We’ve heard a lot about Saints Row since the reboot was first announced, and after all the talk, it was time for action, as we finally got our hands on the game ahead of its launch next month thanks to our pals at Koch Media. We’ve already had the opportunity to muck around with the character creator in Boss Factory, but considering this really is a story about the formation of a new gang of Saints, we were excited to be given the chance to check out the opening few hours of the experience and dabble with some co-op.
The story kicks off with a group of friends, struggling with finances, student debt and other millennial problems. Your character starts off by getting a job with The Marshalls, the over-the-top military unit and one of the core factions in the adventure, and that’s where the training portion kicks off to teach you the ropes. The opening segments don’t do a lot to differentiate Saints Row from other chaotic third person shooters, but it does a good job of helping you learn the basics and learn a bit about the cringeworthy Marshalls overall.
It’s when you reconnect with your friends that things get interesting. After some key story events urge you to strike out on your own, that’s when things kick into gear and you start to form your own new version of the Saints, including the various side hustles. Saints Row as a franchise is known for its very specific brand of silly, and the opening sections don’t necessarily kick off how you’d expect. In order to establish that you and your friends are down on your luck, the struggles feel real, although it’s clear that when things get up and running this will change quickly.
Even a mission that takes place with the Marshalls during the opening hours takes things out of reality and straight into chaos; what starts as a grounded-ish experience dials up the action madness by inserting action movie chaos like leaping from car to car in a convoy while a dust storm rages on, explosions all around you, turrets and bullets flying, with some hilarious enemy deaths and cheesy one-liners to boot. Things don’t feel as “goofy’ and irreverent as previous Saints Row games, but they definitely don’t feel realistic, either.
“…police seem largely uninterested in pursuing you when you break the law, which means you don’t have to worry too much about stopping the fun stuff…”
Climbing out of the window of a moving vehicle, laying on the roof and then pressing a button to fly up into the air and activate a wingsuit, before bouncing off of pedestrians (or landing on another car) is the kind of goofy fun that I was expecting, so it’s clear that there is plenty of opportunity for over-the-top antics as the world begins to open up. The team at Volition have added some smart shortcuts as well, so that you auto-aim and shoot at an explosive item like a barrel with the press of a button. Action remains fast and furious at all times and you can take a fair bit of damage before going down, while police seem largely uninterested in pursuing you when you break the law, which means you don’t have to worry too much about stopping the fun stuff to deal with an annoying pursuit.
Beyond the main missions that, so far, felt fun but didn’t exactly take the genre to new places, Side Hustles began to open up as I played. One has you giving businesses bad ratings on a fake app, which causes a gang affiliated with the business to descend upon you trying to kill you. The less stars you give, the more hectic things get. Giving ratings to restaurants isn’t the only thing your phone is used for, of course, as it includes everything in your pocket, including mission list, map, and other useful apps like the ability to call your friends for help if you’re in a pinch. As I progressed, the map kept adding more and more activities. While fairly limited in the opening hours, there’s a lot of potential for exploration – I didn’t get the chance to check out the Criminal Ventures yet or really check out my HQ, so I know there’s more entertainment to come just around the corner.
As usual, everything is better with a friend, and experiencing Saints Row in co-op made everything much more enjoyable, much more quickly. The game boasts full cooperative play for main missions and side stuff, and it’s completely untethered, so you can do what you want without being forced to warp back to your buddy. We took on a few Side Hustles which were far more chaotic with two of us by far, and even just taking on other random distractions, hitting each other with cars or testing our wingsuits was a riot. It’s here where I can envision spending countless hours with a pal, blasting through gangs and laughing all the way.
I had a blast playing Saints Row. It’s fun, it’s dumb, it’s full of action and it has some wonderful potential, especially when playing with a friend. But after a few hours, I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t offering me anything particularly new or innovative. I’m hoping that as things open up and you get more abilities, more weapons, more activities and your reputation grows, that there will be a turning point where everything clicks and falls into place. Perhaps Saints Row isn’t trying to say or do anything especially different, focused purely on being accessible, diverse and amusing first, without pushing into any crazy new territory.
In an established franchise like Saints Row that hasn’t had a new entry for a decade, that might very well be enough. In that case, fans of open world action shooters with a sense of humour definitely have something to look forward to. I just hope it manages to stick the landing.
Saints Row is launching for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC on August 23rd.