It wasn’t too long ago that I was invited along to a hands-off preview of the new Saints Row reboot and it’s safe to say I left the presentation buzzing with excitement for what the new take on the familiar franchise has in store.
More recently I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the game. We were hosted in a trendy Greenwich venue, and invited to peek behind the curtain to take this brand new entry in the series for a test drive.
During the session I got well over three hours of play in, and there was plenty to see and do. There were a handful of campaign missions to play through, which acted as a gradual introduction to the game. Saints Row starts off by telling the story of four friends who are struggling to make rent. They are a bunch of petty criminals working for other, bigger fish within Santo Ileso. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to decide they want to work for themselves, and go about forming their own criminal gang, The Saints. Whilst setting up they manage to “acquire” an impressively sized run down church as their base of operations.
Before all this however, you get to experience some of their smaller exploits in action. Your character is “The Boss”, and eventual leader of the The Saints. Robbing a small business, acting as hired security, dragging a shipping container down the highway and fighting off constant attacks from rival factions is the order of the day in Saints Row.
The action ranges from fairly tame, to downright ridiculous. One mission throws you into a shootout and has you caught in the crossfire between enemy gangs The Idols and Los Panteros. On the flip side, another has you riding shotgun before mounting the roof of your vehicle to take out the bad guys, and then leapfrogging from car to car. At times Saints Row is ludicrous but this is one of the elements that makes it so much fun.
There’s a mix of melee and shooting options when facing off against enemies, depending on how you wish to approach the situation. You can also pull off a finisher move when your dial charges up which are often pretty cool, but unnecessarily brutal ways of dispatching the bad guys. Occasionally it felt like the sights were a little off, at times I would be certain of scoring a headshot but my bullet would sail past the target instead. All in all it worked pretty well with specific damage effects according to body parts amusing me somewhat.
One of my early concerns was if the story would be bold enough to make Saints Row stand out from the crowd. What helps is the chemistry between the four main characters who form The Saints. Each is interesting in their own right, however things are much more interesting when they are acting as a unit. The language may be blue but their bond is believable and feels genuine, beckoning you in to go on their adventure with them. The opening few hours get off to a rip roaring start, so here’s hoping the momentum is kept going throughout the twenty-five mission campaign. Of course, in Saints Row there’s more going on besides just that.
Things really start to open up as you set up your base and roll out the war table. This shows you an overview of the city alongside your innocent looking business fronts, which hide your criminal activities. The cool part comes as you take over districts because new ways to play, such as “Mayhem”, are unlocked at the same time.
The map of Santo Ileso looks rather sparse at first, but begins to populate with all sorts of asides as you get to work. There are various mishaps to get up to, such as “Choplifting” where you set out to obtain certain targets with a giant magnet attached to a helicopter. You can also peruse the wanted list and turn your hand to bounty hunting, as well as hunt around for treasure in trash cans and drug shipments dotted about the city. Even the fan favourite “Insurance Fraud” side hustle makes a welcome return.
However, if you just fancy messing about then zipping around in your wingsuit is great fun. Getting started is easy – either find a flagpole to launch off or scale a tall building and throw yourself over the edge. Then open up your wingsuit to see Santo Ileso from a bird’s eye view, and either glide to the ground safely or land on a moving car and hitch a ride. It’s the best way to get around.
If it all gets a little overwhelming, your handy mobile phone holds all the info you need. Here you can do all sorts including equip new skills, activate missions, customise your character at any point or even take a few snaps of the local landmarks. It really is up to you in how you spend your time in Saints Row.
Having creative control is a central feature of the game, and straight off the bat there are a fair few options to play around with. The character customization tool is comprehensive, and you can always drop by local shops to purchase some new threads. This personalisation also extends to your weapons and vehicles, meaning you can tear up the mean streets of Santo Ileso in your own unique style.
Of course, if you would rather experience Saints Row with a friend, then two player drop-in, drop-out co-op is available across the whole campaign. Trust me, things are even more enjoyable when having a partner in crime to cause some carnage with.
My only real issue I found when playing Saints Row is that it lacks that “next-gen” impact. It looks like a game that could easily run on the Xbox One, which is a real shame because it isn’t making the most of the pretty large and varied world that has been built here.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with Saints Row. I can’t wait to discover more and get to know The Saints better as they look to build their criminal empire. If the pace and tone can be maintained then this could well be a must have game this summer.
Huge thanks go out to Deep Silver Volition for giving us the chance to create some carnage with Saints Row.
Saints Row will launch August 23rd on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC. The Xbox Store will let you get it pre-ordered if you fancy dropping the cash upfront. Keep an eye out for our review nearer the time.