Preview: ‘Saints Row’ has found a new home on (mostly) solid ground

Admittedly, I’m not sure who exactly has been clamoring for a new Saints Row title, but it makes sense that developer Deep Silver Volition is returning to the franchise that helped put their name on the map. After all, it’s been nearly a decade since we saw the last proper game in the series, and their previous effort, the oft-forgotten Agents of Mayhem, didn’t exactly make a lasting mark on the gaming landscape. You might be wondering then — what exactly does a new Saints Row game look like in 2022? The answer is.. “very familiar.”

If that sounds like an insult, I promise it wasn’t meant to be. 2022’s Saints Row is meant to serve as a reboot for the entire franchise and as a result, it feels comfortable and easy to slip into, like the go-to wintertime sweater that I refuse to get rid of no matter how many times my wife asks me to.

For those who’ve played any of the earlier games in the series, the game’s opening hours will feel recognizable. Since it’s a reboot, you take control of a former member of an ethically-questionable private military corp who quickly decides they’d be better off forming their own gang to pay the bills.

Thankfully, you have a few friends to help you out: Kevin, a lovable DJ that is always willing to assist with heists; Neenah, an art lover who serves as the crew’s driver; and Eli, a business-savvy up-and-comer who is looking to make a name for himself. A few of your friends have connections with some of the other gangs in town (namely, the neon-laden anarchists known as the Idols and the rough-and-tough Los Panteros), so it doesn’t take long before feuds break out and bullets start flying.

Core story missions are typically segmented into multiple parts. Based on the ones we played during our hands-on time, you’ll split your time between some on-rails sections, navigating around by car or air vehicle, or blasting away enemies on the ground. As a third-person shooter, the gunplay doesn’t require the same level of focus and precision as something like Ghost Recon Wildlands, though headshots and combat flow incentivize smart play. Over time, you’ll gain access to a variety of perks and abilities, some of which require ‘combat flow’ points to use.

Enemies are a bit spongy, but the same goes for you. To be honest, the game would play very differently if everyone succumbed to their wounds after a few shots. Unfortunately, I only got to check out a handful of standard rifles and pistols, but I’m hopeful there are a few heavy-hitter weapons down the line which would help dispatch groups of enemies with a bit less effort on my part.

Image via Deep Silver

When you’re not advancing the overall plot through core story missions, there’s plenty of side content to keep you distracted as you slowly take over the city of Santo Ileso. Some franchise favorites have made a return (including the beloved Insurance Fraud), along with heists, wing-suit, and driving missions, just to name a few. For those who like to deck out their headquarters, tracking down and taking pictures of decorative and unique items scattered around town unlocks them for use in your HQ — admittedly, it’s not as challenging as more traditional puzzles, but it’s a fun distraction nonetheless.

While the franchise as a whole has never really taken itself seriously (in case you forgot, this is the same series that introduced us to classic weapons including the dildo bat and dubstep gun) 2022’s Saints Row feels a tad more grounded when it comes to the core gameplay and player abilities.

What did strike me as odd, however, was some of the writing. While I have nothing wrong with characters who wax political and decry large, corrupt institutions, there’s a bit of a tonal mismatch when you’re supposed to feel bad for the ragtag group of Saints who are behind on rent and student loan payments, seeing as how they try to solve this problem by robbing others blindly and killing innocent bystanders without a care in the world.

Image via Deep Silver

It’s tough to say if those sorts of inconsistencies will be addressed or remedied in the full release, but even if they aren’t, I highly doubt most would mind. In fact, I imagine there’ll be a sizable audience of gamers who are simply happy to be getting another game after all this time. What remains to be seen is how well the tried-and-tested formula holds up over the course of a dozen or two hours. Personally, I’m hoping it holds up well when the game launches on August 23 for PlayStation, Xbox, and Windows PCs.

This hands-on preview is based on spending four hours with a pre-launch version of Saints Row on PC. The play session took place at a preview event hosted by Deep Silver, which provided lodging and transportation.