By the last episode, Saints Row got absurd to the max and that’s one of the reasons it’s one of my favorite open-world franchises. That said, it looks like the reboot of the game series Saints Row made efforts to lower this dial on the weird. This fact made me wonder exactly what we can expect from the game. Will it be the cup of tea for older players? Will it welcome new audiences? Will it be threaded to balance the expectations of both audiences? After a hands-on look, I think the answer to that last question is yes.
During the Deep Silver Volition hands-on preview we were lucky enough to see a 45 minute demo of the game and for the most part the weirdness of the game series is there, just not the same levels we saw. at the end of the franchise. That said, this young crew offers a campy edge, and the character designs, from tattoos to outfits, definitely embrace eccentricity. Loud punchlines have been replaced with more rolling humor, aiming to really embrace the way you talk with friends rather than blocking out all the puns you can think of in a scene.
Instead, the focus seems to be on creating a crew that feels like they belong in a group and pushes reality through their interactions with each other, negating much of the fun. strangeness we see when playing alone in a vast open world. In fact, your three compatriots are really great to hear interacting with each other.
With the crew being the most grounded part of the demo, I’m happy to say that the weird is still alive and well in Saints Row. Traversal and combat mechanics keep a surge of violence, destruction and do what you want to do. While the Dildo Bat was retired for obvious reasons, as someone who loves the franchise, the bloody and creative violence still available in the game makes things work.
Speaking on the subject, editor Jeremy Bernstein said: “For me, what keeps something ingrained is its emotional reality. It doesn’t matter how absurd something is if it has an emotional truth underneath. Bernstein added, “Absurdism for absurdism’s sake is where it feels fluffy and it doesn’t mean anything. We have worked hard to avoid this. There’s a rooting in even the most absurd things you do in the game.”
That said, I’m not sure there was much emotion in the moments we saw. Ultimately, the choice to create a grounded story when players are used to just causing creeping mayhem may not land as well as Volition hopes. But it can’t be judged now, it’s going to be tested when we can play the game itself. However, right now it’s more like Far cry than we know with Saints Row – especially with how the game’s open world has been presented so far.
That said, I’m hopeful for the absurdity of Saints Row to at least stick to some other elements of the game. Character creation for one, and as I mentioned before traversal and combat for another. Although we’ve already delved into the character creator and seen the absurd wardrobes stand still, seeing a game in a wingsuit glide through a large open world while being fully decked out by a cowboy with fringes and bangs. Leggings still brings the spirit of the game series to life. I mean, an ejection seat that lets you glide through town like a cowboy seems to hit the weird and fun factor pretty well.
While Bernstein spoke of an “emotional reality,” the fun of Saints Row is all about doing whatever you want. And while that element has yet to be shown – exactly how far you can push the game, I mean – we know the combat will retain chaos. With Firey Falcon Punches, Finger Guns, and the Thrustbuster blasting enemies at high speed, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Not to mention that porta-potty boss fight I mentioned earlier, well, you’re driving around with a porta-potty strapped to your car, and yes, it’s as fun as it gets.
When all is said and done, it’s clear that Saints Row aims to tap into nostalgia while redefining what the series can and will be. Abandoning the complete and unbalanced level of chaos of the third game and aiming to move closer to the first, hopefully Volition has found a happy medium. It’s clear that chaos without cringe seems to be a goal. That said, much of what players think of the IP is driven by how it went off the rails in its recent installments. I mean, that’s what separates it from GTA, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for Saints Row, although the use of Spanish in the games leaves a lot to be desired. But if there’s anything I can take away from the preview, it’s that most of the fun is going to be roaming the open world, customizing my cars, weapons, and trying to interact with absolutely every unbalanced detail I can. While the story might push you to be grounded, there’s still plenty of weird and wild heart of IP living here. Sure, there’s a lot of stripped down stuff, but somehow it feels like Volition has held on to the core of the franchise, and that’s what matters. I mean, I can create a candy-tooth demon character in the customization screen, and isn’t that what we’re all here for?
Saints Row is currently scheduled for release on August 23, 2022 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S and PC.
Kate is co-founder, EIC and CCO of BWT. She’s also a certified Rotten Tomatoes reviewer, host and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Was it necessary?. She also handles all PR dealings for comics, manga, movies, TV, and anime. She holds a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and religious studies focusing on the impact of pop culture on society.