We’ve fiddled with Saints Row’s free character creator, and it’s a powerful tool for representation

A boss in the making.
(Image credit: Volition)

We all know the feeling. You load up a new game, excited to get out into the world, and then lose three hours fiddling around in the character creation screen. Before you know it, your whole evening’s gone and you never even got a chance to see the opening cutscene.

Saints Row Boss Factory fixes that problem – or possibly turns it on its head. By dropping the customiser early, separately, and for free, the developers at Volition have made it possible to build your Boss in advance so that you don’t have to wait before jumping into the remade Saints Row. They’ve also made it possible to make building your Boss the entire game.

The character creator itself feels fairly comparable to those found in other games with robust customisation options, not least Saints Row 4. But there have been some important additions and tweaks. Boss Factory is clearly aimed at giving players plenty of ways to express themselves, whether that be through creating someone who looks like them, or sculpting something truly wild and wacky.

A player-made angel among us.

(Image credit: Volition)

When it comes to the wacky, things are as you might expect. You want blue skin, crocodile hats, or the ability to be absolutely coated in oil? All there at your fingertips. You want to decide which emoji covers up your crotch when you’re naked? Enjoy.

The true you

As for inclusivity, things are a bit more granular. Saints Row has long let you play with gender, for example. In Saints Row 4, while you had to pick between ‘male’ and ‘female’ body options, these didn’t lock you out of picking any particular hairstyles, facial hair, clothes, or voices. Boss Factory takes that one step further, doing away with the binary entirely in favour of a 'figure' slider. One side of the slider gives a wider chest and shoulders, while the other emphasises the hips and slims the waist. From there the body can also be further customised, with a triangular slim-muscular-fat slider and options for both chest and groin size that are unrelated to any prior choices.

Choosing a race from a dropdown list is also gone. Skin colour and skin tint can be chosen independently, although it wasn’t clear exactly how these interplayed – one seemed to simply override the other. And while they don’t exactly reach the level set by Valley of the Gods, there’s been some expansion in the Black hairstyles on offer compared to previous Saints Row games.

The array of black hairstyles has been expanded.

(Image credit: Volition)

There are some fresh additions to the kinds of customisation on offer, too, like options for vitiligo and prosthetic hands, arms, and legs. As with clothes and hair, prosthetics can be whatever colour you want, and there are several different styles available. I’d love to hear whether Volition consulted with people who use prosthetics in daily life about these various types, and I’m also curious to see what kind of reaction they might prompt when those players are able to see the results for themselves. But it’s an option that’s rare and has sparked excitement when introduced in other games, like Forza Horizon 5.

I foresee a lot of celebrity lookalikes or human Sonics

Another change for the Saints Row series is the ability to make an asymmetrical face. This is definitely something which adds a lot of depth to the face sculpting, on top of its already impressive depth via many, many sliders. I confess to not always digging all the way in there when there are so many choices, because my characters usually end up looking much worse than when I started, but the existence of these dials poses interesting creative questions for people who want to get truly detailed.

Speaking of details, there are a whole lot of clothing choices open to you immediately, although it seems like more can only be obtained from in-game stores when the full game releases. The colour customisation helps here, too, allowing 62 shirts, for example, (yes, I counted) to functionally become many more. I do wish that clothes were presented as an image gallery rather than a text-based menu, though. Scrolling through each option and letting it load onto the character is more cumbersome than just clicking on a cute patterned croptop.

Scar issue

There are a handful of omissions that I would have enjoyed seeing. Scars and tattoos, while both present, are fixed in a single place and size. I would have loved to be able to change the forearm sized dagger tattoo into a little finger one, and stretch a scar so that it looks like mine (72 stitches in my thigh; it looks rad as hell and any Boss should be able to have one too). This would also open up some other interesting customisation options, like top surgery scars for trans masculine characters.

Body types are many and nuanced.

(Image credit: Volition)

These are small things, but small things can mean a lot – especially in a game as focused on customisation as the remade Saints Row seems to be. The separate release of Boss Factory is one demonstration of that, but is just one means of personal expression alongside cars, guns, and the home base of the main game. On that front, the character creation tools largely bode well, seemingly letting a lot of people define exactly who they want to be, whether that's a chrome-skinned robot in high heels or a woman with tri-toned hair and a prosthetic arm.

But I can see a second use for Boss Factory too. There are inevitably going to be people for whom the character creator is the only part of this new Saints Row that they want to play. They’ll be able to upload their creations, and I can see a lot of users dedicating time to making celebrity lookalikes or human Sonics ready for others to take out into the world and get up to mischief with. The fact that Bosses can be changed at any time from the in-game phone, whether with a new shirt or a whole new body, encourages this kind of co-creation between Boss Factory players, Saints Row players, and those who are both. So does the simple fact that Volition has dropped the customiser for free as a separate package.

Although all the additional customisation options are great, that’s Boss Factory’s biggest innovation. It frees up the creative play that’s usually locked right at the beginning of a completely different genre of game. That gives people more time to work without feeling the imminent pressure of the rest of the experience. It gives them the ability to create and share communally, and the opportunity to simply be artistic and expressive for its own sake. I’m excited to see what people do with it.