Saints Row Preview: Rising to the Top Requires Starting From the Bottom

What makes a Saints Row video game a Saints Row video game? That seems to be the pivotal question that fans have been wrestling with ever since the Saints Row reboot was first announced. Is it the specific characters from the previous entries, several of which appeared across multiple installments of the franchise? The kinds of missions? The humor? Arguably, there is actually a simple answer: attitude. What makes Saints Row… well, Saints Row is its attitude.

That's not meant to be a vague answer, either. Saints Row video games – including the new reboot – clearly have specific features and themes that carry from one to the next. There's the continuous focus on customization, the idea of underdogs rising to the top of the food chain, and making crime about as goofy as it possibly can be. But the attitude underneath all of that is basically all about freedom. That's it.

(Photo: Volition/Deep Silver)

Having recently spent roughly four hours with the upcoming Saints Row reboot during a media event held in Las Vegas, running through about 11 main missions but not completing the video game by any means, I can confidently say that it has the right attitude. It's not as immediately flashy and for lack of a better term "out there" as the wildest excesses of 2013's Saints Row IV, but as far as building a foundation for a new era, the developers at Deep Silver Volition seem to know what materials go where and which ones are better left for later.

The foundation of Saints Row in 2022 is four roommates largely attached to different factions with little to no money and loose morals but a strong sense of loyalty. The protagonist, unnamed and broadly referred to as the Boss, starts off as a new recruit for Marshall Defense Industries with a willingness to get the job done regardless of how that happens and bravado to spare. As for the rest of the crew, Neenah is a getaway driver and a skilled mechanic working for Los Panteros, Kevin is a DJ for The Idols that can't keep his shirt on, and Eli is the entrepreneurial mastermind that's really all about the money – legal or not.

(Photo: Volition/Deep Silver)

As one might expect, Saints Row starts out with all four main characters on the lower rungs within their respective organization. They can't even afford to pool enough money together to buy a waffle maker. Thankfully, however, the Boss has enough lack of self-preservation to quickly gain favor with Marshall Defense Industries – the first mission includes a sequence where the player gets into a saloon shootout before jumping on the back of a jet – and gets assigned to a much more important job.

Given that this is a video game about the rise of The Saints (not to be confused with the previous entries' Third Street Saints), it should come as little surprise that the big job goes poorly and the Boss is kicked to the curb by the head of Marshall. This also coincides with Neenah and Kevin being on the outs with Los Panteros and The Idols thanks to a series of deadly shenanigans where they had to pick between their roomies and friends or their organizations.

(Photo: Volition/Deep Silver)

Once everything calms down a bit, the group comes to the collective decision at the initial urging of the Boss that there's no reason they should be wasting their time and skills trying to earn money for other folks when they could instead do it for themselves. And thus is born The Saints of Saints Row, though they don't actually stumble across the name until finding a derelict church to use as a base of operations.

After that, it's all about building your empire with the caveat that you can go off and do whatever else you like at any point. There's plenty to do beyond the main missions like robbing food trucks that also serve as drug runners and other criminal ventures and getting absolutely buried in customization options. Most activities are found through the Boss' phone, allowing players to immediately customize their look or explicitly task themselves with specific missions. There are plenty of ways to lose yourself in all Santo Ileso has to offer.

(Photo: Volition/Deep Silver)

The open-world sandbox synonymous with previous Saints Rows titles is on full display in the reboot. The map is absolutely peppered with points of interest like ways to increase passive money generation by taking on rival factions, clothing stores, and more. While I zeroed in on the game's critical path to see as much as possible during my hands-on time, it's easy to imagine players spending a very long time wandering around doing little side projects for hours on end.

Helpfully, my experience on PC at the event was relatively smooth. Beyond a few infrequent screen tears, there was no trouble at all, and at no point did I encounter any significant bugs or problems. Aiming felt a little clunky at first while using an Xbox controller, but once I became accustomed to simply aiming, not aiming, and aiming again in order to snap to nearby enemies it was a breeze. Driving in vehicles felt a little awkward, but then all driving in basically all open-world games has always felt awkward to me, and sideswiping into enemy vehicles and making sick jumps was just as satisfying as it looked in trailers. Overall, it was a good experience and one that has me excited for the game's full release.

(Photo: Volition/Deep Silver)

It was never going to be an easy task for the developers to pick up the Saints Row franchise once more after almost a decade. Leaving behind Steelport and its colorful inhabitants for the admittedly more-grounded – but still just as colorful – Santo Ileso is a big shift. But, at least in my experience, it's one that works. Every new story needs a place to launch from, and Saints Row looks to be heading in just as wild a direction as the franchise was previously. If you can square that in your mind, it's easy to have a good time.

The new Saints Row is set to release for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store on August 23rd. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the Saints Row franchise in general right here.