Hip-Hop Wired’s resident gamer Bernard “Beanz” Smalls had the opportunity to get hands-on with Volition Games’ Saints Row reboot and left feeling optimistic.
Volition pulled out all the stops for us, turning the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas into a carbon copy location from Santo Ileso, the fictional midwestern city from Saints Row. It also helped the hotel lives in the not-so-glitzy part of the city of the sin, so the game studio didn’t have to do much to recreate the feel of the video game’s fictional locale.
Moving on, the real reason we hit Las Vegas was to get hands-on with the highly anticipated game finally, and I had four hours to get some impressions on Saints Row, and I left honestly wanting to play more.
We Came Into Saints Row Fresh
To be honest, I have never played a Saints Row game up until my hands-on preview, so I went in fresh. Right off the bat, I was very impressed with the game’s character customization and how in-depth it is. We have seen plenty of videos highlighting just how vital “Ultimate Customization” will be to the game.
I didn’t spend entirely too much time creating my version of “The Boss,” but when I say you can customize everything on your character, I mean that. From your skin tone, eyes, teeth, nose, and body type, plus your junk size, nothing is off limits.
Once that was out of the way, it was time to step into some Saints Row action for the first time. Immediately you realize that Saints Row is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, even during intense situations. As someone who mainly played Grand Theft Auto, most recently GTA V, I noticed how much smoother Saints Row felt compared to its competition. Doing actions like hopping over obstacles and kicking people out of their moving vehicles felt insanely good.
Gunplay & Character Progression
Gunplay during firefights felt very responsive, and headshots are the way to go and felt very satisfying when landing them only because some of the gun’s responsiveness is a bit on the loose side. There are tougher enemies in each of the factions who felt like bullet sponges, so you had to deplete a shield which means they can take multiple headshots, unlike the lesser minions.
I sometimes felt overwhelmed because the game took its sweet time to remind me my character can duck. I do feel Saints Row would benefit from a cover system. Still, I enjoyed the pace of the action, and the addition of moves like “Pineapple Express,” where you put a grenade down your enemy’s pants and toss them, leading to an explosion that will take out multiple enemies, is so much damn fun.
Your character will be able to learn other abilities by leveling up (which doesn’t feel like a grind) and can be assigned to hotkeys and used by gaining “Flow” during battles. Completing things like weapon achievements helps you unlock perks which are broken down into tiers and give your character boosts.
Getting Around Santo Illeso Is A Smooth Experience
Driving around Santo Illeso felt excellent, and car combat was top-notch. During car chases, you are introduced to a dedicated button that allows you to sideswipe vehicles, causing them to blow up in a satisfying blaze of glory. You can even hop on the roof of your car and pop off at enemies, a sweet touch from developers that will come in handy while causing mayhem around the fictional world.
Tired of driving? Why not fly? With the wingsuit at your disposal, that is now a reality for players, giving you another means of transportation to traverse Santo Ileso.
Unfortunately, during my playthrough, I didn’t play around with the wingsuit feature too much, but with my limited use, it felt great and something I’m looking forward to revisiting when I finally get my hands on the game.
So Much To Do, Such Little Time
As mentioned earlier, this is a sandbox game that does not take itself seriously, so if you’re like me, you will find yourself laughing out loud at many ridiculous moments.
In the game’s opening mission, your character works for a private security company tasked with taking down a crime boss. It also serves as a bit of a tutorial mission before being thrust into the open world of Santo Illeso. Once I got there, I found myself partaking in the game’s many side activities that help you acquire cash on your mission to fund your future criminal enterprise.
Before hopping back into the story missions, I tried out a few bounty missions where you track down wanted individuals, or “Insurance Fraud” and “Mayhem,” returning from previous Saints Row games. You can even go dumpster diving around Santo Illeso.
One excellent but hilarious touch is what happens while digging in the glowing dumpsters. Your character will react differently. If it’s something rare, your character will present it like Link when he finds something in the treasure box in The Legend of Zelda games.
During my four hours with the game that breezed by because I was enjoying myself so damn, I partook in a bevy of missions, and I walked away impressed with them because of the variety and just how loony some of them were. You hop into a bulldozer in one mission and destroy a construction site to scare a contractor into selling you your headquarters. It’s one of the most fun experiences I didn’t know I needed to experience.
The Crew Is Surprisingly Relatable
Saints Row’s story is the most millennial thing I have ever witnessed in a video game. Your crew features yourself, aka The Boss, and three other individuals, the mechanic Neenah, DJ Kevin, and entrepreneur Eli, who each come from one of the rival gangs in Santo Ileso. Neenah is a member of Los Panteros, a vehicle and workout-oriented gang, and Kevin with the Idols, a maniacal partygoing gang that Daft Punk would love.
The game opens up with The Boss on the first day on the job working for the Marshall Defense Industries mercenary company, not too happy to be taking orders. You’re only working this job to pay off bills and student loans, the nemesis of all young adults today.
After you get fired from your legit job and have some not-so-pleasant encounters with rival gangs, you and your cash-strapped roommates decide to form your own criminal organization, the Saints, and takeover Santo Illeso. It was such a breath of fresh air watching the crew interact with each other during cutscenes.
I ended my preview definitely wanting to learn more about them after having a sample-sized interaction with them.
We Think New & Old Fans Will Dig It
Based on what I was able to experience with the reboot, the developers seem to have made this game in hopes of luring in new fans to the franchise while toeing the line of keeping long-time fans happy.
In the four hours I had with the game and based on the reactions from fellow journalists, Volition is on the right track with the game. Saints Row still is silly but extremely ridiculous. The action is there, the customization is on point, and the city of Santo Ileso is alive and looks beautiful.
Consider me very optimistic about this new Saints Row game. Keep it locked on Hip-Hop Wired for more news about the game and our full review.
Photo: Volition Games/ Saints Row