We've played five hours of the Saints Row reboot and here are our early impressions.
Welcome to Santo Ileso: your new open world playground. The only problem is that there are plenty of domineering gangs standing in your way that even the police have basically no jurisdiction over; the party-savvy Idols, the beefy petrol heads, Los Patrones, and the ruthless Marshalls rule the south-western town with an iron fist. So you'll need help from your new friends; chauffeur Neenah, sluggish DJ Kevin, and nerdy academic Eli. They'll help you build your new criminal empire under the name, The Saints, where you (a former Marshall's operative who's just been fired and is looking for new opportunities) will take on the role of The Boss. How, you may ask? By blowing up and shooting your way to success, of course!
Saints Row has taken several strange directions since its inception, and now Volition has set out to completely reboot the Saints Row saga, introducing us to a brand new origin story and new gang members. Anyone who's been following the marketing for the new Saints Row is probably familiar with the disappointment that fans have expressed over the characters, and I'm probably willing to agree - so far. The new millennial faces feel lifted from Fortnite in terms of design and don't quite measure up to the hard-boiled gangsters of their predecessors. This is Volition's attempt to appeal to newer audiences and after spending a couple of hours with the latest crew, I can say that they're not as engaging as the street soldiers you got to know at the start of the franchise.
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At the same time, the whole thing is distinctly satirical, with the spirit of entrepreneurship permeating the game's gang culture through explosive means and the only way to start your own business is to take out the competition - preferably with rockets and rifles. In the reboot, Volition has distanced itself from the madness of recent instalments such as the UFO and the presidency, but there are still plenty of ramped-up action sequences for those who liked that tone and it's well reflected in the gameplay itself. Indeed, it's noticeable that the developers have taken a cue from the macho action of Hobbs & Shaw, and Saints Row now has more in common with Fast & Furious or Kingsman than with its suburban roots in the first two games.
The vehicle physics, for example, are wild and fluttery and not always realistic, but given the game's quirky tone, it rather suits the game's frantic attitude. The shooting is somewhat tame, but flows well with the smooth game controls. The pacing and quick transitions are reminiscent of Just Cause 3 in their chaotic setup, where you can quickly switch between traditional shooting to gliding through the air in a wingsuit and the next moment hijacking a helicopter. The prologue takes some time to play through, but after a few hours Saints Row starts to pick up steam and the open-world gameplay blossoms with plenty of missions. I've completed a few side missions and if you've played open world titles before it won't be anything ground-breaking, but at least there's plenty to do for those looking to spread their destructive influence and live up to The Saints' reputation. The game feels somewhat controlled at first for story reasons, but pretty soon the player is encouraged to explore the city however they like.
Like previous games, you can create your own Boss and the reboot has really expanded the character creation mode. Here you can choose everything from what texture you want on your skin to what voice you want to hear from your gangster. I myself played as a golden Oscar statue with prosthetics and a hillbilly dialect during my five-hour journey, but should you want to change anything about your character, it can be adjusted at any time through the in-game menu. Tired of sounding like a redneck? Now your Boss can be a sarcastic Brit instead, just a click away! The same goes for the cosmetic choices for your vehicles and weapons, where you unlock more options the further into the game you get and the more experience points you earn. You can decorate your headquarters here too, but I wouldn't count on including any stripper poles...
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I can't go into deeper story details, but much of the game will revolve around recruiting more members and making sure you protect your territory from the other invading gangs. This is probably something that fans of the first games will appreciate, even if the new characters don't convince at first. I do find the shooting a little repetitive and the game world feels somewhat lifeless, but then I've mostly only scratched the surface at the start of the game and it's clear that you can unlock more ways to fight. In conclusion, Saints Row is a sort of compromise between the game's more down-to-earth approach and the twisted humour of later instalments. It probably won't appeal to fans who want something along the lines of the first two Saints Row games, but it should appeal to newer audiences who want some honest and wacky open world action.