighting clones over and over again. Gangs have what feels like four different guys and sometimes when they attack in groups, you can fight ten big brute types with moustaches that look identical.
Even though the game world is somewhat lifeless, you don't walk around idle in the game. If you don't dive deep into the main quests, there is a whole host of side quests to have fun with. How about an app called Wanted where you hunt down wanted men just like in the old west, with the small difference that they are not to be captured alive and there is no sheriff who hired you? Or perhaps clearing neighbourhoods of gang activity? Personally, I was terribly disappointed when I thought they removed the Insurance Fraud missions but was happy like a kid in a candy store when I realised that you could unlock it further into the game. You don't want to miss out on experiencing the job as a crash test dummy again after all these years. There are also photo missions where you have to photograph famous places in the game in something called Photohunt. To name just a few. But this is not the only time you use your mobile camera. To pimp your headquarters with cool stuff so it looks like a gang den, you use your camera to take pictures of some selected stuff that's hidden around the city and voila, they're in your decoration app. What magic! These gadgets are visible by their slightly bluish glow and I learned quite quickly that you should take up the hunt for these gadgets during the later hours of the day when they are easier to see.
The game developers have turned down their sick humour a bit and it feels like they want to make a slightly more mature game that suits a wider market, but the sad thing is that I miss the really stupid stuff from the old games. Of course the humour is still here and there but it's not as vulgar and crazy as before, which maybe says more about me because I miss it. The missions are many, and several are really fun, such as the time when you have to help someone escape from a prison or when you have to commit a big train robbery. Or even when you get to go to an island and be in a battle to the death against everyone you meet, with the weapon you wield being randomised.
The graphics could be better though, although it is by no means an ugly game. But for the newer generations of consoles, I expected something more. Since I got to play the game early, I encountered a few bugs, some minor and one major. The worst was in a mission where you had to kill the police force that moved into an area. Unfortunately their cars got stuck on a bridge and never showed up and trying to get to them instead ended the mission because you abandoned the area itself. This was very frustrating as it was in a main quest and made me tear my hair out in pure frustration. Smaller bugs such as the GPS marking in the road sometimes disappearing, I can live with though. But hopefully these are fixed when the game is released to the public.
I have to say that this game leaves me terribly divided as to what I really think. Part of me sees that this could have been done so much better on so many fronts. More variety, a more vibrant city, better graphics, stronger characters and with better vehicle physics. Maybe Volition should stop looking at GTA and just run their own race? But another part of me actually has fun when I play the game, and for me that's the most important thing after all. This may not be the new Saints Row 2 that I wanted but it is at least a step in the right direction and I find it entertaining. And it will probably keep me entertained until it's time for me to smash skulls with Kratos and Atreus in November.
7 / 10
It's fun. Tons of customisation options. Santa Ileso is huge.
Lacks variety. City is dull. Poor graphics. Awful vehicle physics.