The Saints need a fresh start and that's exactly what Volition is aiming for, with their latest over the top sandbox fun.
Volition is working on a new Saints Row and they introduced us to it prior to Gamescom. In comparison to the absurd action comedies the studio delivered in the past, this reboot seems much more retracted thematically speaking. However, the developers reassured us that this game still dabbles into the absurd and that humour remains a vital part of the game's identity. We can see that being the case but at the same time it also feels much more grounded and tonally consistent with the very first three entries.
Having Saints Row return to its roots we think is a pretty smart move as the absurdity showcased within its fourth entry really couldn't be stretched any further. The franchise was also starting to lose grip on its identity and by the latest release, many fans failed to recognise it as the series it originally was when it stepped on the scene back in 2006. Sure, Johnny Gat, Pierce and the rest of the gang was present, but with its superpowers and fantastical plot that sees you playing as the president of the United States, it was really a far cry from the slightly wacky GTA clone it once was.
At its core of Volition's latest project, we have a rebellious, defiant group of talented youngsters who think their time has come to step up their game. Four friends join forces to do their own thing since they no longer want to be little fishes in another predator's pond, but rather climb the food chain on their own accord. While that sounds like Saints Row says goodbye to the chaotic fantasy theme that dominated Saints Row IV, Volition is just looking for a way to earn back their creative freedom, is what they told us. The developers are interested in creating a colourful sandbox world in which the players can live out their power fantasy and have as much fun as possible.
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The location of the new Saints Row is called Santo Ilesco and it brings together nine different districts that are supposed to be distinct from each other. The image of Southwest of America is the role model for this region, so you can expect dusty deserts and densely populated cities to explore. Daily life should differ greatly depending on whether you are in an industrial area, in one of the expensive luxury districts or in the gang territories, claims Brian Traficante, Creative Director at Volition. Verticality also plays a certain role in this sandbox experience, but only in gentrified areas of-course. The packed world was created with "exploration in mind", explains one of the developers when asked, however, it is unclear what incentives exploration offers, apart from the intrinsic fun of blowing things up.
In addition to our very own group - the Saints -, there are three central factions in this world. The "Los Panteros" are pumping bodybuilders with heavy weapons who rely on their physical superiority above anything else. A paramilitary organization called "Marshall Defense Industries" has access to the latest sci-fi weaponry, but they do not intervene until their customers have transferred the necessary change. The "Idols" are loud hipster kids who storm the battlefield with a bang, but are only dangerous because of their large numbers. With one exception, every member of our gang has had a history with one of these groups.
Speaking of which, let's introduce our crew: Eli is a wealthy graduate who is in charge of dealing with clients. He wanted to build an honourable company by himself, but somehow got tangled with us and got persuaded to stay. Neenah is a creative mechanic who knows cars and can often be found behind the wheel. Kevin is a shirtless DJ who seeks adrenaline and is apparently particularly concerned about the well-being of his friends (that's what the official lore says - not our words). We are the "charismatic mass murderer" aka "The Boss", who we can customize ourselves in this game.
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Just like previous entries, customisation will also play a vital role within Saints Row and the devs have teased that the options here are more expansive than ever. Players will be able to shape the look of their gang leader by shaping their facial and physical features from a range of options and there will be clothing stores that you can visit throughout Santo Ilesco. You can even choose your own hero's voice from one of multiple voice samples that you find suits your character best. Some of the more weird and wonderful features from Saints Row IV haven't made the cut, however. For example, the contraversial "sex appeal" slider is not making a return.
So far we have only seen very short gameplay snippets from the pre-alpha, so we can't really say much about the game itself. Volition describes the gameplay as approachable and very arcade-feeling, and they point out that their vehicle physics have been vastly improved. Of course, we can't validate that yet, but we saw clips of cars and vehicle models ragdolling around, or impressively squeezed together by great force. Due to the rocky terrain, every car will be able to be turned into off-road speedsters if you upgrade them. If you are not on a wheeled pedestal, you will mostly run around the world or fly from high roofs with a wingsuit.
The game progress of Saints Row will build upon two central pillars: One part is the "tons of" different story missions that let us meet and interact with different characters. The entire campaign will be playable in co-op for two players, if that's to your liking. The other side of the coin is fuelling the growth of your criminal empire, seeing you build various facilities including workshops, discos, military training camps or fast food restaurants in the game world. By expanding your property, you can unlock quests, earn more money or unlock additional gameplay options. It has become evident that there will be a lot of attention on the growth of your criminal ventures, so we are excited to see how the topic develops. Your co-op partner will of course also see the progress of your world as soon as he joins your game.
The outrageous activities that have long been a staple of Saint Row are returning in the reboot and will be accessible across the open world, too. The fan-favourite Insurance Fraud will be making a comeback and we've never been more excited to throw ourselves into the path of moving traffic to blow everything up with our ragdoll bomb. Sadly, the developers didn't reveal which other activities would be featured in the reboot, but there is said to be a mix of both old and returning distractions. If we had to bet then we would guess that Mayhem and Drug Trafficking will be part of the line-up, as like Insurance Fraud, they have become mainstays for the series.
With the reboot targeting the current console cycle, you might be wondering whether it will also make its way onto last gen systems at all. Well, if you are yet to upgrade your setup you are in luck, as the reboot is coming to both PS4 and Xbox One, as well as PS5 and Xbox Series. It's unclear at this point, however, whether the co-op gameplay will support cross-play or cross-gen sessions, but we are sure these details will be revealed soon enough. As for now, you can take comfort in the fact that it is coming to a variety of different systems.
The Saints Row reboot has given us renewed hope for the series after the very shaky ground that the fourth installment left things on. The plot and overall tone feels much more grounded and true to the series' roots, and the vastly different new setting of Santo Ilesco prevents it from feeling just like a mere retread. We also can't wait to hear more about the criminal ventures that players can build, as these appear to offer plenty of flexibility and player choice outside of the main campaign. Saints Row will launch on February 25, 2022 and we can expect to learn more about it's systems in the future.