Saints Row 2022 Reboot – Zero Punctuation

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So last week Volition burst into the room and cried “Hey everyone, we’ve made a new sandbox crime game called Saints Row! In which you play a thug battling to become top of the heap in a city split between various criminal gangs. And we know, it sounds like we’re ripping off Grand Theft Auto, but this is our own spin on the formula with a tongue very firmly in cheek.” And then we all looked confused for a second and said “Volition, what are you talking about? You released Saints Row sixteen years ago. There have been three sequels since then. Two and four were right bangers.” “What?” Are you feeling alright, Volition? We haven’t heard from you since you released Agents of Mayhem and went into that weird coma. “Agents of what? Are you telling me I’ve somehow forgotten sixteen years of my life? That doesn’t seem likely, what with Senator Obama’s intention to revitalize the American healthcare system. What happened in these three sequels, anyway?” Oh, well, the last one was about being the President fighting alien invaders in a giant computer simulation. “Well now I know you’re taking the piss.” I hate to say I told you so, constantly, with an air of smugness and perverse relish, but I called this when Saints Row 4 came out.

It was, to reiterate, a banger. The series went from generic crime sandbox to being the president of space and it was fun and audacious but it was also going to kill the series stone dead because there was absolutely no topping it. You couldn’t make a fourth sequel about becoming president of twice as much space. So apparently Volition didn’t even bother to try and have instead nestled their face between the cozy cheeks of reboot, and Saints Row going back to relatively grounded crime sandbox after nine years feels like Jim Morrison coming back to life, crashing on my sofa and leaving skidmarks on the guest towels. But in contrast to the generally dated feel of what history will remember as Saint’s Row open brackets 2022 close brackets, the plot is pretty on point with current events, in that it’s about an adult with a full time job who needs three roommates to make rent . In a standard crime sandbox city that’s split between three conveniently color coded gangs, the requisite Saints Row custom protagonist shares a flat with three mates who are all in different gangs, but when all four of you are made redundant at the same time you decide to start your own, much better gang and so you do that. And it goes really well because the four of you happen to be supermurderers who can fly.

In that you all have wingsuits by default, which rather undermines the initial poverty stricken status if you’ve still got some wiggle room in the extreme sports budget. So the major flaw in the plot is the lack of sympathetic character growth. It might’ve helped to see the leads initially being scrappy second rate supermurderers who gradually improve until they can beat the smug preppy supermurderers at the big supermurder contest, but no. You’re supermurderers right out of the gate and you succeed at everything it occurs to you to do. Seems we’ve forgotten that it took four games to become the president of space last time. Still, I found some reasons to be optimistic early on. The character creator has finally brought back the gender slider and the customizable socks, but then again, where’s my fucking Cockney accent option, Volition? Christ, we can never just have everything, can we. The McRib finally comes back and the ice cream machine promptly breaks down. But the point is, the socks and the gender thing are still just shit from old Saint’s Row games, and that’s exactly what Saints Row open brackets 2022 close brackets feels like. A sandbox game with a distinctly early 2010s air about it.

Which isn’t necessarily a problem, especially if you’re bored of the current Jiminy Cockthroat open world vogue and sick to death of having to mentally catalog which bushes are for hiding in and which are for harvesting the shit you use to make healing potions – Saint’s Row open brackets the new one close brackets ain’t got none of that tat. It’s got missions where you shoot a load of baddies and missions where you do a car chase and some for special occasions where you do a car chase while shooting loads of baddies. At least it has a clear idea of ​​how it wants you to play it. You’ll do shooties or drives and you’ll fucking like it. Absolutely no sneaking up on guards for contextual stealth kills, I mean, be realistic, they’d have heard your engine revving. The open world isn’t very big but you can access it all from the beginning so it is for once a true sandbox with none of that arbitrary locking off shenanigans where you can only enjoy the dessert of the skyscraper district after you’ve eaten the vegetables of the slums for a few missions. There’s a wealth of sidequests tied to the district takeover mechanic, you build specific facilities as your headquarters in each region and each one has a unique side activity,

and the custom nature of it sometimes has amusing results like the one time I was tasked to return a specific vehicle which it turned out was parked about ten yards down the street. The game mandates you finish a certain amount of side content to unlock the full critical path which all sandbox games should do because making side content but not obliging the player to engage with it is like donating a Turner seascape to a hospital for the blind. And after the bland, disjointed, story campaign with fewer stakes than a Whole Foods butcher counter five minutes before closing, extra objectives unlock for the completion nutters. All in all it does everything one of these Xbox 360-era sandboxes should do. And so what if it isn’t topping Saints Row 4 for sheer over the top craziness? It’s a reboot, after all. Taking the opportunity to retell the story from the ground up with a new spin on the format is potentially an endeavor with merit. But then so is funding an expedition to the Marianas trench to monitor hitherto undiscovered marine life and that’s also a thing Saints Row doesn’t fucking do. It’s not a new spin on the format at all, it’s just the same format again, copy pasted with painful obviousness.

In times such as these when popular game design is stagnating there’s a lot of mileage in recreating old gameplay styles with a few added innovations from newer times that mesh well with the format, hence the recent wave of retro boomer shooters and why about sixty percent of them have a grappling hook, but that’s not what this is. This isn’t a nostalgic callback to sandbox games from sixteen years ago, it just… IS a sandbox game from sixteen years ago. And I can’t shake the feeling that Volition have just hacked out an inferior clone of one of their old workhorses after rather cynically waiting the bare minimum amount of time necessary to be able to call it fresh with a straight face. And I know cynicism when I see it, just as an ant is extremely familiar with the contours of another ant’s bum. What am I on about. The point is, Saints Row open brackets (blow raspberry) close brackets was for me yet another reminder that I honestly can’t remember the last time a triple-A release felt like an actual step forward for game design. Elden Ring maybe and even that was just Dark Souls but open world now. A bigger bag of gummi bears isn’t a bold step forward in gummi bear innovation, it’s just more gummi bears. The most it’ll do is make you puke an interesting color in the morning.

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