After playing four hours of Saints Row during a preview session, optimism was very high about Volition Studios’ big reboot of the franchise. After getting our hands on the entire game, the optimism quickly waned, but it wasn’t an entirely terrible experience.
As a video game franchise, Saints Row is in an interesting space. The game was stuck in limbo following 2015’s lackluster Gat Out Hell, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fans of Saints Row. Volition knew they had to recapture the zany magic that gamers have come to expect from the open-world game that is not Grand Theft Auto and present it in a next-gen package.
Did they manage to do that? Yes, but mostly no, unfortunately.
As you travel around the gorgeous and vibrant fictional midwestern city of Santo Illeso, there is plenty of criminal endeavors and mayhem for you to partake in. There are a variety of side activities to do and some fun main missions that will keep you enthused, but those are few, and the issues the game suffers from are just too hard to ignore.
Saints Row Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously, But It’s Not Like Previous Games
When you think of Saints Row, you immediately think about dildo bats and other absurd ideas that only work in this franchise. When you play the 2022 version of the game, you are getting a version of it that still doesn’t take itself too seriously but is more grounded than previous iterations.
Instead of immersing players in a world where they are the president of the United States with superpowers or encountering aliens or other outrageous moments, Saints Row’s reboot opts for a story some can honestly relate to, minus becoming the head of a criminal organization.
The game focuses on a rags-to-riches story about a character called The Boss (you) who shacks up in a crappy apartment with their three friends. Oh, they are also members of rival gangs, Los Panteros, the Idols, and Marshall.
A More Relatable Crew of Saints
Developers opted for a very relatable and inclusionary backstory, being that the new Saints decide to start their own criminal organization after falling out of the graces of their gangs and just being tired of dealing with what Santo Illeso deems the “norm.” They are also bogged down with a millennial issue we can all relate to, STUDENT LOANS, and what better way to rebel against the system programmed to keep a broke twentysomething individual down than to start a gang?
The new Saints (your roommates) are Kevin, a bisexual gym rat who is always shirtless and moonlights as a DJ; Neenah, an art junkie who loves to tinker with cars; and Eli, a Nigerian-American who wants to become a business mogul and loves Ted Talks.
Based on these characters’ backstories, you think Saints Row’s reboot is onto something, but you barely get to know these characters while playing the game.
Each character “builds” their stories through missions with The Boss that are supposed to help build a relationship between you and them, but in the end, you won’t care too much for them.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t take a liking to them during points in your playthrough, I happened to enjoy Neenah’s story that explains her love for cars, but in the same breath, a mission with Kevin falls flat as he reflects on his sad time as a youth.
Establishing these characters could have been one of Saints Row’s biggest strengths but is one of the game’s most glaring weaknesses.
Drive, Kill, Repeat
The honeymoon period once you boot up Saints Row ends rather quickly, as you will find yourself bored or frustrated. While there is a great variety of missions and side quests, you will find a good number of them stick to the tired formula of driving to a point and murdering a bunch of enemies.
Now, that’s not saying there aren’t moments where Saints Row shows it could be a bomb-ass game. One mission we particularly enjoyed involved The Boss tracking down a moving caravan of vehicles and utilizing the shooting mechanic allowing players to ride on top of their cars and take out enemies. It captures the essence of what many hoped this game promised to be.
Another mission will have you embarking on a LARP (live-action roleplay) crusade along with Eli, and it swaps out your real weapons for pop guns and will have tracking across Santo Illeso in cosplay. It’s one of the game’s few high points and most memorable missions.
But then you’re tossed into a “stealth mission” that features a painstakingly annoying sneaking mechanism that occasionally glitches and will leave you screaming at your television screens when you get noticed and fail the quest.
Where Saints Row Wins
Saints Row’s biggest strength is its deep customization, hands down. There is no limit to what you can create when making your version of The Boss.
Customization isn’t just limited to your character. It also can be applied to your vehicles, weapons, headquarters, and crew. Sticking with the customization, players can even load up their The Boss builds for other players to download and use during their playthrough.
We browsed through the builds and found Tommy Vercetti from GTA: Vice City, The Rock, the Cryptkeeper from Tales From the Crypt, Michael Jackson, and more. But, they are not free to download and will cost you a substantial amount of money, which you accumulate at a feverish pace thanks to your business ventures.
Speaking of business ventures, for The Saints to become the biggest gang in Santo Illeso, you must build ventures across the map. Once you make them, you will be tasked with missions for each of them. For example, one of them is a tech start-up that will see you testing high-tech weapons like an explosive football or vehicles like a hoverboard. It’s one of the more fun side quests that you need to complete for the story to progress.
Unfortunately, like the main missions, some of the business venture quests are also plagued with repetitiveness. One of your businesses will have you hauling toxic waste across the Santo Illeso at a slow pace to ensure the crates won’t explode before you get to your final destination to get your cash.
For the OG Saints Row fans, the Insurance Fraud missions are back, and we enjoyed flinging the rock into oncoming traffic to collect insurance money.
Saints Row will go down as one of 2022’s most polarizing games. We can see many being pleased with the game, while others will call it a colossal flop.
The game was introduced with much promise, especially to those who were thirsty for a new Saints Row game, but in the end, were given a game they won’t be too familiar with. It’s rife with bugs and other issues that developers will eventually clean up over the many months following its release. Still, they make playing the game a painful experience at times.
Those Damn Bugs
At some points, the bugs almost felt game-breaking, and there were many points we wanted to rage quit during our playthrough. This is well after two patches were released by the developers for the game, by the way.
In our opinion, the game is super repetitive, enemies AI is laughable, and Saints Row could have benefited from a cover system. But we understand developers wanted more fast-paced and zany action, hence their decision not to include one. Driving and flying via your wingsuit, helicopter, or fighter jet around the beautiful location is fun, and driving mechanics are responsive.
We can’t say the same for shooting. Depending on your weapon, it can sometimes be pretty annoying trying to aim while avoiding a barrage of enemy gunfire properly. Also, the enemies are too spongey. It shouldn’t take more than one headshot to take someone out, especially since it’s not easy to land them in the game, but welcome to Saints Row.
It’s not all bad. There are some things to love about the game, like the customization, but not enough to elevate Saints Row into a good game, it’s mediocre at best, and a title like this has to be at least good or outstanding. Maybe it will reach that status over time, but they say first impressions are everything, and Saints Row fails to make a good one.
Photo: Volition Games / Saints Row
*Saints Row code for PS5 provided by the publisher*