Saints Row made me nervous with its initial cheesy reveal. Reimagining a 2022 version of the tongue-in-cheek humour and utter chaos of the Saints Row games is not an easy task. But the demo I got my hands on convinced me that it’s shaping up to be wonderful, stupid, joyful nonsense that ignores all the ordinary common sense of real life.
Physics? Out the window. Character quips? Plentiful. And character creation? Transformative. Straight out of the gate, the game gives you a gun, a ridiculous setting, and tells you to hang onto a fighter jet-helicopter-thing while it tries to escape. It’s completely bonkers but that’s exactly what it should be. The dialogue is cheesy, sure, but it’s far better than the trailers suggest and its millennial/zoomer cast are more amusing than they are annoying.
Unfortunately, I do have concerns about Saints Row’s performance. Calling the several-hour demo I played stuttery would be an understatement. Pauses lasting several seconds were present, as well as shorter stutters that still interrupted the flow. These mostly appeared when driving as other elements loaded in, and I could hear audio but everything else would freeze. With August looming, it’s my main cause for concern, but performance issues aside, the action and pace of Saints Row was thoroughly enjoyable. Lightly crass, terrible, yet lovable friends doing crimes to make rent. So let’s talk about them, shall we?
First we have Neenah. The best driver in the fictional Santo Ileso is #notlikeothergirls. Neenah hails from one of the local gangs, Los Panteros, who used her pedal-to-the-metal talents as an excellent getaway driver and mechanic. Though hardcore and strong, she’d do anything to help her friends, even if that means she might scratch her car’s paint.
Then we have Kevin. If anyone likes a good boogie it’s him. This party boy is part of The Idols and lives his life from moment to moment in between fixing his hair. Additionally, he’s a pretty good cook and when not dodging bullets is likely fixing a meal for his friends. Delish.
And finally, we have Eli. Gangs may be violent but they need to be playing with guns for a good reason and that’s where Eli comes in. He’s the man with the plan and while he doesn’t have his roommates’ brawn, he theoretically knows how to do their taxes. Not that criminal organisations pay their taxes.
This crew is who you’re mostly going to be hanging out with in the world of Saints Row. They each have their talents, but so do you. The Boss, whomever you build them to be, is going to lead this band of criminals to glory. The customisation options for the Boss are vast, which you can already see for yourself in Deep Silver Volition’s “Boss Factory“, giving players the chance to experiment with who they want to play before the game launches. Voices, muscle mass, tattoos, limb prosthetics, and more are all changeable. And much to my joy, better and more diverse hair options.
What doesn’t change is The Boss’s personality. I feared that Saints Row’s cheeky humour wouldn’t translate to 2022 but very quickly I was laughing at the protagonists’ clumsy violence, sarcastic remarks, and some mechanical elements that allowed you to sulk with them when things don’t go their way. I tried two different voices for The Boss, the lower of the two high-pitched voices and then a deeper Mexican accent, out of the five available and they both encapsulated that bold personality really well.
Customisation isn’t only exclusive to The Boss—your vehicle of choice is also an important factor. Cars are fun and functional. You can nick a car whenever you like, whether you’re doing crimes or popping out to the shops. See something you like in a stolen *ahem* I mean a new vehicle? Bring it to your mechanic and they’ll store that knowledge to improve the cars you already own.
And the driving feels really good. I was weaving in between traffic in no time, and causing only a few accidents here and there. The NPC driving AI is decent too, only getting in my way occasionally—and constantly if they’re the cops. Though the desert surrounding the city looks inviting to cars, trying to traverse it in the wrong vehicle is disastrous and means getaways have to be planned out further than just hoping the police don’t like sand.
The fun doesn’t stop with being inside the car though—there are opportunities to be on top of it, too, if that’s your style in a shootout. And we can’t forget about cars’ towing capabilities, can we? At one point I was using a brightly coloured dune buggy to tow a shipping crate without wheels across the city and despite the nightmare it would be in real life, it became a wrecking ball I could use against The Icons in pursuit.
Guns are less accessible when you begin. The Boss starts as part of a private militia with only standard-issue guns to begin the missions with and they’re decidedly fine. While you can steal any car from the beginning, I only had basic guns to play with and a tiny amount of TNT. You have a large number of gun slots so this obviously builds, but the gun I felt was easiest to play with was The Boss’s pistol. Everything else was harder to get a read on and had bloated reloading times as I cowered behind cover. I hope the arsenal develops quickly after the first three hours and the guns get a little more powerful.
In the three-hour preview, I got to see some of the main story and then side missions. Like I said, logic goes out of the window the second you start playing Saints Row. Side missions where you have to give a bad review to a shop or eatery result in dozens of bad guys turning up to beat the crap out of you. And the telecoms business is less about designing a better project, and more about sending you in a wingsuit to destroy signal dishes. The physics and rationality of any given situation is bombastic and silly and such fun.
I’m seriously looking forward to the release of Saints Row now. I was quickly hooked on the ludicrous gameplay and I want to know what actually happens to the protagonist and their crew. I’m eagerly anticipating the climb from common criminal to the dizzying heights of a criminal empire.