Originally released a couple of months ago, back in late August, Saints Row 2022 is a somewhat more grounded reboot of a series of over-the-top open-world titles of the same name, which began as a tale of gangs fighting for power, and escalated to the President of the United States fighting aliens using super powers in a virtual reality world, harnessing weaponised dubstep lasers.
The series reboot, while still containing some exaggerated and silly humour, reigned in a little of the spectacle and escalation that had been reached by the time that we got to Saints Row 4’s release, and instead replaced it with slightly awkward “trendy” dialogue, current memes that are gonna age pretty badly, and a reduction in literal superpowers being dispensed to players.
While the rebooted Saints Row released a couple of months ago at the time of writing this video script, there was one aspect of the game that I’ve been meaning to make a video about for some time, and have only just had the oportunity to revisit.
Saints Row 2022 is notable from an accessibility perspective as it is, to my knowledg,e one of the first big budget video games from a non-PlayStation first-party developer to attempt an implementation of High Contrast Mode, a setting that was introduced by The Last of Us 2 to increase visibility of game elements for partially sighted blind players.
Since the mode was first introduced, and has started to become somewhat of a first party standard on PlayStation, I have been advocating for more developers outside of PlayStation studios to try their hand at implementing the technology in their own games.
As basically the first major example of a game attempting their own implementation of high contrast mode, I knew I needed to spend some time investigating how Saints Row turned out in this regard.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be taking a look at the accessibility settings found in Saints Row 2022. We’re going to see which settings are available, which are lacking in execution, and how the implementation of High Contrast mode in this title compares to implementations seen in Sony’s first party releases.
Saints Row 2022 has a pretty decent number of overall settings tweaks offered to players, ranging from those aimed as gameplay customisation to settings explicitly aimed at improving accessibility for disabled players.
While not every setting change can be previewed inside menus on first boot, many can be previewed once you’ve begun playing, with a pop out window showing the changes applied to your paused game state.
In terms of difficulty, players can select from five main difficulty presets, before tweaking individual aspects of difficulty, ranging from ammo scarcity, to timed objective difficulty. In particular, as a player with a motor control and coordination disability, I really appreciated the inclusion of customisable lock-on, which can be customised both in terms of lock-on style, as well as the range at which lock-on occurs.
In a later Accessibility menu, you can also set lock-on to automatically target a new enemy, when one that’s been locked onto is defeated.
While the lock-on settings work pretty well when at short to medium range, lock on does unfortunately have a limited range of effectiveness even at maximised settings. If an enemy is too far away from you, it simply will not lock on.
This is particularly apparent because the very first firefight in the game takes place shooting at enemies in the far distance, which caused me to personally think that I’d failed to properly turn on lock-on in the menu, then I went and double checked, before realising that it was turned on, but simply wasn’t functioning as I’d hoped or expected.
Again, once you get into the sort of short to medium range it works really well, it just doesn’t function at all at long range.
Saints Row does feature controller remapping, though unfortunately only via a rather obtuse menu that is poorly laid out, and isn’t intuative to work your way through.
There is however a section of the menu that allows for button holds to be replaced with single presses or toggles, which is really useful.
Players like myself who experience motion sickness, can switch off Motion Blur and Camera Shake, which should both help to minimise motion sickness occurrence during play. Additionally, in a later menu, takedown camera behaviour can also be altered to help reduce motion sickness.
Saints Row also features audio control sliders, as well as options for tweaking subtitles. While the settings that are found in the default audio menu are somewhat limited, jumping into the Audio Section of the Accessibility Settings menu reveals some more in depth options are available.
In a setting that I’m really glad to see becoming more common as an autistic gamer, Saints Row allows for critical dialogue audio to be boosted in prominence in the overall audio mix, quieting other sounds a little, or fully, during dialogue exchanges, with contextual but non-critical audio sources able to be made more quiet using individual sliders. This is all really helpful for me, as often I struggle with picking out dialogue in scenes with too many distinct sources of audio occurring at the same time.
A similar feature was also recently present in God of War: Ragnarok, and it greatly improved my experience with that title as well.
In terms of subtitles, players may be disappointed to learn that Saints Row does not feature dedicated Captions as an option, only a subtitle option for dialogue.
Speaker names can be switched on, and background opacity can be altered, as well as size of subtitles being increased too, with ambient chat bubbles able to be switched on to highlight background conversations in the world as text.
The largest subtitle size available is fairly average. It’s not the largest I’ve seen, but it’s certainly not the worst that a game has ever offered. The option also exists to change all text into capital letters, which for some users may improve legibility.
Unfortunately, subtitle timings are often not well synced to spoken dialogue at all, either appearing considerably before dialogue, or considerably after dialogue. So, for players like myself who use subtitles in conjunction with audio, the experience of reading along with dialogue may be distracting.
