It’s a minor miracle Saints Row has returned after a turbulent move to a new publisher, a nearly decade-long hiatus, and a botched spinoff. It’s fitting then that the latest entry’s largest Easter egg celebrates a dormant video game franchise that hasn’t been so lucky.
The new Saints Row reboots the 15-year-old series, trading its coastal metropolis open worlds of the past for a sunbaked American southwest, a fictional city inspired heavily by Las Vegas and the surrounding Clark County. To give the setting depth, the game’s writers and world builders dropped historical placards throughout various parks, monuments, and landmarks. The signs, when tapped, dish brief backstory about the area’s culture and politics through tinny speakers.
My favorite historical destination is the Red Faction Memorial Park. Located a short drive from the hero’s first safe house, the park is a not-so-subtle celebration of the Red Faction series, also created by Saints Row developer Volition.
In Saints Row’s story, the Red Faction is a band of striking workers who, on May 22, 2001, “sought to end inhumane working conditions and unethical human experiments.” The Ultor Corporation squashed the revolt, but the park — a brutalist cement pond staged around a stone spire — honors their resistance. Alongside the park sits the Red Faction Brew Works brewery, its logo resembling the original Red Faction logo with a fist clenched around a pint of beer rather than a pickaxe.
In real life, Red Faction was a sci-fi franchise that debuted on May 22, 2001, and culminated in 2011 with Red Faction: Armageddon. While its best entry, Red Faction: Guerrilla, recently received a remaster, the series has been otherwise neglected as its rights shuttled between companies following the corporate pillaging of THQ.
Saints Row games have winked at Red Faction in the past. Saints Row 2 went so far as to suggest the two series take place in the same universe in which the malevolent Ultor Corporation exerts control. The Red Faction Memorial Park’s fiction seems to confirm the reboot also fits into the shared universe, with Saints Row taking place many decades before its sci-fi sibling.
But what I find equally interesting as the in-fiction lore is the optional reading of real-world subtext. The Red Faction Memorial Park’s references to the mistreatment of workers reflect, intentionally or not, the creation of modern video games.
The video game industry is notorious for inequitable pay, periods of intense crunch, toxic office cultures, and rampant mismanagement. While specific complaints have not been reported about Volition during the development of the Red Faction and Saints Row series, Polygon reported at length in 2014 about the missteps that led to the collapse of THQ and with it, the swell of canceled projects and corresponding layoffs.
Are we reading too much into an Easter egg? Maybe. But consider how long it takes game developers to create an entire virtual city block with a custom memorial and brewery dedicated to their fallen game series and the labor that went into it. Maybe this is a cute wink at a sibling franchise on the ice. Or maybe it’s a nod at just how hard it’s become for workers to make a game, and how incredible that any game makes it to the finish line.
If you’d like to see the Red Faction Memorial Park for yourself, here’s the location on the map.