We got to preview the Saints Row reboot last year. And back then, what I learned didn’t quite move the needle on my opinion of the game. As a fan of the series, I thought it looked okay. I wanted to see more, and I got my wish. Recently, I got to check out the missions and combat of the Saints Row reboot.
Following my time with the preview, I now know more. And though my interest has increased, there are still some wavering issues that give me pause.
The preview began during an early moment in the game. In what could be the starting mission for the Saints Row reboot, we meet up with the new crew before they begin their lives as the up-and-coming Saints. The cast, members of rival gang factions living as roommates, decide that the best way to pay their rent is to get strapped and rob a payday loans business. Because what else are you going to do? Run an ice cream truck? Naturally, things go well until they don’t.
For those who played previous Saints Row iterations, you should expect a similar kind of scalable action sequences in missions. After leaving behind the business with its safe now emptied, I witnessed a car chase with cops, a shootout with gang members, and one last chase while straddling a dirt bike. The latter gave me a look at the arid badlands surrounding the game’s new location of Santa Ileso. Dusty cop cars, older than those seen in the city, followed close behind the Boss as cacti and dilapidated buildings whizzed by. One death-defying jump over a water tower, and our anti-hero was free. That is, until getting stopped by police, prompting a hasty rescue.
It was one of several missions you’ll experience in the Saints Row reboot. Later, we destroyed a massive vehicle forge and thwarted a kidnapping by a neon-studded rival gang. And again, Saints Row wasn’t letting the Boss take it easy. That latter mission alone included detective work, a barroom brawl, dragging a mobile toilet around with a gang member trapped inside, and finally an intense fight up the city’s sign while disarming a series of bombs. If the missions I saw were of any indication, Saints Row won’t be a mundane adventure.
Series fans should also be happy to hear that Mayhem activities have returned. During the preview we got the chance to check out a Mayhem mission, a cathartic activity that lets you earn money while blowing shit up. It was during this time we also got a quick glimpse at how co-op works in the reboot.
The presenter was joined by a friend, who thought it’d be funny to give ’em a lift with a helicopter with an attached magnet. After touching down near the mission start section (and a brief emote dance), they loaded into a street filled with cars. Rockets flew, and cash rewards poured in with satisfying kachink noises. Sadly, that was about all we saw when it came to the co-op of the reboot. Developer Deep Silver Volition will show off more of the feature at a later date, however.
I like big weapons
The missions also gave me an idea of how combat works in the Saints Row reboot. In general, you can expect the same kind of bombastic fights with an array of guns and explosives — as well as some goofier options, as is the norm. But first, we have to talk about Skills and Perks. Skills are earned through gaining experience, and used by spending Flow points (that increase during combat). Your boss can have four active Skills at a time, and you can swap them around at your leisure. Skills seem to be mapped to your face buttons, and can either grant you special weapons like a Proximity Mine, or a flaming punch. Perks are earned through challenges, and offer passive buffs such as Gunslinger, which lets you more accurately fire from the hip, to something like increased fire resistance.
But beyond abilities and buffs, combat in Saints Row is mostly what’s expected, with some clear twists for the reboot. A weapon wheel holds all your tools of death, whether that’s an SMG or a sledgehammer. You can also carry around the more Saints Row-esque weapons like foam finger guns (that actually fire) or a couple of dual blasters clearly inspired by Star Lord’s Element Guns. Weapons have “signature abilities,” unlocked through challenges. The burst rifle, for example, can get upgraded to dish out more damage to vehicles. There are tougher enemies than your usual fodder, such as specialists and mini-bosses that shrug off bullets. You also have finishing moves that can be activated on enemies surrounded in a purple aura.
I need some breathing room
For the most part, combat in the Saints Row reboot seems fine. Most enemies seem like damage sponges, and can easily shake off a couple headshots. Some of my other concerns lie with how quickly enemies fill the room. In the car forge mission, for example, the Boss was surrounded in rival gang members. There was a lot of ducking and weaving, dodging melee-focused enemies who will rush you down while eating bullets like candy as others fired from a distance. I can foresee how things can get overwhelming with these more buffed enemy types, forcing you to do figure eights around the arena.
I have some other concerns about the game following the preview, though some are admittedly nitpicks. For the most part, the voice acting really isn’t all too bad. The three buddies who join the Boss are well characterized, with distinct personalities. The Boss, however, didn’t quite make as convincing a showing — in all their forms. Outside of the lone cowboy, some of the Boss’ narration felt a bit stilted. Perhaps this is the result of having so many voice actors for one set of lines, but who can say. Animations and lip-syncing also seemed rough around the edges. Of course, the game is still a work in progress; there’s still time to improve.
There’s an option in the game where you can swap out your custom-made Boss for another preset. And you can do it while in the game. I’m not sure if you can do it in an active mission, however. For me, I can spend up to an hour crafting a custom avatar. Changing it out for something completely different seems bizarre to me. Luckily, it’s optional, so you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. Regardless, I can’t see many using this feature, which makes me wonder why it’s even there.
Moving the needle
When the Saints Row reboot was formerly unveiled last year in August, it didn’t quite leave fans of the series overwhelmed. Criticisms arose almost right away about the younger, hipper protagonist crew. The setting of ‘somewhere’ in the US Southwest meant leaving the familiar sights and sound of Stilwater and Steelport behind. The game would go back to basics, eschewing bombastic superpowers and alien punch-ups in favor of a grassroots criminal empire story. It was living up to the spirit of a reboot, and that left fans split.
After the preview, I can honestly say that I am more interested in seeing how this new Saints Row fares. It’s assuredly Saints Row, with themes and gameplay nestled comfortably between both the second and third game. Near the end of the preview, however, was when I felt more optimistic. It was during the Q&A session, when the dev team sat down to chat more about the game. It began normally enough, with the team answering questions. But after one such question, the members started talking about their favorite moments while playing. Laughter ensued as they shared anecdotes of crazy, emergent moments that happened during tests. It reminded me of when I shared such stories with friends while playing the original games, and with equal enthusiasm.
If the Saints Row reboot fulfills its promises, becoming a respectable follow up capable of such water cooler moments, I’d call it a success. But we’ll only know for sure once the game lands on August 23.