We had the pleasure of having the upcoming reboot of Saints Row on the cover of Game Informer issue #340 when I went hands-on with an early build of the game and spoke with the fine folks at Volition, the studio behind the series. Last week, the developer held a preview event, showing off where Saints Row is now, just a few months before launch. Much of what was shown was the same content as last year, but there were plenty of changes I noticed that have me feeling good about the direction this new Saints adventure is taking.
Volition showed off three different missions during the presentation. Two of the missions, Making Rent and Idol Threats, were more refined versions of what I had played months ago, and you can read about them in our cover story. What was new is The Forge, a quest that takes The Boss and resident gearhead Neenah straight into the heart of the Scorpion factory, the home base of rival gang Los Panteros, to take out their headquarters in a blaze of glory while their boss Sergio is occupied elsewhere. First, the duo hijacks a well-armed helicopter and takes to the skies to fire missiles and more at a Los Panteros gathering before heading to their HQ to clean up the rest. Once inside, we got to see how combat has evolved beyond the simple gunfire and fisticuffs I had experienced previously.
Vehicles are naturally everywhere in the Scorpion factory and can be used to take out groups of unsuspecting Los Panteros the Saints are ambushing. Cars on repair lifts can be fired upon and rocketed into groups of enemies, creating all kinds of chaos from these fun-looking environmental interactions. We were also treated to a demonstration of Signature Abilities for weapons that can make standard pistols fire like fully automatic machine guns. Volition promises all kinds of ways to change how each weapon fires and even looks, which is a big step in the right direction to making the firearms of Saints Row more interesting than what I played around with last year. These same pistols can have visual customizations applied, like making them into big foam finger guns. When speaking with creative director Brian Traficante, he says he prefers to equip a skin similar to Star Lord's futuristic weapons from Guardians of the Galaxy. They aren't the exact same thing, mind you, but close enough to give the impression of having a cosmic hero's weaponry on hand.
Customization was a big focus of the event, with Volition showing off plenty of ways your Boss can look. However, character customization is not a one-and-done opportunity in Saints Row. With the push of a few buttons, you can swap your style at any time from a handful of presets you create at Saints HQ; not just clothes, but each body customization and clothing option are on the table. Want to hulk out with a beefy green behemoth in a slick suit for a mission and switch to a stylish yet casual look with a completely different body shape, skin color, face, and hairstyle? As long those customizations are part of your visual loadouts, be a whole new you whenever you want. Shops around Santo Ileso will stock up on more clothing and weapon options as you progress through the game, adding more ways to make The Boss your own as you take over the fictional American Southwest city. Brian Shea recently previewed all the things you can customize in Saints Row, and you can read all about it here and dream of how you'll make your Boss look.
Cooperative play was briefly demoed during the event, showing a second player drop into the game in session to help their friend out with a Criminal Venture mission. The new player brought a helicopter along and used a tether with a giant magnet to pick up the other player's car and carry them to the mission site. There, the pair commenced a dance party before starting a weapon testing mission that tasked the Bosses with blowing up as many cars and other objects in sight as possible, racking up the damage cost and adding multipliers when comboing explosions. Both players recieve whatever reward is given for that quest, no matter how far into the main story one may be. This is true for any mission you'll embark on with friends, which can be an avenue for obtaining items far earlier than intended.
Rounding out the preview event, I noticed some significant changes to two of my favorite aspects of Saints Row, the Criminal Ventures and gliding through the air with the wingsuit. Criminal Ventures are legal businesses the Saints can start that are fronts for illicit activities, like Chalupacabra, a food truck used to sell drugs to the residents of Santo Ileso. The basic concept of these ventures hasn't changed, but their role in the world has become more important. Now territory control is tied to the Criminal Ventures you have built around the city. Once you establish a business, rival factions in that region of Santo Ileso will start to retaliate, which kicks off the Saints' eventual conquest of the area.
The vehicles of Saints Row were a highlight of the build I played months ago, and while I love speeding through the streets and mastering the incredibly fun drifting mechanic, my favorite way to get around was taking to the skies and gliding with the wingsuit. Now, cars play a more vital role in wingsuit antics than ever before. With vehicle customization, ejector seats can be equipped in vehicles, making the process of launching into the air much more streamlined than before. Also joining the wingsuit repertoire is diving and bouncing off of pedestrians, sending The Boss back into the air to cover more distance than before. I can't wait to give these new moves a try the next time I get my hands on Saints Row.
Having seen Saints Row in that early build last year and comparing it to what was presented last week, I'm feeling hopeful that jumping into the shoes of The Boss and building this new Saints empire will be a great time. The flexibility and abundance of customization options are impressive, and the improvements to combat options, traversal, and the interlocking of systems are proof Volition is making great strides to polish the game before its release. While Saints Row was pushed from its original February launch date to later in the year, Traficante assures us that it won't change again, so I'm looking forward to taking over Santo Ileso and meeting the new crew of Saints when the game releases on August 23.