While the Gamescom reveal consisted of a CGI trailer, we were recently shown some actual footage of the game in action and the signs are promising, not least because developer Volition has consciously decided to take the series back to its roots and dial back on the escalating levels of silliness it was becoming notorious for.
After all, considering the last game had the player controlling the President of the United States as they saved Earth from an alien invasion, it was always going to be a little difficult to go even bigger and more over-the-top than that.
This new Saints Row, then, doesn’t have a number for a reason. This isn’t Saints Row V, it’s an attempt to stop, take a breather and completely reboot the series, starting all over again with a new set of protagonists and focusing again on building up a criminal empire from scratch.
That’s not to say the player still isn’t ‘The Boss’, of course – you still get to create your own character from scratch using what Volition claims is the most extensive character creation mode that’s ever been in a Saints Row game. It’s just that this time The Boss starts off in a far more modest role, rather than as the leader of the free world.
The game is set in Santo Ileso, a large fictional region set in southwest America. The player’s Boss character has three friends, each of whom is a member of one of the three main gangs who control the district.
Each pal has their own reasons for ending up in a gang. Neenah is a mechanic who also has a passion for art and studied art history at school. When she came to Santo Ileso to get a job at a museum and failed to do so, she ended up working as a mechanic for Los Panteros, the region’s grittiest gang.
Kevin, meanwhile, is a DJ who thrives on making other people happy. He grew up in foster care and has spent his life looking for somewhere to truly belong, so he joined the Idols gang in the hope that they would become a suitable ‘family’ for him.
Finally, Eli is an MBA graduate who came to Santo Ileso to become an entrepreneur, and joined Marshall Defense Industries in the meantime. Not technically a ‘gang’ in the literal sense of the word, but certainly one of the three factions with the most control over the region.
The thing is, none of these friends are particularly happy with their lot in life. That’s when the player character, the Boss, comes up with the idea of forming a new four-way partnership and starting a new business… one that happens to be a start-up criminal empire, but ssshhhhh.
The friends all agree to join, coming to the same realisation – why work for someone else when you can work for yourself? And so the Saints are formed.
The three gangs represent a return to the ‘triple threat’ formula Volition enjoyed success with in the first three Saints Row games, with Los Panteros, the Idols and Marshall Defense Industries each bringing their own distinct look and combat style to proceedings.
Los Panteros, for example, are the tough guys who have been natives to Santo Ileso for a long time and are proud of its history, to the extent that they’ve taken over a rundown, formerly thriving car manufacturing factory and turned it into their base. They specialise in melee attacks and blunt, heavy weapons.
“The friends all agree to join, coming to the same realisation – why work for someone else when you can work for yourself? And so the Saints are formed.”
The Idols, on the other hand, are the complete opposite – loud and brash, they’re driven by fame and run around in bright pink and blue suits and robot masks. Basically, if Deadmaus and Daft Punk had ever decided to form a gang, this is what it would have looked like.
Finally, as a private military conglomerate that owns Santo Ileso’s commercial district, Marshall specialises in futuristic technology so players can expect a high-tech showdown if they approach them. Little landmine drones that fire laser beam lassos, that sort of thing.
While the gangs are clearly diverse, then, this is also reflected in the territories they control. According to Volition, the region of Santo Ileso is the most diverse and entertaining open world yet to feature in a Saints Row game, with nine distinct districts each with their own unique feel and themes.
For example, the El Dorado district looks like a low-rent Vegas with rundown buildings peppered with neon lights, while Montevista is a more affluent area with gated communities guarding large houses with swimming pools.
As the Saints begin to battle with the three other factions and slowly take over each of the regions, players can take over vacant lots in each region and use them to set up new bases.
These bases can be used to launch new criminal ventures, usually in the form of legit fronts that are secretly disguising dodgy jobs. Players can choose what should be built on each lot, and which criminal business is actually being run – protection rackets, fast-food drug-dealing rings, auto theft and arms dealing were some of the examples Volition gave us.
While this all sounds a bit more grounded and realistic than what the series had become by the fourth game, Volition is quick to point out that the new Saints Row will still have some sillier moments.
Based on a number of the building names and storefronts we saw during the presentation it was clear that there’s still a Grand Theft Auto level of humour running through the game, and Volition promises that it’s still planning to introduce some ridiculous over-the-top weaponry as is the series’ trademark by this point.
That said, if you’re a fan of a certain floppy purple melee weapon that can’t be described without this article falling foul of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, we’re afraid that hasn’t made the cut.
“If you’re a fan of a certain floppy purple melee weapon that can’t be described without this article falling foul of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, we’re afraid that hasn’t made the cut.”
Although the plot revolves around one ‘Boss’ character, the Saints Row reboot will also feature drop-in, drop-out co-op multiplayer with each player controlling their own Boss and working together through the game’s missions.
Whether you ultimately choose to play alone or with a friend, though, it certainly appears that it’s going to be an entertaining time. The extended presentation we were shown behind closed doors has us eagerly anticipating the game’s release in February, as long as the standard of quality we were shown is maintained throughout the course of the entire game.
Volition’s attempt to breathe new life into Saints Row – by technically breathing old life into it – may just pay off, and while it may not promise to be quite as ridiculous as the fourth game’s alien-battling nonsense, what we’ve seen reassures us that there should still plenty of fun to be had.