When GTA was too edgy or realistic, Saints Row stimulated my creativity, enabling me to do wacky stuff like surf on top of a vehicle while my friend tried to outrun the cops — and then accidentally yeeted me across the map. It was one of the first few games that had a cooperative experience attached to the single-player campaign, which is why I'm hyped as hell for the new Saints Row (2022). And guess who got sent to Las Vegas, Nevada just to play it? This shmucking guy!
I got to spend four or so hours alone with the new Saints Row, and I fully completed every main mission that was available to me. I walked away both excited and just slightly disappointed. From what I’ve seen so far, it tries to keep up with the modern era of gaming, but for better or worse, it still feels like Saints Row.
When Saints Row kicked off its original story, you were just a nobody joining a gang to kill people and make some money because you were a straight up menace. If you take a look at the most recent Saints Row games, you’re fighting aliens in space with superpowers. Needless to say, the escalation is real, so it only made sense for Volition to dial it back for a more grounded reboot.
Now, there’s nothing really grounded about laying on top of a car going 69 miles per hour and shooting an assault rifle at cops that’ll forget about you in five minutes, but there’s no aliens. And the narrative is surprisingly sensible.
Saints Row kicks off with four protagonists, including the playable character, working for different gangs in the fictional city of Santo Ileso. They join up for the same reason that anyone else would: money. These characters just need to pay their bills. Our character starts out working for Marshall Defense Industries. Meet the roommates: Neenah (mechanic and driver — Los Panteros), Kevin (DJ and heist executioner — Idols), and Eli (planner — business entrepreneur with an MBA).
By the time they leave their respective groups and team up to make their own gang, they do it purely out of a necessity to survive. I didn’t expect to love the characters as much as I did, but they’re great, especially because they’re so wholesome in a gangster kind of way.
When I asked creative director Brian Traficante about the process of escalation concerning this particular Saints Row, he said, “We are at the starting line. We haven't crossed it. Putting the choices we made to get this story [and] these characters into position is really allowing us to now go, and that is a big piece of how we escalate. I think the Saints Row IP deserves to be more chapters than just this one story. There are so many places we can go in this franchise and Volition is ready to do it.”
The customization experience
One of the biggest features in the previous Saints Row games was customizing your Saint and making the Saints gang your own. Volition cranked that up a notch, giving you more freedom than ever to change up your character whenever and wherever you want.
Unfortunately, I couldn't spend that much time customizing my character because I was more focused with getting through the main missions. However, I wasn't a big fan of the preset faces or the voices available. The ones that were there were okay, but the game was missing some different cultural touches. It also would be super helpful and cool if the voices were actually labeled with the voice actor's names and accent. I accidentally picked an american western accent because the preview of the voice wasn't very accurate.
I didn't get to mess with the guns or cars much, either, but I'm hoping to spend more time with them when the game launches.
When I asked creative director Brian Traficante about the feature he’s most proud of, he said, “The customization. That feeds into a project pillar of letting the player express themselves, and being able to come back at customization and have features from the past, some new components in there, and a collection of the amount of content we're able to give the player to choose from — weapons, vehicles, collectibles — that they can place at the HQ or on their avatar themselves. We're really excited about the feedback from the Boss Factory. It’s been positive and we're going to continue to feed in updates long after release for more inclusive and diverse options for players.”
A little too Saints Row
This iteration of Saints Row channels the chaotic energy of the previous games pretty well. It's just as fun, if not more so, to play. But there are some remnants from the previous games that I wish could just go away and never be seen again.
First, there's the gunplay. It’s just as wonky as the previous Saints games. There's something about the camera movement, accuracy, and the hitboxes that don't feel good. There are certain points where I was firing an assault rifle at a crowd of enemies and I barely hit a single one of them. I even had an issue where I would fire a shot after I stopped firing, like the game kept track of how many inputs I made, which is great for fighting games, but not for shooters.
Then there’s the driving, which is surprisingly fun, especially the drifting — it feels so damn smooth in this game. However, some of the heavier vehicles are super clunky and not enjoyable to drive, primarily the car that the game provides to your character at the start. I wish the heavier cars felt weightier, but not as slow.
Walking or running around doesn’t really have any weight to it either, but that is sort of the Saints Row aesthetic. However, I wish that the character didn’t feel floaty, but rather more substantial to accompany the slightly more grounded theme.
What’s multiplayer going to look like?
Saints Row will feature two-player co-op, similar to the other games in the franchise. There were some co-op test beds, but unfortunately, I couldn't grab one. However, I am super excited for potential co-op chaos, and there might be more on the way if the hopes and dreams of Traficante are realized.
When I asked creative director Brian Traficante about what direction he would love to see Saints Row go in if time and budget wasn’t a factor, he said “Online. I think Saints is an IP that more people should be sharing together. The stage is now in two player co-op, but I think that state should be significantly larger.”
Saints Row PC performance
The test build I played was on PC. I don’t know any of the specs or frame rate numbers, but I did experience a couple of bugs during my playthrough. However, I am sure that they will be ironed out in time for the Saints Row launch.
One of the biggest bugs happened during the Insurance Fraud mission where all the cars suddenly disappeared. Spoiler alert: you need the cars to hit you in order to rack up hospital bills. The developers had to restart the game for me in order to fix it.
Some of the executions had me clipping through a variety of objects. There was also a lot of pop-in and pop-out, especially with pedestrians and cars in the road. And as I mentioned earlier, the hitboxes were a little funky.
Hopefully, most of these issues are fixed before launch.
Saints Row PC requirements
Before you decide to hop your way onto PC to play Saints Row, keep in mind the requirements.
To get 1080p at 30 frames per second, you’ll need to pack an Intel Core i3-3240 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200 CPU, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX 480 GPU with a minimum of 4GB of VRAM, and 50GB of available space.
Even with one of the best cheap gaming laptops, you can run this title without issue. For better or worse, it’s not too graphically demanding.
I enjoyed the time I had with the new Saints Row, and I’m excited to play it when it launches. I hope that some of the gunplay issues I had were just because of the test build and not an actual representation of the launch game. Apart from that, everything else would require further testing to see how well it works in a larger game.
Co-op will add a whole new layer of fun that I couldn't access just yet, and that’ll make this game infinitely more enjoyable. Stay tuned for our full review of Saints Row when it launches on Aug. 23, 2022.