Following my hands off preview of the Saints Row reboot, I sat down and chatted more with Volition developers Kenzie Lindgren (associate UX designer) and Damien Allen (principal designer). We covered a broad range of topics, including plenty on what's new for this entry, but we started by discussing why Saints Row aficionados should come back to the series, despite its brand-new cast and setting.
"It definitely still feels like Saints Row - even if it's not the same characters, even if it's not the same setting, even if it's not exactly the same as before - it feels like Saints Row," Lindgren said.
"I feel that every single time I go into the game, whether that's just customisation (because customisation is a huge part of it), whether that's travelling around the city, whether that's wing suiting and doing the missions, it feels like Saints Row. And I think that's at least worth checking out if you're an older player, but also for a newer player to discover that feeling for the first time."
This is something Allen reiterated. "I really think that the feel of the Saints Row franchise is alive and well," he added.
"If you are a veteran, if you've played through one or all four of the previous games, there's going to be something for you to enjoy, [be that] the traversal mechanics, the new things we've added or a world that is more vibrant and unique than anything we've ever had in the past."
But while the overall tone of Saints Row may be the same, Volition believes this new reboot stands head and shoulders above other games (and not just those within the Saints Row series) in its customisation, which looks to be one of the most extensive examples of its kind. Everything can be altered, from outfits, cars and weapons to the scars and birthmarks on your character's body.
"We definitely have a lot more customisation than any other game on the market right now," stated Lindgren. "But also, just the fact that in the game, we might give you the same tools, and we might give you the same ways to traverse and to move around, and you might be completing the same missions and getting the same rewards [as other Saints Row players, but] no two players are necessarily going to have the same experience.
"With the level of customisation and the level of options and tools we give you, two different players are going to play into the game completely differently. And I think that's something that's really cool about Saints Row in particular."
But even with the huge swathe of cosmetics included within the game itself, the Saints Row team has decided to keep the protagonist's pronouns gender neutral, with the Boss always being referred to as either "they", "them" or "you" throughout. This is something the developers say is purely for technical reasons, and not done to suggest the Boss is non-binary.
"Trying to put all that together with eight different voices and to have multiple different options in there and also to then make it feel natural... That alone would be a challenge that, just right now, is not something that we're looking at facing," Allen said.
"That's not to say that maybe it wouldn't happen in the future but we're not really sure for now," added Lindgren.
This brought us to Saints Row's initial reveal last year, which was met with a lukewarm response, and the game's subsequent delay.
"I think there was always a part of me and maybe even some other people in the studio that always knew it was going to be a little rough at first, because the [old] Saints are not coming back... I think that was always going to be something that was kind of contentious," Lindgren acknowledged.
"It is a little bit frustrating to see [initial reactions] when you know what you're making, and when we're not quite ready to reveal everything. And that can be something that is a lot to go through.
"I was the one that came out and said, 'the Saints are not coming back', and that can be very nerve wracking. But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. And honestly, the entire time I've been here... we've always been confident in this direction. I've always been confident in this, and I personally have loved what we've made. So yeah, it can be frustrating, but I'm also pretty confident still."
"You just [have to] take that approach of like, 'Okay, we know what we've got and we're going to show you what we've got. Just be patient, please'," Allen added. "Sometimes you just have to take it in your stride. And it wasn't, from my point of view, as if we had to pivot or shift or anything [following the announcement's reception]. It was, 'this is this is the path we've been going down this whole time,' and we've been very confident in that. And when people can see it in totality, I think they hopefully will agree with us."
And it turns out, Volition's aim is for Saints Row to be experienced by as many people as possible, thanks to the game's accessibility options.
"One thing we really did try to look at with accessibility was to make sure at least each category of player had something on offer for them," revealed Lindgren. "So, there is a section for visual accessibility. There's a section for motor accessibility. There's a section for camera motion [and] all of that."
"I believe there is at least something for everybody," she said, before promising a more in depth breakdown of the game's accessibility options to come later down the line.
So, what does the future of Saints Row hold? Once the game launches, it can be played as a fully co-op experience should you wish, with cross-gen gameplay capabilities. However, do not hold your breath for Saints Row becoming a cross-platform co-op endeavour. When asked if this could ever be a possibility, I was told a very straightforward "no" by Allen.
Meanwhile, Allen and Lindgren were both very careful not to give too much away when I asked about a Saints Row multiplayer option, and instead chose to focus on what we can expect on the game's initial release, which is the aforementioned co-op mode. However, this was prefaced with phrases such as "at this moment".
Finally, before my time with the Volition developers came to an end, I asked them how they would describe Saints Row in just a few short words. Well, that was an easy one. They've promised it's going to be a "unique, power-fuelled fantasy" and a lot of "fun" to dive into on its release.
Saints Row is due to launch on 23rd August across Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
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