In the gameplay accessibility menu, Saints Row allows for automatically succeeding at in-game Quick Time Events, or disabling timers for their completion entirely. The game also allows for the maximum speed of vehicles to be lowered, if driving sections are too fast and hectic to keep up with, and for more forgiving difficulty on time limited quests.
Lastly, let’s discuss the Visual and UI focused accessibility settings menus, which contains, among other options, support for High Contrast Mode.
High contrast mode in Saints Row is definitely less feature complete than some of the PlayStation exclusive titles that we’ve previously discussed on this show, but it is still very beneficial to see added to the game, and I think that its execution is really interesting in its own right.
Unlike the implementation recently seen in God of War: Ragnarok, Saints Row doesn’t offer players any customizability for the colours used in their high contrast experience.
You can Switch on Highlight Only mode, which outlines important details in thick, brightly coloured lines but leaves visuals otherwise unchanged, or you can put the setting to full, turning non high contrast elements grayscale for greater contrast. Those are your only customisability settings.
There is no turning the setting on or off mid gameplay with a touchpad swipe, rather than having to go into menus, and there’s no customising of the colours chosen for individual game elements.
In particular, Ragnarok’s recent addition of colour blindness focused presets for high contrast mode really helps to highlight the importance of considering high Contrast mode alongside customisable colour choices for players with intersectional visibility needs.
There are options for UI elements such as the targeting reticle colour to be customised, and for overall colour blindness filters to be applied to the game, it’s just high contrast mode itself which lacks this type of customizability.
How is Saints Row’s implementation of high Contrast mode in practice? Well, the execution is a little mixed, but it’s so much better than the setting not being present, and I really like some of the things it’s trying to do.
High contrast Mode in Saints Row only takes place during “gameplay scenes”, leaving certain cutscenes without high contrast support, but some with it. The line between which cutscenes are considered in engine moments that get high contrast mode support, and which ones are considered truly cutscenes and don’t get that high contrast support, is muddled and unclear at best.
Additionally, even in cutscenes that support high contrast mode, some important narrative objects or characters in those scenes aren’t given high contrast support, which is confusing.
The disparity between cutscenes with, and without, high contrast mode is particularly jarring when two cutscenes play back to back, one with the support and one without.
Highlight Only is a curious setting, in that what it chooses to highlight isn’t what I would have expected. Often, Highlight Only mode highlights not just outlines around characters, but also certain details on them, such as outlining where their eyes are on their face, or major lines that show how a character’s hair is styled. These details do help to make more than just a character’s outline visible for low vision players, but in some ways it’s more detailed than the description of the setting sounded. It made it sound like it was just applying highlights around important elements, and it caught me off guard a little the additional detailing.
When switching High Contrast mode to full, the implementation still differs from that seen in Sony’s PlayStation exclusive titles, in that the game still only highlights these edge detail on important elements, rather than fully highlighting the whole character or object model.
The addition of a grayscale filter to the world does help these highlights to more cleanly stand out, but it’s going to be a matter of personal preference if someone thinks that this, or PlayStation’s execution of the feature, is superior.
Actually, a quick addition, it IS possible to see High Contrast mode function a little bit more like Sony’s titles, but not intentionally. I did encounter a glitch while capturing footage for this video where my entire character model did get filled in with high contrast colours. It also unfortunately involved some horrific floating teeth and eyeballs. Not an ideal implementation for sure.
For my personal situation, I actually really like Highlight Only mode as an option, even if I don’t think that it’s a replacement for Sony’s implementation, or for this game’s full mode implementation.
Highlight Only suits my personal use case really well, as a player who gets distracted by large amounts of simultaneous visual information, and tends to use High Contrast mode mainly to help me pick out individual important information within clutter, rather than using it due to any experience of blindness.
Highlight Only, when it’s working, and I wish that it was applied more consistently, gives me that at a glance information about what is important or not on screen, without reducing overall visual fidelity for me in quieter moments.
I wish that it could be switched on or off during gameplay without having to pause and dig through menus, but overall I think it’s a really useful version of the feature, for my specific use case.
While I’m not a huge fan of the 2022 Saints Row reboot as an overall game, which feels like it lost a lot of its identity and charm in the attempted reimagining of the series, I do think that it has some really interesting aspects to dissect, as someone who focuses a lot on accessibility in the games that I play.
While lock-on doesn’t work at certain distances, and high contrast mode doesn’t work in certain cutscenes, I really appreciate the application of audio dampening during dialogue moments, and the introduction of highlights only mode for high contrast visuals as an option.
While the execution isn’t a perfect match for some of the more recent examples provided by first-party PlayStation Studios, I am really excited to see other developers attempt to implement High Contrast modes into their own games.
I would far rather see a new developer attempt to implement High contrast Mode in their game, in an imperfect way that has room for improvement, rather than not attempt to implement the feature at all.
Saints Row’s implementation is, if nothing else, a definite improvement over not supporting the feature, and hopefully this is the first sign to other developers in the industry that Sony doesn’t own this accessibility feature, and that other games are allowed, and should be encouraged, to bring it to their software too.