HANDS-OFF PREVIEW: Saints Row Aims to Strike a Balance

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Saints Row - But Why Tho

By the last installment, Saints Row became absurdity to the max and that’s one of the reasons it’s been one of my favorite open-world franchises to play. That said, it looks like the reboot of the game series Saints Row has made efforts to turn down that dial on the weird. That fact has left me wondering what exactly we can expect from the game. Will it be older players’ cup of tea? Will it welcome new audiences? Will it thread the needle of balancing expectations from both audiences? After a hands-off preview, I think the answer to that last question is yes.

At Deep Silver Volition’s hands-off preview, we got the chance to see a 45-minute demo of the game and for the most part, the weirdness of the game series is there, albeit not the same levels we saw by the franchise’s end. That said this younger crew offers up some campy flare, and character designs from tattoos to outfits definitely embrace eccentricity. Loud punchlines have been replaced with more of a rolling humor, aiming to really embrace the way you talk with friends over just jamming every pun you can think into a scene.

Instead, there seems to be a focus on creating a crew that feels like it belongs together and pushes realness through their interactions with each other, overriding a lot of the weirdness we see when you’re on your own playing through 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 though, I’m happy to say that the weird is still alive and well in Saints Row. Both traversal and combat mechanics maintain a flare for violence, destruction, and just doing what you want to do. While the adult toy-themed weapons have been removed for obvious reasons, as someone who loves the franchise, the gore and creative violence still available in the game make things work.

Speaking on this topic, Lead Writer Jeremy Bernstein said, “To me, what keeps something grounded is the emotional reality of it. It doesn’t matter how absurd a thing is if it has an emotional truth underneath it.” Bernstein added, “Absurdism for the sake of absurdism is where it feels fluffy and feels where it doesn’t mean anything. We worked hard to avoid that. There’s a groundedness to it even to the most absurd things you do in the game.”

That said, I’m not sure there is much emotion baked into the moments that we saw. Ultimately, the choice to make a grounded story when players are used to just causing rampant chaos may be one that doesn’t land as well as Volition may be hoping. But that can’t be judged now, that’s going to be put to test when we can play through the game itself. However, right now, it’s feeling more like Far Cry than what we know with Saints Row – especially with the way the game’s open-world has been presented thus far.

That said, I have hope for the absurdity of Saints Row to at least stick around in some other elements of the game. Character creation for one, and as I already mention traversal and combat for another. While we’ve already gotten to dive into character creator and see that the absurd wardrobes remain still, getting to see a playing in a wingsuit glide through a large open world while fully decked out by a cowboy complete with fringes and chaps still brings the spirit of the game series to life. I mean, an ejection seat that let’s you glide through the city as a cowboy seems to hit the weird and fun factor pretty well.

While Bernstein talked about an “emotional reality” the fun of Saints Row is doing anything and everything you want. And while that element still has yet to be shown —exactly how far you can push the game I mean— we do know that combat will retain the chaos. With firey Falcon Punches, Finger Guns, and the Thrustbuster that propels enemies around at a high velocity, there is a lot of fun to be had. Not to mention that porta-potty boss fight I mentioned earlier which well, you drive around with a porta-potty attached to your car, and yes, it’s just as funny as it intends to be.

When is all and said and done, it’s clear that Saints Row is aiming to tap into nostalgia while also redefining what the series can and will be. Ditching the complete unhinged level of chaos the third game and aiming to be closer to the first, I’m hoping that Volition has found a sweet spot. It’s clear that chaos without the cringe seems to be aim. That said, much of what players think about the IP is driven by how off the rails it went in its last installments. I mean, that’s what separates it from GTA right?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for Saints Row, even if the Spanish usage in the games leaves a lot to be desired. But if there is anything I can take away from the preview is that most of the fun to be had is going to be roaming through the open world, customizing my cars, my weapons, and trying to interact with absolutely every chaotically unhinged detail I can. While the story may be pushing you towards being grounded there is still a lot of the weird and wild heart of the IP alive here. Sure, there is a lot stripped down, but in a way, it feels like Volition has maintained the core of the franchise, and that’s what matters.  I mean, I can make a candy-corn-teethed demon character in the customization screen, and isn’t that what we’re all here for?

Saints Row is currently scheduled to release August 23, 2022 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC.

%d bloggers like this: