The first thing we are shown is a transference of the new Saints Row‘s Santo Ileso, “a dense open world that rewards exploration,” is divided into nine districts. Gangs lift tire weights on street corners and party around souped-up cars, and a Ferris wheel hangs at an angle on the outskirts. The Saints don’t exist when the game opens, we’re told, they’re roommates from rival factions brought together by the need to earn rent. Tell it, Millennials! Why don’t you relate!
We cut to two of the saints, Eli and the customizable protagonist, Protag, if you will, driving to the others. Eli listens to a self-help podcast. Protag taunts him for listening to it. They all get together, pull out some guns and take a cool walk to the payday loan company they want to rob. “Walk away,” one of them says, holding the guard at gunpoint, “or the term ‘dead end’ will be taken literally.” I won’t quote all of the dialogue, but this is a pretty good indicator of future audio. Draw your own conclusions.
Robbery reached, it’s time for a chase. The city’s New Mexico-inspired streets are colorful if empty and lifeless. A train cuts off our car on the way to the shunter and we wait for it to pass, a meme about obeying the traffic rules in GTA became a set piece for some inexplicable reason. After the train passes, patrol cars appear and we are introduced to the “swipe,” a defensive driving maneuver that violently pushes pursuers away. Vehicle combat seems to have decent physics, with police cars crashing into each other, falling apart, and eventually exploding with satisfying force.
Protag shakes off the cops and arrives at the property where their getaway car is parked, only to find it has been claimed by Los Panteros gang members. Our protag pulls out a pistol and the fight begins. Whether enemies are level-gated à la Recent Assassin’s Creed Games isn’t clear, but some of these enemies need multiple clean headshots to take them down, which is monumentally unsatisfying. Cover crouch and a defensive roll complement a weapon wheel currently filled with old trusty weapons. Next, we’re shown “The Pineapple Express” as our protag sticks a grenade on an enemy’s back and hurls them onto a truck, which then explodes with more of those satisfying physics. We’re shown a couple of melee finishers; creative and polished, but a touch too long to feel like a natural part of the flow of combat before our protag escapes across the desert dunes on a dirt bike.
Next we’re shown customizations and emotes, including a really hilarious guitar brace that impresses a crowd of nearby pedestrians. The customization options are vast, allowing for all the body, voice, and clothing changes that someone who doesn’t know exactly what kind of game they want to play but knows they love to be easily amused by funny hats could want. Next, our protag hurls some explosives at an armored truck – one of the ambient activities – and collects piles of cash from the ground before entering another shootout with some cops. All of this has an oddly psychotic, dissociative vibe when paired with all the colorful oddities and dance emotes, like you’re watching a TikTok category for snuff movies.
A “side job” follows. The open world uses the familiar formula of main, side, and ambient missions, linked together by vehicle shenanigans and other creative traversal options. We ride the shotgun for a bored housewife who pulls off a heist for pranksters and fends off pursuers from the passenger seat. You also have the option to climb on top of the car to increase vulnerability but have a wider firing angle. There seem to be many ways to spend the money you get from these side missions, but we’re mainly shown shopping for clothes, as well as some hiding and car customization options. These play along in the traversal aspects with ejection seats, wingsuits and the like.
Next we’re shown a mission where Protag (now a burly cowboy by power adjustment) joined another Saint Neenah to destroy a rival gang’s vehicle forge. They steal an incredibly well-armed helicopter, take it to the forge, shoot at some cars, and then get in. We’re shown some active skills and passive perks that you can toggle on and off depending on the mission. We follow the Saints through a warehouse, blow up cars and trade shots with gang members. There’s a sniper rifle at one point and, praise be to it, it does headshots with single bullets, just like God intended. The forge is blown up, the pair escape, and then enjoy some final rewards: cash, XP, a new car, and a helipad for the HQ.
The Saints’ Headquarters is an abandoned church that starts out very much cashless, but grows more lavish as the game progresses. From here you can customize cars, weapons, your crew, clothes and everything else. You can also manage your empire from the new card table, a management minigame deal where you buy properties to unlock activities like district takeovers, chopshop, and insurance cheating. Then these lovable, easy-going millennials start dealing guns, which unlocks the Mayhem gameplay. “Everyone and their grandma carry guns these days. We need a killer pitch!”.
Here we’re shown the “drop-in, drop-out, untethered co-op” as one of the developers in a helicopter magnetically carries the other in a car and then drops them off just before the mission begins. Lots of completely natural, unscripted pattern follows and the mission begins: classic open-world style destruction for score multipliers. It all looks appropriately cathartic, if a bit lifeless.
Finally, we are shown a story mission. Saint Kevin is kidnapped by a gang called the Idols – neon pink-clad anarchists – so it’s time for a rescue. We follow Kevin’s trail to a saloon where a fistfight with the idols ensues. We’re shown a few more abilities, like a shield that electrocutes enemies you hit and a charged flaming fist. Melee combat follows the trend of looking colorful and messy, with some interesting abilities but too loose and limp to be really satisfying. Beaten idols well, the protag searches for someone who can interrogate Kev’s whereabouts, finds an unlucky guy in a portaloo and tows him around in his car for a while, knocking over tents at an enemy camp. This continues until a meter fills up and the toilet friend reveals Kev’s location.
We climb a tower, defuse bombs and shoot idols, and untie Kev from a chair at the top before wingsuiting down to a compound for revenge. Here we are shown some of the game’s more interesting weapons and abilities. The Thrustbuster is a throwable sticky grenade that knocks enemies into the air, and the Quantum Aperture lets you not only see through walls, but shoot through them. There’s a “piñata” launcher, which is basically just a grenade launcher with added confetti, and foam handguns. We shoot some more, save Kev and the demo ends. So far the best that can be said about it Saints Row is that it looks like a solidly made open world game with some creative twists and a very specific tone. Maybe that tone is for you, and maybe they’re sorting 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.