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Saints Row (2022) Hands-Off Preview - Cautiously Optimistic

Saints Row (2022) Hands-Off Preview - Cautiously Optimistic - Preview

by Paul Broussard , posted on 19 May 2022 / 22,535 Views
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a virtual preview session for the upcoming reboot of Saints Row. Deep Silver had a lot to show off, and between the gameplay footage, listening to them talk about the game, and hear their thoughts on what they wanted to do with the title, there was a lot to unpack. With that said, I’ve done my best to try and touch on what felt like the most noteworthy parts of the exhibition for the newest entry in the Saints Row series. 
Usually, when doing a preview for the next entry in a long-running franchise like this, I’d reference prior releases, and particularly the original title in the series, as a comparison, but that presents an issue here. Despite what the name would imply, Saints Row is actually the fifth entry in the series (not to be confused with the Saints Row of the exact same name that was released in 2006), which is still as infuriating a trend as it was when it started with Ninja Gaiden. Since Deep Silver has no regard for its name, and since I need a way to distinguish between reboot Saints Row and old Saints Row for the sake of comparisons, from this point onward I’ll be referring to the 2022 Saints Row game as “Saints Row Jambalaya.”
If you’ve played the original Saints Row games, you’re probably well aware that they went on an increasingly crazed slide into wackiness. The first Saints Row was a pretty gritty crime sandboxy game, to the point where it drew derision as a GTA knockoff. Fast forward to Saints Row 4, and we’re spoofing the Matrix while shooting fire out of our hands and slapping aliens with oversized sex toys (to say nothing of the DLC expansion where you literally go to hell). Saints Row Jambalaya does quite a lot to try and moderate that, probably most comparable to Saints Row 3 as far as being grounded in reality goes. One of the devs described it as “groundedness in absurdity,” where everything in the game has at least some foundation in a real world object, even if it's being pushed past the point of believability. There (probably) won’t be any superpowers on display here; just, y’know, ramping a car off an interstate onto a mansion and then gunning down 20 gang members with a rocket launcher hidden inside of a guitar case. Real normal stuff.
The devs also spent a lot of time highlighting the story, which seems like it’ll play a more significant role than in Saints Row past. The original Saints Row’s story could probably best be summarized as “40 year olds who got all their ideas of what organized crime is like from watching Mrs. Columbo attempt to write a drama about gangs.” Even as the series got wackier, there was never much of a sense that the focus was particularly on the characters. That appears to be changing here, as at least in the demo shown there was a much heavier emphasis on developing the fellow members of the Saints and fleshing out their personalities. Whether this winds up being for better or worse is something yet to be determined; the bits of dialogue shown off during the original trailer received... let's generously call it a "tepid" reaction, and Deep Silver seemed to intentionally skirt past showing too much of that off here.
Speaking of, that story focuses around a separate origin story for the Saints. In Saints Row Jambalaya, the Saints form from members of three preexisting gangs who are tired with their placement in life. The newly formed Saints then try to wrest power away from said gangs, which is a challenge for some reason despite the first gameplay being shown of the rival factions involving the player character single-handedly defeating 20 of them in a bar brawl.
Which brings us to the gameplay. If you’re familiar with Saints Row, a lot of Jambalaya’s mechanics will seem fairly familiar. Completing missions increases control over territory and progresses the story, and gives you new unlocks and customization things to mess around in the open world with. There are a few new tricks up Jambalaya’s sleeve, however. Side hustles are a new feature which were teased briefly in the footage shown. These appear to be more story involved side-quests of sorts where you team up with character(s) to accomplish various narrative objectives.
Another new feature is the war table, which tries to emphasize the business side of running a criminal empire. Here, you can set up “criminal ventures,” which are businesses that primarily exist as a front for illegal activity. The example shown in the presentation involved starting a gun store in order to smuggle illegal weapons for gang purposes. We weren’t fully shown the complete extent of this mechanic in the presentation; at the very least, there are some business management sim elements involved, but the devs also implied that there would be some more standard gameplay missions as well.
Jambalaya’s main story mission structure seems fairly reminiscent of previous Saints Row titles, specifically 3. The footage at the preview showed the typical Saints flair for the dramatic, as the player character rescues a fellow Saint who is being held prisoner on top of a tall statue while bombs count down in the background. After defusing the bombs and rescuing their friend, the player then glides down onto a nearby enemy base and opens fire on a crowd of enemy gang members.
Which is as good an excuse as any to talk about the core gameplay. Standard elements like shooting, moving, and driving all seem pretty similar to titles past, but there are a few new interesting twists, particularly on the enemy side of things. Hostile combatants seem to be much more focused on specializing into certain types that require the player to approach them differently. Some of the examples shown included a physical tank who charged the player, an arsonist who would detonate when shot and had to be disposed of at a distance, and a blademaster who deflected bullets with nightsticks, forcing the player to resort to physical methods of dealing with them.
One nice change that Jambalaya is making is allowing players to play the game cooperatively without the need for an additional paid online-enabling DLC; it's set to launch with the ability to play through every mission cooperatively. Players further along in the game can bring equipment from later in the story with them as well, and that sound you hear is the last semblance of balance giving up and storming out of the house.
All in all, Saints Row Jambalaya is something I'm approaching with cautious optimism. As someone who liked Saints Row IV quite a lot, I can’t say I’m not a little sad to see the days of wacky movie parodies and superpowers go. Nevertheless, Jambalaya’s gameplay looks very polished and refined, with enough innovation to keep things fresh, and I’m curious to see how the game plays when it launches later this year.

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SuperNintend0rk (on 19 May 2022)

"Saints Row Jambalaya" That made me laugh and oddly enough, it kind of suits the series and its quirky gameplay lol

  • +6
JEMC (on 19 May 2022)

That Jambalaya drews inspiration from The Third is a good thing, as that's when the franchise peaked, in my opinion, of course. Still, I'm not sold on this new game and I hope the gunfight scenes are better than what the gameplay vids have shown. They have the resources to give those thugs some minimal AI to try to find cover.

  • +4
OneTime (on 21 May 2022)

The screenshots and videos look unimpressive to me. I would have hoped for better from such a major franchise. Maybe gameplay will be good, ofc.

  • 0