Since the release of Gat Out of Hell in 2015, no other game has quite been able to capture the particular brand of chaos that the Saints Row series brings. It toes the line between offensive and hilarious (and somehow manages to land more squarely on the side of hilarious), and it brings a particular kind of absolutely bombastic yet totally absurd action that seems impossible to truly replicate. After the heady heights of Saints Row IV, it was hard to see how the series could continue to build, but the soon-to-be-released refresh of the series that’s once again simply titled Saints Row shows in order to build up we need to start from the basics. So, with a new birth of the series comes a new birth of the Saints, and if the roughly four hours of gameplay we recently got to experience is anything to go by, it’s going to be one hell of a ride to get back to the top.
For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Saints Row is like Grand Theft Auto if it was somehow more crude (probably), but also more inclusive, more chaotic, and (in my opinion), a whole lot more fun. The last few entries in the series have introduced superpowers, aliens, and musical hell-demons, and while I didn’t see any of those in the brief time I had in this latest entry, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Saints Row – so who knows what the rest of the game will hold. But what I did see was a whole lot of drama, a whole lot of intrigue, and, really, a whole lot of violence – and all of it made me want to see more of this new boss’s story.
Without giving too much away, after one hell of an intriguing opening, your boss is introduced as being down on their luck, living with their three housemates and a cat (special shout out to Snickerdoodle, already my favourite character) and just trying to get by. To make ends meet, despite their best attempts to go legit, you’ve all been indulging in some criminal enterprises on the side – mostly gang-affiliated. You, the boss, have somehow managed to survive the absolute trial-by-fire training regime for a military-style group called the Marshalls, who are truly paying you very little for the amount that you almost die for them. Your friends/roommates have some leads for you too, all tied to the various gangs around town. Neenah, an incredible mechanic and getaway driver (and aspiring art historian), works for Los Panteros, your classic motorcycle gang. Perpetually shirtless Kevin is a DJ for “anarchist” gang The Idols, a group of mask-obsessed wildcards who shine brightly within neon lights but absolutely love to ruin things. Sweet, clever, self-improvement-podcast-loving Eli has big dreams and loose ideas of how he’s going to achieve them, and while he’s terrible with a gun, he’s always up for the crew’s latest adventure. After a few jobs together for rival gangs, the crew realises that these “adventures” are mostly just criminal activities, but that they are also really good at them – and that those talents are going to waste trying to impress other groups. And so, after some more general debauchery, misfortune, and bad/good (depending on how you look at it) luck, the Saints are reborn, with the new boss in charge.
This new boss feels somehow more relatable than the last one. Maybe it’s because they’re starting from the bottom and you get to join them on their journey to the top, or maybe it’s because they really are just kind of an underdog who fails upwards, but does it with an incredible knack for causing violence and chaos. Maybe it’s because one of the first parts of the game involves a mission that tasks you with trying to get out of bed while you’re ‘wallowing in your own failure’, and asks you to try to eat your feelings before showing that they can’t even do that right. But whatever it is, it definitely made me excited to see how their story plays out, and even though the intro to the game somehow simultaneously made me believe and doubt that they have what it takes to successfully lead a criminal enterprise, I’m rooting for them.
Along the way to reaching the peak of criminality, the boss and the team are tasked with some side missions to help earn some extra cash. The ones I was personally able to experience during the preview had the boss being tasked with leaving a bad Yelp review (and facing the very dire consequences of that “mistake” which happened to be a large-scale brawl), and helicoptering in to obtain a car to deliver to a not-at-all-shady man in a junkyard, which I had to carry in the sky over the town – a totally inconspicuous way to obtain and transport a vehicle. There are more side missions and ventures available that I wasn’t able to get to during my time with the game, but it’s clear that I’m going to be distracted from the main quest by a lot of side quests and things to explore here – and only partly because some of it can be done in a wingsuit that lets you glide across town.
But, as much fun as it is to play on your own – it honestly becomes a wild time when you play in co-op and take a buddy along for the ride. You can play as much of the game as you want in co-op, completing missions and side missions together, discovering secrets together, and absolutely getting in the way of completing objectives whether that is your intention or not. There is nothing quite like the joy of attempting to join forces on a helicopter mission, accidentally attaching to your partner’s helicopter, and accidentally carrying them across town instead. In no way is it logistically helpful to have two helicopters to attempt this mission, but the fun multiplies ten fold. You can also prank your co-op buds by completing objectives that allow you to charge up your prank, and then unleashing it on unsuspecting victims. In the race to see who could prank the other first, I lost to my co-op buddy, who promptly turned me into a cactus. I, a sentient cactus, then got into their car and happily cruised around town until I turned back into a human and was able to complete tasks again. It’s this kind of ridiculous touch that really makes Saints Row feel like Saints Row, and it wasn’t until I was experiencing it again that I realised just how much I missed it.
Of course, it’s important to mention the character creator, which remains what could easily be called the gold standard for games of this type for inclusivity as things currently stand. You can choose a body shape/proportions and a voice for your boss, and all customisation options are yours to play with. You can pick whatever hair/fashion/proportions you want and mix and match until you’re the most fabulous or the most ridiculous you can be – it’s up to you. If you want to play around with the character customisation – also known as the boss factory – you can do that now for free, whether you want to create your boss ready to jump in for the game’s release (you totally should), or you just want to see how cool the creator is (it’s very cool).
There’s so much to explore with this game, and even with almost four hours hands-on time, I clearly barely scratched the surface – but I do know that all I wanted to do was play more. The humour that I so sorely missed is back in force with this reboot of the series, and I can’t wait to experience more of the specific brand of unbridled joy and chaos that this game will surely bring. Buckle yourselves in, friends – it looks like we’re in for a wild ride.
Saints Row will be released on August 23rd on Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC on the EPIC games store. You can preorder the game now from their website.
Player 2 was kindly given access to a preview build of Saints Row on PC at an event held by Koch Media.