Exclusive Saints Row Hands-On Impressions
Last month, developer Volition provided us with a playable build of the new Saints Row. I had access to a handful of story missions, some side activities, and the entirety of the Santo Ileso map to explore. Volition encouraged me to drive, glide, and wreak havoc to my hearts’ content. So, that’s exactly what I did. While the content is still very much in development, I was able to understand how the game is shaping up in its early state, and it’s looking good so far.
During the super-powered trip that was Saints Row IV, cars were rendered nearly useless when you had the option to Super Sprint and Jump around Steelport. With this Saints Row reboot, those powers are nowhere in sight, so you’ll be either hoofing it or stealing a random car off the street to get around. Luckily, Saints Row features a wholly reworked driving system, bringing a new weight to driving and shifting the focus of car combat from guns and drivebys to using the car itself as a weapon.
In an early story mission (which you can read about in our Saints Row cover story), I learned all about two key features of this new driving model. One is the ability to jolt your car left or right with the press of a button, essentially punching with your vehicle to do damage or run rival racers off the road. The other is a new drift that will crank your car into a sideways slide while the camera cooly tilts and zooms in a bit for added effect.
Drifting in Saints Row feels very much like a Mario Kart drift, and that’s high praise. No matter the vehicle, drifting will always set your car at a mostly predetermined angle while in the slide, giving you control on the analog stick to adjust your car for ideal positioning when you’re coming out of the turn. There’s no worrying about applying the e-brake too much, having the tail-end of your car whip out too far, or losing too much speed while performing the maneuver. I appreciate that it’s clearly designed to keep you moving and not get in the way of having fun. Eventually, I was drifting around every turn, no matter how fast or slow I was going, just because it was fun.
Playing as the very capable protagonist known as The Boss, you’re able to get on top of your vehicles, even while moving. On the roof, you have a full 360-degree vantage to take out any pesky local gang members from the Los Pantheros or Idols factions you may be locked in battle with. You also have the option to take to the skies in the new wingsuit. If your car is moving quickly enough, you can jump off the roof and soar through the air to get far away or land on another set of wheels to take as your own.
Wingsuiting around Santo Ileso like a deadly and maniacal flying squirrel is exhilarating and some of the most fun I had with Saints Row. You start a glide from high structures like an office building or the mountains and hills surrounding the city in addition to the roof of a moving car. There are also spots scattered across the map housing mechanisms to fling you into the air; no skyscrapers required. It’s not always easy to find a spot to take flight, but I like how that reinforces the importance of ground traversal and being reliant on driving for most of your trips around Santo Ileso’s districts.
Utilizing the wingsuit is a great way to make it across short spans of the city quickly. While you’re always at the mercy of gravity, diving to pick up speed and pulling up to regain altitude can extend your flight sessions greatly. I love the sense of speed and the amount of control you have while flying around. I’d compare it to something between the cape from Super Mario World and Batman’s gliding abilities from Arkham City.
From my time with Saints Row, the shooting felt the most mundane. We had access to a suite of pistols, assault weapons, and rocket launchers, which all perform how you’d expect in a Saints Row game. Some of the wilder weaponry promised by the developer wasn’t available in my time attempting crime around Santo Ileso. Still, rocket-powered explosives and lesser ballistics were more than enough to take care of who or whatever stood in my way.
Outside of the gameplay, a question in the gaming community is whether it feels like past Saints Rows. Volition has been upfront about wanting to provide a tone somewhere between Saint Row 2 and Saints Row The Third, and from the small segment I’ve played, I’d say it hits that mark. I find the writing and humor are in the same ballpark. There’s plenty of cussing, s–t-talking, and other vulgarities which haven’t been present in much of what’s been shown publicly at this point. You are a group aspiring to build a crime syndicate, after all.
This core group of Saints is new, and you get to meet and become friends with them. It’s one of the best parts of past entries, and I’m looking forward to taking on the world with Eli, Neenah, and Kevin. They complement each other well, and even from the little I’ve seen, I can see where conflicts may arise, but I also get the feeling they’re ride or die for their fellow Saints. I’m ready to take over Santo Ileso with them and be part of the calamity and destruction caused along the way.
Be sure to check out all of our Saints Row coverage throughout the month like our Rapid-Fire Interview with Jeremy Bernstein, Lead Mission Narrative Designer. You can find everything at our cover story hub by clicking on the banner below.
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