Saints Row began as something of a Grand Theft Auto competitor—an open-world game where you build your own gang empire. It also began as an Xbox 360 exclusive. In fact, the first game still hasn’t left that platform. Saints Row 2 started adding some comedic and over-the-top elements to differentiate it from those GTA comparisons, but largely stuck to the same formula. By Saints Row: The Third, things were starting to get really weird and bombastic. And by the time Saints Row IV was done, we’d become President of the United States, met aliens in a simulation world that gave us super powers, and even gone to Hell. Where else was there to go when “over-the-top” had run out of options? Run it back.Saints Row—that is, the new upcoming Saints Row that shares a title with the first game in the series—is a reboot of the franchise. Not a remake or a remaster or a reimagining. It’s a full reboot that is untethered by anything that came before it, allowing the new title to reexplore the roots of what it meant to be an up and coming gang taking over territory within a city and building your own empire. But going back to those roots doesn’t mean the character of what makes Saints Row is gone. If anything, this is an opportunity to reexamine the more personal stakes of Saints Row 1 and 2 while embracing some of the more bombastic and humorous identity that came in the third and fourth games.The developers at Volition want to tell a contemporary and relatable story about four friends stifled by the world and failed by the system. It’s a power fantasy that puts you in control of your own rise when the world has long forgotten you exist. And most importantly, they stress that this is not a “grim dark” game. It’s centered in antics, outrageousness, hijinks, and comedy. And spoilers, we can already tell you that there isn’t going to be an alien invasion, and won’t be nearly as over-the-top as Saints Row IV, but honestly, that’s a pretty tough ask for literally any game to do anyway. Volition says they were inspired by films like Hobbs and Shaw, John Wick, and Baby Driver for how they nail the balance of action and tone, comedy and doing some really crazy, exciting, action-packed stuff.And that new exploration of what Saints Row can be is made possible with a brand new engine, as well as a studio filled with a mixture of Volition veterans and brand new faces to add some fresh perspective to classic intent. This won’t tie back into previous Saints Row games. It’s not a sequel, prequel, or midquel that falls between the other titles. This is a wholly new and unrelated experience. Sure, we may see some cameos, Easter eggs, and fun references, but for all intents and purposes, this new Saints Row effectively pretends the previous games didn’t exist, at least as far as story canon is concerned. However, yes, we were assured that the Insurance Fraud open world activity is coming back. (For the uninitiated, Insurance Fraud is an activity in every Saints Row game where you intentionally ragdoll yourself in front of a car in an attempt to rack up extraordinarily high costs of medical bills.)A big part of rebooting Saints Row is giving players a new place to play in. Santo Ileso is a city that represents the American Southwest, a region that isn’t often explored in modern open-world games. Volition gravitated towards it because of its rich color, silhouettes, and imagery that already provided a whole different feel. The city is made up of nine unique districts, each with their own special feel and themes—something that Volition says adds the most variety to a Saints Row game that they’ve ever had, and yes, that includes when they lived in a simulation and went to Hell. On area is gritty. One is a balance of grime and glitz. One is gated communities filled with pools and parties.Saints Row Reboot Preview – An Empire From the Ground UpThe Saints are going to be up against some tough company as they struggle to build an empire. Three entirely new gangs control Santo Ileso. Los Panteros are the natives of Santo Ileso. They have a pride in where they come from and center on muscle and physical power. Marshall Defense Industries is a military conglomerate that owns commercial territory, has a lot of money, and relies on precision weaponry. And The Idols are motivated by fame and notoriety. You, as a unique player-customized character acting as the new “Boss” of the Saints, will need to work with a new group of allies—Neenah, Kevin, and Eli—to build your own gang empire.To do this, you’ll be building out criminal venture opportunities across the city, customizing things specifically to you. You get to build your own buildings and set up your own less-than-legitimate businesses anywhere in the city, on empty lots across the environment. And the choice is entirely up to the player. Go ahead and build a toxic waste dump in the financial district, or launder money up near that gated communities. The world is your criminal enterprise oyster, and Volition isn’t about to tell you how to do things. Saints Row was specifically designed to offer depth and player choice in how you make and manage your open-world criminal empire. You have control over exactly how you consume the game and play it.Gameplay-wise, expect the same kind of gameplay seen in previous games (minus the zany superpowers or demon abilities). This is not a precision shooter. Players aren’t meant to be turtling up and taking cover. It’s a run-and-gun experience that has been refined and, according to Volition, feels “really good.” It’s bold, in-your-face combat. Similarly, driving has seen a major overhaul, giving players the ability to upgrade any vehicle—even a garbage truck—for off-roading in the great rocky deserts of the American Southwest. And don’t worry, there are plenty of guns (with some hints at some crazy new weapons), plenty of vehicles, including aerial transportation, and other gameplay surprises in this massive sandbox.And that play space is supported by full cross-gen, cross-play co-op. The entire campaign can be played with a friend via the seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op, or the two of you can just wander the open-world, causing chaos and building your criminal empire. Volition has even teased “pranking” within co-op, but hasn’t yet specified what exactly that will entail.Honestly, it’s exciting to see a developer going back to the drawing board to reexamine what an open-world sandbox can be, and just how they let their players play in it. The American Southwest is a unique new environment not often chosen as the centerpiece for open-world games like this, and it sets the stage for a whole new take on the Saints Row franchise. What better way to move forward than to look back, examine where you came from. Saints Row reassesses the intent of the original games, while keeping some valuable lessons learned from alien invasions, super powers, and trips to literally meet the devil himself.And best of all? You don’t have to wait much longer. Saints Row releases on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC February 25, 2022.