Saints Row: Where To Go From Here?
Some potential solutions to the Saints Row conundrum
Following an attempted reboot on the crime open-world series Saints Row last year, developer Volition is finding itself at a crossroads. With many decrying the series as ‘dead’ after a disastrous release, the studio presumably wants to make its next step count. Question is, what can they do?
The reboot in question, titled Saints Row, can be regarded as one of the most underwhelming game releases of last year. Launched on 23 August following a delay from a February release window, fans and critics alike were quick to point out the open-world title’s shortcomings, including its technical issues, uninspired gameplay loop, less-than-likable cast of characters, and dull story.
As such, it should come as no surprise that the game underperformed both financially and critically. Although not an outright flop, Volition’s parent company Embracer Group did not see the game as a great return on investment according to a September 2022 article. Following the lukewarm reception, Volition’s publisher was transferred from Deep Silver to Gearbox Entertainment, another consequence of the game’s unsatisfactory performance.
That’s looking at it from a business standpoint; community reception to the game has been far less positive. Saints Row received significant backlash from the community for its polarizing direction and a ‘betrayal’ towards the game’s more gritty and believable roots. The fact that the game launched at a buggy, unoptimized state certainly didn’t do it any favors, either.
The disappointing display certainly did not seem to discourage Volition from pushing forward as the studio revealed a roadmap for the game’s post-launch content on 27 March. The roadmap revealed plans to expand the game in May, July, and August with the release of campaign DLCs, solo game modes, new open-world districts, and quality-of-life improvements. Unsurprisingly, the reveal was met with dim enthusiasm from the fanbase, a reality tempered with the widespread suspicion that the YouTube Short announcing the roadmap was narrated with an AI voice.
Is the game a lost cause? Are the planned DLC contents for the game nowhere near enough to save it? Only time will tell, and although many have dismissed the game and its future endeavors, there might still be hope if Volition make amends with its fanbase instead of further alienating it.
And how might they achieve just that? There are two possible solutions to this problem.
Remake Saints Row 2
Saints Row 2 is one of the most beloved instalments in the franchise. Thanks to its perfect balance between over-the-top fun and engaging narrative, the second game is often regarded as the series’ highest point.
It’s not like playing the game requires the magic of emulating like most Xbox 360-era games, as the game is currently available on PC. However, the PC port of Saints Row 2 is infamous for being poorly optimized with an abundance of performance, technical, and graphical issues. Frame drops and random crashes have become a normal occurrence when playing on vanilla Saints Row 2, even with the most optimized setup. As such, despite enormous community efforts to fix the game with mods, Saints Row 2 on PC remained a small niche within the wider game community.
Topped with the fact that the game’s visuals haven’t aged well, it can be said that Saints Row 2 requires more than just patching up; it requires a remake treatment, similar to that of older Resident Evil games, Final Fantasy VII, and Like a Dragon: Ishin.
Volition can reinvigorate awareness of the game and to the franchise, by going to one of its strongest points. New and old players can get to experience the crime open-world franchise in its olden glory, before the spaceships, superpowers, and demons.
Of course, preserving the experience as much as possible remains a priority in developing a hypothetical Saints Row 2 remake. This includes its strengths such as tight gunplay, engaging melee system, amusing ragdoll mechanics, and rock-solid licensed soundtrack (if possible). The overall narrative should also stay relatively untouched, including the charismatic Saints crew, the entertaining antagonists, the compelling story beats, and character moments. Who would not want to experience the unbridled charm of Johnny Gat, well before he ventured into literal hell?
Applying a fresh coat of paint would also be integral to the experience. This applies to more than visual overhauls such as lighting, models, and textures, but also to animations and sound design, in order to keep up with the current generation of games. Extra care must also be administered when dealing with the overabundance of character customization options, from boots to bowie hats, from taunts to walking styles. In my opinion, reproducing the graphical fidelity of Saints Row: The Third Remastered (2020) for the remake would have been acceptable, provided they improve the lip-syncing.
A Saints Row 2 remake can win back old fans that grew with the earlier Saints Row games and attract interest from newer players who might have heard but have never played early Saints Row games. It might even attract players from other fanbases, e.g. longtime GTA fans who have grown apathetic with GTA Online and its flying jet bike shenanigans.
This solution might have been asking a lot, which is why Volition is instead working on patching up Saints Row 2. However, with a skeleton crew working on the project, it might take a while until fans can experience Saints Row 2 as it was meant to be experienced. So, a remake, perhaps?
Move on to the sequel
After all, why would the studio make a reboot of a reboot? Instead, Volition should move on to their next project in the franchise, but with the premise of bringing back the original Saints cast and pitting them against the new Saints cast.
A sequel focusing on the original cast might work from a narrative standpoint; since the reboot departs from the original settings with an entirely new cast of characters, there is a possibility that the original 3rdStreet Saints is still out there, wreaking havoc in another island city-state somewhere. The fact that the full names of the gangs are also different (3rd Street Saints compared to the reboot’s The Saints) can open up interesting narrative possibilities.
Picture this: following the events of Saints Row: The Third, the 3rd Street Saints are interested to expand beyond Stillwater and Steelport. Their eyes gravitate towards the American Southwest where they discover the quirky Santo Ileso, only to find out that the desert city is already under control of a gang also called The Saints. And with that premise, players take on the role of the original Boss/player character as they embark on another city takeover adventure while also proving who the ‘real’ Saints are, both in-game and in real life.
Other than the obvious shifted focus towards the original Saints, which has earned emotional attachment from longtime fans, there will also be room for the new cast to grow and develop. The new cast of Saints members can serve as the gang’s underbosses, each controlling a region (or several) and their own thematic ‘sub-gangs’, much like The Syndicate in The Third.
From a narrative perspective, these underbosses can be further fleshed out in terms of character (which they lacked in the reboot) in order to make them compelling as the game’s antagonists. This way, players that have grown attached to the new cast can find new ways to appreciate them, while other players can experience them without being forced to like them as they were in the reboot.
Gameplay-wise, bringing back beloved side activities should be a no-brainer, while overhauling and improving existing reboot activities should be a priority. FUZZ, Fight Club, Escort, Demolitions Derby, and Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax should make a return to the hypothetical sequel. Meanwhile on the combat side, bullet sponge-y enemies should be removed; this is Saints Row, not The Division, after all. The game’s ‘takedown’ feature, while aesthetically pleasing, should be tweaked as to not becoming too gimmicky; I was hoping this would be addressed in one of the reboot’s post-launch quality-of-life updates.
Having played all Saints Row games save for Saints Row (2006) and Saints Row (2022), this idea for a sequel should be able to please a good majority of the series’ fanbase, in my opinion. With this sequel pitch, Volition can bring back the original Saints that most veteran players have known and love while expanding upon the newer cast that newer players are more familiar with.
At the end of the day, this long-winded piece remains a piece, an idea, an expression of aspirations. It is unlikely to be implemented by Volition; I have no power in swaying their direction nor do they have the obligation to follow my suggestions. But one thing remains certain—if either of these two solutions came into fruition, you heard it here first.
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