There's a lot about Saints Row that has changed over the past 15 years. It started out life as a GTA clone and over the span of several sequels, it crafted its own identity as a sharper take on the genre that stood out by taking itself less seriously than Rockstar's signature franchise. Then things started to go off the rails with the introduction of superpowers, space aliens, and Satan to the point that Volition felt the time had come to start over. That's starting to look more and more like it was the right choice, because after seeing a few of the new Saints Row missions in action, I felt like Volition had turned back the clock in a good way.
Before the addition of flight and superpowers, there was one primary way to get around in Saints Row. Getting across town meant hijacking a car, one that would ideally find a home in your garage. This series reboot is all about getting a reliable set of wheels, especially one that can act as a solid getaway vehicle.
One of the missions on display involved the Saints robbing a payday loan establishment. Even outlaws need to pay the bills, so the Saints have resorted to emptying out a safe and running off with wads of cash. Naturally, this gets the attention of law enforcement, which is where this starts to feel like a vintage Volition effort. The bulk of the mission is centered around a getaway chase, where players have to elude (and sometimes wreck) police officers who are hot on their heels. There are a few ways to escape. One is to flat-out outrun the cops, which isn't as easy as it sounds, since the police are fully capable keeping pace. The other is through sideswiping, which is a new combat mechanic for the series. Slow down slightly to allow police to get to the side and then bash right into them to either run them off the trail or blow their car to bits. Winning a chase looks like it'll take patience, but will ultimately prove worthwhile to get to the end of the mission without incident.
Of course, nothing's ever easy for the Saints. After dealing with the police, it's time to pick up the loot in a different car. Unfortunately, the car has been picked for scraps by a competing gang called Los Panteros. This leads to another key component of the Saints Row series and that's combating rival gangs. Players can approach these encounters the old school way by taking cover and finding an opening to take a shot with a variety of weaponry, but Volition also provides a few new ways to approach these battles. After weakening enemies, players can now deliver finishing blows to make sure rivals stay down. Players can also use new combat maneuvers to take out multiple enemies at once. The hands-off presentation exhibited to the press was particularly fond of a new move dubbed the "Pineapple Express," which sees an active grenade get attached to an enemy before they're tossed into a crowd to take out more than one target.
One thing to note is that the new Saints Row setting of Santo Ileso opens up some interesting new possibilities. With much of the game unfolding in a desert landscape, Volition has taken the opportunity to introduce off-road vehciles. After the gang fight, the team showed off a second police chase, this time with the player riding off on an off-road motorcycle. It's a minor addition, but one that injects classic Saints Row flavor into an entirely new world.
The standard missions feel like vintage Saints Row, but that's not all that feels like classic Volition. There are numerous side hustles available throughout the city portion of Santo Ileso, like Riding Shotgun. This side activityu tasks the player with safely escorting a driver to their getaway destination by shooting at incoming cops, either through the passenger's side window or by surfing the car. There are also random finds across town, like an unattended armored vehicle filled with cash that's just begging to get blown open with explosives.
Naturally, Volition is adding some new wrinkles to the Saints Row formula. Beyond riding new off-road vehicles, expect to take to the skies with air vehicles, like helicopters. Plus, as noted during the Saints Row Ultimate Customziation Showcase, players can get around with new tools, like ejector seats and wingsuits.
While there are some major additions to Saints Row, my impression after the half-hour showcase to the press is mainly that Volition wants to stick to the classic formula: a solid mission structure, rival gangs, customization up the wazoo, and a lot of vehicle-based fun. Whether it all leads to an experience on par with the original series remains to be seen. Saints Row is scheduled to release on August 23 on PC (via the Epic Games Store), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
This preview is based on an offline demonstration from the publisher presented to the gaming press.
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