Saints Row Reboot Hands-Off Preview: Self-Made Anarchy

The Saints Row reboot may be going for a slightly more serious narrative tone, but it's still full of madcap anarchy.

Self-made. It’s a phrase you hear a lot when it comes to the upcoming Saints Row reboot from Volition and Deep Silver. Central to the game’s design philosophy, it appears big and bold in trailers and showcases to hammer home a central idea: this is a game that lets you be whoever you want and play however you want. It’s been a throughline for the series that’s being taken to the next level. 

Ultimately, self-made boils down to having choice. And there’s a panoply of customization options for nearly everything in Saints Row – and a million and one ways to play.

I was recently able to see roughly 40 minutes of Saints Row in action during a hands-off preview – and it looks fun. Even if its narrative is a bit more down to earth than Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, there’s still a lot of absurdity here, keeping alive what’s made the franchise so popular – and set apart from GTA – all of these years. 

We already know the breadth of the Saints Row customization system is kind of bonkers. You’ll be able to change literally everything about your Boss from head to toe, but one of the best parts is that you can do so on the fly.

Instead of having to visit your HQ or a shop (though you can still do that if you’d like, and you’ll need to go to the latter to actually buy things), you can use an in-game phone app to tweak anything you want about your Boss – including gender, skin tone, skin type, and hairstyle – and have it reflected in real-time. Volition showed this off with a complete rework of a character as they were walking down a sidewalk.

As for weapons and vehicles, those will be highly customizable, too. That’s something we already knew was possible, as well, but the scope of immediately available options shown in the preview was nigh on staggering, even when compared to the customization trailer released in April. There are dozens if not hundreds of unique combinations for every weapon and the game’s 80 vehicles. And yes: you can customize the tank and attack helicopter to your heart’s content. 

The one thing that feels left behind in this cornucopia of customization is the Saints HQ. It’s still not clear if your Homebase can be tailor-made to the same extent. Erecting collectible statues in very specific spots around the church compound seems to be all there is to it, though perhaps there are more granular options being saved for a later reveal. Maybe. Hopefully. 

Outside of perfecting your look and getting your HQ set up just right, there’s a lot to do in Saints Row. Santo Ileso appears to be a sandbox worth playing in for both long-time fans and those who may be discovering the series for the first time.

There are a variety of locales in which to play, ranging from deserts and canyons to bustling city streets, industrial zones, and quite a bit in between. There will be 25 primary missions and a cavalcade of side missions, random events – like busting open armored vehicles for cash – Mayhem events, and 14 business ventures that see you taking over city districts through various not-so-ethical means like committing insurance fraud, trafficking arms, or selling drugs. 

The first mission of the demo followed the Saints early in the game as they raided a loan shop outside of the city. After a short cinematic, what followed was a frantic driving segment with the police in hot pursuit (as they always are in these types of games).

As the Saints zipped through the streets of a desert suburb at high speed, the goal was to lose the cops by any means possible, which mostly meant using the new sideswiping (pit maneuver) ability to make cars slam into each other and the environment to go boom. It was fairly generic GTA-style, car-chase-car stuff, but it wasn’t any less captivating. 

A later mission saw the Saints use an attack helicopter to rain bullets and rockets onto the unsuspecting Los Panteros gang holding a barbecue outside of a factory-turned-hideout. The objective? Seek revenge on the ne’er-do-wells by infiltrating the compound and destroying a monster truck. Because sure, why not?

Fighting through the complex showed the ability to shoot cars off of their blocks and send them hurtling through gang members, as well as the more traditional guns – from sniper rifles to assault rifles to sledgehammers – that will be available. 

But don’t fret: there will be zany weapons, too. A third mission showed these off to full effect. There are literal foam finger guns. There’s the Thrustbuster, a football-esque weapon that attaches to enemies and vehicles, jetting them off into the stratosphere in a ball of light. There’s an infra-red weapon that can shoot straight through walls. And a pinata launcher that launches, well, explosive pinatas because of course it does. 

There are takedowns, too, finishers that see your Boss quite literally slap down enemies or Crane Kick them in the face. And of course, there are various skills and abilities, ranging from the mundane like dropping smoke screens to the more outlandish like Pineapple Express, which sees you drop a grenade down an enemy’s pants and hurl said enemy into anything else that needs exploding. 

And that’s the thing about the Saints Row reboot. There likely isn’t going to be anything revolutionary about it, and it might waver between a more serious narrative and absurd gameplay in a way I’m not 100% sure it can pull off. But hell if it doesn’t channel that classic Saints Row cartoonishness and make it look like being self-made is going to be a ton of fun. 

The Saints Row reboot launches for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC platforms on August 23 and features full drop-in-drop-out co-op, so we’ll have to wait until then to find out how it all comes together.

Editor in Chief

Published May. 20th 2022

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