Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Genre: Open-world, Action/adventure
The new Saints Row strips away the series' signature excesses in favor of a more toned-down open-world affair. While you won’t face off against alien invaders or take a trip into Hell, there are still plenty of over-the-top moments, reminiscent of the franchise’s latter installments. Given how outlandish the series had become, I understand the need to pare things back. Unfortunately, the franchise’s identity has been all but lost in the process.
Saints Row is somewhat difficult for me to review. I’ve been a fan since the second installment, and always enjoyed how each entry tried to outdo Grand Theft Auto in terms of raunchy humor and ridiculous action sequences. The core gameplay this time around provides decent fun, but the bland, uninteresting characters and overall timid story prevented me from fully enjoying myself. That feeling admittedly stems from my expectations for the series, but even on its own, Saints Row is serviceable at best — and somewhat boring at worst.
Saints Row review: Story
Saints Row is a full-on reboot for the franchise. As such, it has no connection to previous installments.
You start as a mercenary who has signed up with the Marshall private military company. After a botched operation, the mercenary group fires you. This, in turn, inspires you to create your own criminal empire called The Saints.
Three criminal allies join you: Eli, a bookish entrepreneur; Kevin, a social media-obsessed party animal; and Neenah, an expert driver and art enthusiast. Together, you go on a series of missions across the Las Vegas-inspired Santo Ileso to pursue your goal of becoming the ultimate gang in town.
The story follows a basic “rags to riches” premise as you slowly gain notoriety by committing a series of elaborate crimes. There’s nothing wrong with having a familiar plot archetype, so long as it's presented in a compelling fashion. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. While I always felt the story was progressing toward a specific goal, the boring characters and repetitive mission structure didn't pull me into the narrative as much as I would have liked.
Previous entries didn’t exactly have award-winning stories, but at least the characters were interesting and memorable. I can’t say the same about this game. Maybe it’s because I’m not attuned to the Gen Z culture this title seems to celebrate, but the characters never clicked for me.
Saints Row review: Gameplay
Since Santo Ileso is a Las Vegas analogue, it features a smattering of small towns, a couple of large cities and a massive desert surrounding it all. You could argue that this Saints Row has the most diverse setting in the series. It isn’t just a densely populated city, like those in previous entries. