It’s only been a couple of days since the Saints Row reboot trailer debuted during the Gamescom opening night ceremony, but that’s all the time it took for some of the franchise’s fans to wage an online campaign against the title that’s largely based on their belief that the upcoming reboot is too woke, hipster, and, ultimately, too different from the previous games in the series.
It started on YouTube where the reboot’s debut trailer quickly garnered 22k dislikes vs 16k likes (as of the time of this writing). If you haven’t watched that trailer yet, I highly recommend that you give it a look and (if you dare) check out the comments below when you’re done.
There’s certainly some variation in terms of the specific complaints people have about this trailer, but they tend to focus on the ways that this upcoming reboot will seemingly alter the theme and tone of the original Saints Row games. While some are simply upset that this upcoming game will seemingly abandon many of the series’ famous characters and locations, the most vocal complaints so far tend to focus on the idea that the Saints Row reboot is aiming for the “Gen Z” crowd by incorporating “woke” characters, “hipster” themes, and a more youthful and playful overall vibe that some say is at odds with the dark undertones of previous games in the series.
Actually, a lot of the complaints so far tend to focus on the reboot’s cast of characters. Some are calling them a forced attempt at diversity (again, we’ll get to that in a bit), but the most common criticisms so far revolve around the perception that they’re cleaner, younger, “hipper” protagonists who somehow don’t belong in a Saints Row game. Others just say that they don’t seem to be particularly interesting.
You should also know that this discourse isn’t limited to the comments section of that debut trailer. In fact, it really took off on Twitter when the Saints Row Twitter team began responding to critical fans in some surprisingly direct ways.
As you can see, the Saints Row development team at Volition is not hiding from these complaints. In fact, they’re really leaning into the idea that they are, in many ways, taking a look at the franchise’s past and altering things that they simply wouldn’t put into a game today. Here’s what studio development director Jim Boone had to say to PC Gamer on the subject:
“We love [the old Saints Row games], but we also recognize those are games of a time. They made sense within that era, and we were able to do things that felt good back then. But that tone is not something that we feel like we want to do today. We had a different kind of story that we wanted to tell.”
So, it turns out that some of Saints Row‘s early critics aren’t being entirely paranoid. The Saints Row team is aiming to change the tone of the series somewhat with this reboot, and they are looking to reexamine certain aspects of previous games that they’re not entirely comfortable with today. From there, it’s really just a matter of what you think about that change in philosophy.
Personally, I think that some of these early criticisms are odd and are perhaps based on issues that are much more serious than the Saints Row reboot. Having said that, some of the concerns about this game may not be entirely unwarranted, even at this early stage.
The thing that I can’t get past is the idea that there’s somehow a sacred theme that the Saints Row series has stuck to up until this point. The first Saint’s Row game was basically a more outlandish GTA game that honestly did emphasize a style, tone, story, and characters that you probably wouldn’t want to put in a game today, and for good reasons. At worst, it was occasionally offensive, and at best, it was all pretty basic.
From there, the Saints Row games just got wilder. Saints Row 2 tried to keep things slightly more grounded (although the insanity was absolutely getting turned up at that point), but Saints Row 3 just threw all attempts at logic out of the window in favor of embracing its predecessor’s wildest concepts and upping the ante. By the time we got to Saints Row 4, we were playing as superpowered gangsters tasked with defending the universe.
If there is one thing that all of those Saints Row games had that this reboot seems to be lacking in these very early stages, it’s an “edge.” The Saints Row games often combined over-the-top violence with over-the-top sex and used all of it to accentuate over-the-top moments. It was always a bit more South Park than Goodfellas, and while that’s part of the reason a lot of people fell in love with the Saints Row series in the first place, Saints Row 4 certainly left many wondering how the series was possibly going to raise the bar. It’s not that Saints Row 4 was a disaster (it was occasionally a lot of fun), but it definitely felt like we were starting to reach the point of diminishing returns and stylistic awkwardness. There certainly may be a bit of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” in play here, though many of these criticisms seem to be coming from those who never grew tired of the series’ edgy absurdity in the first place.
So while I suspect that some fans were hoping that this reboot would bring this series back to the Saints Row 2 style (which honestly probably came closest to properly balancing absurdity and open-world crime drama), it’s honestly hard to fault the Saints Row reboot team for coming to the conclusion that it’s time to mix things up. It probably is time to mix things up, and given that Saints Row is usually at its best when it’s doing things differently than the competition (which honestly includes moments of character diversity and sex-positivity spread throughout the series that shouldn’t be overlooked if we’re having a fair discussion about this franchise), I’m not willing to buy into the argument that this is inherently a bad idea. I’m just not convinced that the best things about the original Saints Row games are somehow being completely abandoned here, based on what we’ve seen so far.
Having said all of that, the debut Saints Row trailer did leave a lot to be desired. The popularity of CG debut trailers that don’t showcase gameplay is generally annoying, but in this particular instance, I think it’s safe to say that Saints Row maybe didn’t put its best foot forward when it came to selling everyone on these new ideas, new characters, and a new world while also establishing how this game will tap into the series’ best qualities. Thankfully, the game’s latest trailer already looks like a big step in the right direction:
The discourse about Saints Row‘s tone, style, messages, and characters will go on, but it’s ultimately up to developer Volition to sell us on the idea that the path they’ve chosen is the best one for this series moving forward. I do think that there’s a strong argument to be made for changing things up, and I think that the team might be on the right track when it comes to non-gameplay-related ways to do just that. It really comes down to whether or not they’re moving beyond their edgy past because they’ve grown and learned better ways to do things, of whether this change in style is more about them being embarrassed by aspects of those older games but not entirely sure at this time what the best alternative is.
We’ll find out if it all comes together when Saints Row is released on February 25, 2022.