Saints Row’s Character Customisation Is The Game’s Best Feature
I recently had a hands-off preview for the upcoming Saints Row reboot, and my main takeaway was that it felt exactly like a Saints Row game. More precisely, it looks like a slightly more polished Saints Row: The Third, capturing all of the best aspects of the series’ peak. Some of the gameplay looks a little bit dated, with janky QTE fights and slightly blocky animations with graphics that have a shiny cartoon feel over the increasingly expensive photorealism many games chase. If you like Saints Row, I think you'll like this Saints Row, and really, that should be enough. You can read my full thoughts at the link above, but I wanted to carve out a little bit of time to discuss the character customisation specifically.
In so many ways, Saints Row's customisation is the anti-Cyberpunk 2077. CDPR's game was frequently labelled as offering gaming's first transgender character creator, even though earlier Saints Row games had offered more and CDPR failed to endorse this identity aside from slapping a dick onto a feminine body. Even voice was gendered, locking up into a pronoun choice. Saints Row is much more fluid, letting you mix and match a whole variety of body parts however you want. You can also change on the fly, something Cyberpunk didn't let you do until recently, and even then, limited it to your apartment.
The Cyberpunk comparison is important because its character creator has been lauded, even away from the generous interpretation of its progressive trans acceptance, for its intricate detail. But this detail is useless if it wrests control away from you. In Cyberpunk, as in a lot of other character creators, you only get to see your design in the specific menu lighting, and then are locked into it. Even a haircut is off limits in Night City. In Saints Row, you just whip your in-game phone out and you can change whatever you want, as much as you want. In our preview, we saw an old, chubby white man transform into a tall Asian woman, then to a short and athletic Black woman, then into a muscular Black man, and then to a character in a fursuit all in the space of a few seconds. Everything can be changed then and there, mid mission, from gender to body size to facial features to clothes. You can even save a bunch of pre-sets to make flicking between your favourites even easier.
The clothes, too, have a huge range to them. We saw the Boss visit a cowboy-themed store in the demo, and had a wealth of options to dress our rodeo king or queen in. Colours can be customised too, ensuring you'll get the perfect look. Or, more likely, can spend hours trying to find the exact shade of cerulean you want and then deciding to screw it and go with the default blue. We only saw this store in the preview but were promised some classic outlets would be returning, so here's hoping we can take a trip to Leather & Lace or Let's Pretend some time soon.
Guns have always been a huge part of Saints Row, but this time the customisation extends even further. Rather than a couple of skin wraps or bullet effects, the guns can be customised as much as the clothes. Want your twin pistols to be giant foam fingers? No worries, the game's got that covered.
I have previously written about how this flexible creativity needs to be matched by the world around us – I don't expect all the characters to suddenly transform mid-mission the way we might, but I do want to see a level of diversity above what other games might offer. We see Saints Row has a wide range of people of colour in the central cast, and the default Boss in the promos has been a Black woman, but for a game with this much customisation, it invites pressure to go deeper. If we can be gender non-conforming, sex positive, have prosthetics, and mix gender identifying features, the rest of the game needs to as well. The preview didn't show us any of this, but it was mainly focused on big picture gameplay and a single mission, so I'm still holding out hope.
Saints Row's customisation goes beyond what most games offer, but really, there isn't much special about it. All it does is place fun over realism, and lets you do whatever you want in order to make the game most enjoyable to you at any given moment. Other games could learn a valuable lesson from it.
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