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Saints Row Hands-on Preview

The new Saints Row feels a lot like a game from a different era, but with a bunch of additions that make it more than just a nostalgic return to the past.

We played about four hours of Saints Row at a recent preview event, which encompassed the beginning of the game. As with the original Saints Row, the new game is all about creating your own criminal empire--but you have a long way to go before that happens. It's set in the new city of Santo Ileso, a fictional location in the United States' Southwest that mixes an urban center, suburbs, and desert locations, and carries the vibe of places such as Las Vegas or Albequrque, without being quite like either.

Though we know you're eventually going to become a crime kingpin, the game starts with your humble beginnings, when your character is living in a dingy apartment with three friends: mechanic and driving wiz Neenah, entrepreneurial expert Eli, and shirtless DJ and resident cook Kev. Everyone in the group is familiar with petty crime, and both Neenah and Kev are members of local gangs. Neenah's with Los Panteros, a gang that's focused on cars and weight-lifting, while Kev hangs around with the Idols, a band of techno-anarchists who believe in a decentralized future. You're a member of the third "gang" in town, and the only legitimate one: a private military corporation called Marshall Defense Industries.

So at the start of Saints Row, your goal is to climb the corporate ladder as a mercenary at Marshall, mostly focused on bringing home enough rent money to keep you and your friends from eviction. Trying to find a way to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and fight an economic system stacked against you is a pretty pervasive theme in Saints Row--at one point, Neenah mentions the driving force for her doing crimes is to earn money to pay off her student loans. Your character is already a talented killer full of bravado, so the opportunity to earn bonus pay for performing well incentivizes you to become a one-person maverick murder machine.