Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Saints Row Preview – New Saints, New World, Same Old Feelings

My first preview into the world of Saints Row was Saints Row 2 – a game where you, alongside your trusted friends Johnny Gat, Shaundi and Pierce, have to build yourself up from the bottom, right to the very top. Despite the many controversies the game has whipped up, particularly with its portrayal of women, it still remains a fan-favourite and it’s not hard to see why when it has: a great cast, hilarious in-game activities and a gripping story.

With everything I know about the Saints Row series in mind, and after spending a 4-hour preview window with the upcoming Saints Row reboot, my feelings can be summed up with a simple statement: this new Saints Row feels exactly like Saints Row 2, but with the added knowledge and experience that future games brought to the franchise.

Basically: it’s damn good.

This new Saints Row puts players into a new world with a new group of Saints, and trust me when I say that even in such a short window of time, you’ll get to know more about what makes them tick and why the four of them have bonded together to survive in the crime-ridden city of Santo Ileso. In fact, for anyone who was concerned that the new Saints wouldn’t be just as kooky and willing to use violence to get the job done as the previous crew, let me put you at ease. We’re introduced to the four of them as a group when, after a hard day on the job, they realize they’re low on rent and the only thing to do is to go rob a bank via gunpoint. Naturally.

Our get-away driver and mechanic is Neenah. Her deal is that she’s also part of the Los Panteros – a gang that the main character ends up messing with early on in-game. From the way Neenah talks about this group I assume she has some sort of family ties with the gang. This is the complete opposite of Kevin, a constantly shirtless DJ who is an excellent cook, but hopelessly gullible, following another group called The Idols around and eating up their lies about how they desire to put the common man in front and ‘tear down the system’. This leaves us with Eli, an educated and soft-spoken guy, but with huge dreams to make it big in the world of business and become a capitalist overlord – clearly the most morally bankrupt of the whole lot.

Outside of your fellow companions, is the new Boss. In this reboot, the Boss starts off as a contract mercenary working for a private organization (with a hilariously awful mortality rate of 5%) called Marshall. While my time with the preview of Saints Row didn’t dive into the backstory of the new protagonist all that much, the mercenary route for the Boss feels like a nice touch in reflecting how, despite there being a new setting and characters, the world of today still reflects the one back in 2006 – particularly with how the incentive for the player to join this mercenary-military group is because of the barely-there-but-significantly-better-than-most pay.

These four characters (as well as their orange cat, Snickerdoodle, who must be protected at all costs) all share the same apartment and, as luck would have it, the same fate when everything they knew before comes crashing down and they decide to say ‘F U’ to the life they know and form a criminal empire. Past Saints Row players will know that this concept isn’t entirely out of the ordinary, so despite my excitement, I’m hoping Volition and Deep Silver aren’t just going to reiterate the same storyline and instead goes ahead and does something different.

Saints Row preview
Saints Row’s anarchist group, The Idols

Still, there is something very comforting in the familiarity of jumping straight into this Saints Row preview and feeling right back at home. Gunplay hasn’t changed all that much apart from that they feel a lot better to use and aren’t as clunky, and vehicles feel the same as always, apart from now if you go off road they’ll actually be harder to navigate. Hell, even the character creator left me with a feeling of ease because, as ever, the Saints Row team’s ability to let you design a character that looks and feels like you is second to none. Cyberpunk 2077 wishes it could have a character creator this good.

However, there has been some necessary improvements with combat. For one thing, there are better takedowns now, where an enemy will be highlighted in purple/white to signify that you can take them down with one blow. Another combat change is the variety of different enemies you can meet, and not just because there’s different gangs – each gang has different types of enemies. The Idols has one enemy that uses some sort of yo-yo or wire that spins so fast that it can deflect gun-fire, forcing you to get around them in order to put them down. Other enemies have armour you need to break down before killing, and sometimes you’ll simply have no choice but to hide from a thug with a minigun until the bullets run out before firing back.

Car combat has also been revamped and is now drastically different from previous Saint Row games. While you can indeed still shoot from your window while another character drives, this time around you’re able to get on top of the roof of your car and pop off at your enemies. This gives you more room to both aim and fight back, while also adding more danger to your character, rather than your vehicle. It is incredibly easy to die, even on lower difficulties, because of this very change.

Saints Row preview
Santo Ileso is already my favourite new city

But the biggest difference in this new Saints Row is just how beautiful everything looks. The previous games have received a number of remasters – some popular, some far from it – but none have looked quite as good as this upcoming one. Santo Ileso is a gorgeous city, with districts and people that each has their own unique look and culture, stark reminders to the player on just where they’re located without having to even pull up their mini-map.

Environments and weather are fine compliments to what Santo Ileso has on offer too, particularly the red sandstormthat occurs during one of the earlier missions. It adds a real frantic energy to combat, especially through the lack of vision and I sincerely hope these environmental changes occur without it being a scripted event.

Overall, there’s a lot I’m loving about this new Saints Row. I just hope that it can stick the landing when it releases this August. With what I’ve seen so far though? I’m very much looking forward to playing it at launch.

Saints Row will be available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/ S, Google Stadia, and PC when it releases on August 22, 2022.

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