JThe first thing we are shown is an overview of the new Saints Row‘s Santo Ileso, “a dense open world that rewards exploration”, divided into nine districts. The gangs lift tire weights on street corners and party around inflated cars, and a Ferris wheel is tilted on the outskirts. The Saints don’t exist when the game opens, we’re told, they’re roommates from rival factions, brought together by a need to make rent. Connect, Millennials! Why aren’t you in a relationship!
We cut to two of the Saints, Eli and the customizable protagonist, Protag if you will, leading to the Others meeting. Eli listens to a self-help podcast. Protag reproaches him for having listened to him. They all reunite, pull out their guns, and take a cool walk to the payday loan company they’re planning to rob. “Walk away,” said one, holding the security guard at gunpoint, “or the phrase ‘dead end job’ becomes literal.” I won’t quote all the dialogue, but it’s a pretty good indicator of the tone going forward. Draw your own conclusions.
Robbery done, it’s time for a car chase. The New Mexico-inspired city streets are colorful, though vacant and lifeless. A train cuts our car on the way to the switch vehicle, and we wait for it to pass, a meme about obeying the rules of the road in GTA inexplicably transformed into decor. After the train passes, police cars appear and we are introduced to the “side swipe”, a defensive driving maneuver that violently drives away pursuers. The vehicular combat seems to have neat physics, with police cars colliding, crashing, and eventually exploding with satisfying force.
Shaking off the cops, Protag arrives at the lot housing their getaway car, only to find it has been claimed by gang members from Los Panteros. Our protag pulls out a gun and the fight begins. If enemies are level limited to the recent Assassin’s Creed games is unclear, but some of these enemies take multiple clean headshots to go down, which is monumentally unsatisfying to watch. Crouching for cover and a defensive roll complete a wheel of weapons currently filled with reliable oldies. Next, we’re shown “The Pineapple Express,” as our protag sticks a grenade through an enemy’s back and throws it towards a truck, which then explodes with more of those satisfying physics. We are shown a few scrum finishers; creative and elaborate, but a little too long to feel like a natural part of the combat flow, before our protag escapes on a dirtbike over the desert dunes.
Next, we’re shown customization and emotes, including a truly hilarious guitar strut that wows a crowd of nearby pedestrians. Customization is extensive, allowing for all the body, voice, and clothing changes that someone who isn’t quite sure what type of game they want to play, but knows they like to be lightly entertained by fun hats, might want. Then our protag throws explosives at an armored truck – one of the ambient activities – and retrieves piles of cash from the ground, before getting into another shootout with cops. There’s a weirdly psychotic and dissociative vibe to all of this when paired with all the colorful, weird dancing emoticons, like looking at a TikTok category for snuff movies.
A “side hustle” ensues. The open world uses the familiar formula of main, side, and ambient missions, with vehicle shenanigans and other creative traversal options tying them together. We ride a shotgun for a bored housewife who pulls off a robbery for funsies, fending off pursuers from the passenger seat. You also have the option of climbing on top of the car, for increased vulnerability but a wider arc of fire. There are apparently plenty of opportunities to spend the money you get from these side missions, but we’re mostly shown clothing purchases, as well as hideout and car customization options. These play into the traversal aspects, with ejection seats, wingsuits, and the like.
Next, we’re shown a mission where Protag (now a beefy cowboy thanks to power customization) has joined fellow countryman Saint Neenah in destroying a rival gang’s vehicle forge. They steal an incredibly well-armed helicopter, take it to the forge, shoot cars, and then enter. We are shown active skills and passive perks, which you can integrate and remove depending on the mission. We follow the Saints through a warehouse, blowing up cars and exchanging gunfire with gang members. There’s a sniper rifle at one point and, let’s praise it, it shoots headshots, just as God intended. Forge blown up, the pair escape, then enjoy a few completion rewards: money, XP, a new car, and a helipad for HQ.
Saints HQ is an abandoned church that doesn’t start with cash, but gets more lavish as you progress through the game. You can customize cars, guns, your crew , your clothes and everything else from here. You can also manage your empire from the new War Table, a management minigame-like offering that lets you buy properties to unlock activities like district takeovers, chopshop, and cheat to insurance. Then these lovable, trouble-free millennials start selling weapons, which unlocks Mayhem gameplay. “Everyone and their grandmother is using guns these days. We need a killer pitch! “.
It’s here that we’re shown the “in, out, untethered co-op” as one of the developers in a helicopter carries the other into a car via a magnetic winch, then tosses them near from the start of the mission. A completely natural, unscripted pattern ensues, and the mission kicks off: classic open-world style destruction for score multipliers. It all sounds suitably cathartic, if a bit lifeless.
Finally, we are shown a story mission. Saint Kevin is kidnapped by a gang called the Idols – anarchists dressed in neon pink – so it’s time to rescue. We follow Kevin’s trail to a saloon, where a fight with the idols ensues. We’re shown a few additional abilities, like a shield that electrocutes enemies that hit you and a charged flaming fist. Melee combat follows the trend of looking colorful and chaotic, with some interesting abilities, but too loose and flabby to feel truly satisfying. Well-hit idols, the protag searches for someone to interrogate on Kev’s whereabouts, finds some unlucky guy in a portaloo and drags him through his car for a bit, knocking over tents at an enemy camp. This continues until a meter fills up and the restroom friend abandons Kev’s location.
We scale a tower, disarm bombs and shoot idols, and untie Kev from a chair at the top, before wingsuiting down a resort for revenge. Here we’re shown some of the game’s most interesting weapons and abilities. The “Thrustbuster” is a throwable sticky grenade that launches enemies into the air, and the “Quantum Aperture” not only lets you see at through walls, but also to shoot through them. There’s a ‘Piñata’ launcher, which is basically a grenade launcher with added confetti and foam hand guns. We shoot some more, save Kev, and the demo ends. So far the best thing to say about Saints Row is that it feels like a solidly crafted open-world game with some creative twists and a very specific tone. Maybe that tone is for you, and maybe they’ll sort out the headshots in time for the game’s full release in August.
Saints Row will be released on August 23 this year on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.