Saints Row PC tech preview: the reboot shines on PC, and hints towards PS5 and Series X features

Technology

Saints Row is back, in a 2022 reboot that sees developer Volition bring the series up to date with an enhanced in-house engine. Come its August 23rd release, we’ll be able see how all consoles stack up, including PS5, Series X and last-gen machines – but today is all about our hands-on experience with an early PC build running on an RTX 3080 machine. Going in, we wanted to know how the PC version looked, running at 4K with settings maxed, and what hints we could find about what the Series X and PS5 versions that have yet to be revealed – including RT support. Let’s dig in and see what’s on show so far.

Right away, materials, lighting and physics in Volition’s latest are a huge leap in quality over previous Saints Row games. Gone are the flat, simplistic shaders for skin and clothing present in the last Saints Row release from 2013, now replaced with more realistically lit materials. In fact, regardless of how you craft your character – and there’s boundless possibilities here – there’s always a respectable baseline level for model quality. Likewise for the environment, texture quality is sharp, tapping into the 10GB VRAM of our RTX 3080 here comfortably. All round, world detail level is already clearly more befitting of a project meant for a PS5 and Series X release. Getting into the action itself, car headlights are punctuated by a striking volumetric effect, adding streaks of light and adding a satisfying sense of depth to the scene. Object physics also impress right away, with set piece moments strewn with TNT producing a huge payoff as barrels split open and bridges collapse.

Following this more focused part of the preview, we were set loose into the open world – and here, our RTX 3080 and Core i7 7700K system did struggle to maintain a locked 4K 60fps in this build of the game. However, dropping the resolution to 83 percent on each axis restores that 60fps lock without having to sacrifice the likes of ray-traced ambient occlusion (RTAO), shadow detail or world draw distance.

Speaking on the settings on offer, the Saints Row reboot packs a huge suite of options and each setting updates on-the-fly, conveniently showing the game world on the right as the presets change. For example, this lets us see that RTAO’s low, medium and high settings look broadly similar, but toggling between ultra and off shows stark differences – rich pockets of shade suddenly appear across the scenery, with objects bedding more naturally into the scene. I’d have loved to have seen more extensive RT support in the form of reflections or global illumination – and that may appear in the final release, who knows – but RTAO is a nice touch and I’m hopeful it’ll appear on PS5 and Series X as part of an RT quality mode. For now though we’ll just have to wait and see.

Keeping to the settings, I also took a similar look at shadows and SSR presets. Each offers plenty of scalability, and unlike the RTAO setting, the difference between each quality step is more readily apparent. The shadow setting, for example, primarily affects the quality of the sun cast and interior shadows – giving a sizeable performance boost as complexity is reduced. Just going by eye, our RTX 3080 here just about pushed to ultra while maintaining 60fps, so long as we kept the resolution scale at 83 per cent. High is certainly acceptable, but anything below that is perhaps too heavy a sacrifice. Another setting parameter, scene detail, alters the quality of shadows and terrain like trees at range. With low, medium and high settings on offer, high feels essential to avoid visible pop-in, especially while moving in a vehicle at high speed

While RT reflections aren’t offered, screen-space reflections are in play across four quality settings, from off to high – and again, the high setting’s boosts are hard to compromise on. This boosts the accuracy of the screen-space mirror image to make it a reasonable sustitute for a more physically accurate RT version. This is also ideally where PS5 and Series X versions will land as well, as you’ll visibly notice the difference in water-based missions, with medium or low SSR settings.

The rest of my three-hour session with Saints Row focused on the so-called ‘side hustles’, where you’re able to leave bad reviews at restaurants, escape police chases to deliver contraband and fly in a wingsuit to sabotage rival companies. Each of these tangents had visual high points, with the time of day evident from the game’s lighting, particle effects and physics. We’d get chase set-pieces through canyons, putting a spotlight on the density of oncoming grass, while volumetric lights come to the fore as dust billows up from the cars ahead. It’s not uniformly pretty, but there are definite incidental moments where Volition’s tech comes together with visually striking results.

Given that this is an early build, perhaps it’s unsurprising that there were a few technical issues throughout in terms of stability. I suffered a crash that deleted my save, for instance, which isn’t ideal for a time-limited preview event – but again, this isn’t particularly surprising for what is likely to be a relatively old build of a complex and unpredictable open world game. We’ll have to see where the final package puts us, but what I saw was more than enough to understand the direction the Saints Row series is taking.

By the time the game releases in the latter stages of August, we’ll be back with a full tech breakdown of not just the final PC release build, but also the situation on console. My hope is that given the settings scalability we’re seeing here, there’s room for a 4K 30fps mode with RT enabled on PS5 and Series X, as well as a 60fps mode without RT and perhaps a few other graphics tweaks. It’ll be fascinating to see how the experience translates to last-gen machines too – will it be 1080p 30fps, or something different? Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see. For now though, this year’s Saints Row reboot has huge promise as a sandbox open world title, with impressive options for character customisation, mission types, and underlying tech that should hopefully scale well to consoles old and new.