Deep Silver and Volition have gone back to the beginning with the reboot of Saints Row. This is not a sequel or a spinoff. This Saints Row is a brand-new beginning for a while new set of Saints in a new city just begging to be taken over. Players will still step into the shoes of The Boss but they won’t be treading the well-worn streets of Stilwater and Steelport.
Instead, Volition has taken the franchise to the American south-west and new city; Santo Ileso. Rebooting the franchise and moving to a new city in a new part of the country has allowed Volition to return to its roots, according to Creative Director Jim Boone.
It’s also allowed Volition to take a more contemporary look at the life of crime and the world of Saints Row. Boone explained that telling a contemporary story is important to Volition as the team believes it will allow more players to relate and to appeal to a wider audience.
“It could be everything from imagining the kind of debt that people deal with these days. Student loans or the kinds of things that you want to be able to do for the American dream,” Boone tells us. “Imagine that if you were in that world and you could form your own criminal empire, you could be your own boss and do things your own way.”
Saints Row Reboot
In this telling of Saints Row, there are four friends who’ve been “stifled” and pushed around and decide to take matters into their own hands. So in this game, the lead characters appear, from what we’ve seen anyway, to be younger, less criminally experienced and far more green. If and how that plays into the narrative remains to be seen, but it lends Saints Row an interesting platform with which to tell stories we haven’t necessarily seen in the franchise or this genre before.
Similarly, setting Santo Ileso in the American Southwest gives Volition opportunities it hasn’t had before. Volition tells us that the American Southwest is “one of the most colourful regions in the United States, that is rich in colour, silhouette and just iconic imagery.” That vision has been used to create one of the largest cities in the franchise’s history as well as the most varied and diverse. Set across nine unique districts, Santo Ileso looks and feels different wherever players choose to go. We’re told that these nine districts have distinct themes, inhabitants and daily life. However, Volition hasn’t just built a city that looks good. The team has made sure there’s plenty for players to sink their teeth into with never a dull moment to be had.
One important aspect of Saints Row is the ability for the player to make their own fun in the sandbox. Volition told us that by virtue of the setting and the design of Santo Ileso, players have a huge number of things to see and do. They’re able to explore and take in the majestic scenery of the American Southwest, race around dirt tracks, jump off bridges and, of course, blow shit up.
“Our world is built for players. It’s a core principle of ours that everything should deliver gratifying fun.”
When players jump into Saints Row and Santo Ileso as The Boss they’ll be joined by their three friends, Eli, Nina and Archie. Eli is the planner, Nina the Driver and Kevin. Volition tells us that Eli is an MBA who came to the city seeking his fortune. He wanted to start his own business and become an entrepreneur. The Saints may not be exactly the kind of business Eli was envisioning but he’s working hard to make it more than just a gang.
Nina has a love for cars of all kinds, having spent time in her parents’ garage as a child. She also studied art history and anthropology and came to Santo Ileso looking to get a job at a museum. When she wasn’t able to she returned to working as a mechanic for one of the criminal factions in the city. Like Eli, Nina dreams of working for herself and being her own boss and the Saints gives her that freedom.
Finally, Kevin, the people pleaser. He grew up in foster care and, according to Volition, has been looking for somewhere he can belong all his life. At the beginning of the game, as a member of one of the criminal factions in the city, Kevin thinks he’s found his family. However, it doesn’t take long for him to realise he belongs with the Saints.
At the beginning of the game, Santo Ileso is controlled by three different gangs; Los Panteros, Martial Defence Industries and the Idols. Each of these factions is very different and use different techniques and strategies when battling with the player. Los Panteros, for example, use melee and heavy weapons while Martial makes use of marksmanship and precision. The Idols rely on sheer numbers to overwhelm the player, swarming from all sides. Each of the factions controls a separate area of the city and in order for the Saints to take control, they’ll need to dismantle each of the three rival gangs.
In Saints Row, players can participate in “criminal ventures” which Volition describes as its spin on “organised crime operations with legit fronts.” By expanding the Saints reach and taking over new areas of the city, players will gain access to new career opportunities. When new territory is unlocked, players get access to vacant lots and are able to choose what’s built there and what businesses will be run in that district. The buildings players choose to construct will impact the game world and expand gameplay options going forward. Just some of the fronts Volition has mentioned are a fast food drug-running ring, protection racket, auto theft and arms dealership.
Co-op will be returning to Saints Row and players will be able to play across generations, though Volition didn’t provide much more detail. It’s likely players will be able to play within the same console family, though if cross-platform play is featured, there may be a scenario where both last and current-gen consoles will be able to play together, regardless of if they’re PlayStation or Xbox.
As an open-world game, and one as large as Volition is claiming Saints Row is, it’s heartening to learn that the team believes the driving is some of the best in the entire franchise. One really important factor in making the driving enjoyable is that players won’t be stopped by small obstacles on the footpath or road. Most things players crash into in their cars will simply be swept away without slowing down the vehicle or ruining momentum. Now that’s what you want from your over-the-top criminal game.
While Saints Row is a long way off and we only got to view early gameplay footage without getting to go hands-on, it’s already pretty clear that Volition is going all out on making the Saints Row reboot the best game in the series. Just from the small amount of content we’ve been shown, I’m blown away by the imagination and creativity of the development team. Even at this early stage, Saints Row looks gorgeous and hopefully, plays as good as it looks.
The Saints Row franchise has always been the antidote to the overly serious, sombre videogames on store shelves. While the reboot looks to tone down the wackiness and inject a little more realism into proceedings, Volition has promised that Saints Row will retain the tone and comedy of the other games in the franchise.
It’s going to be a bit of a wait, but so far, I can’t wait to see what Saints Row has to offer.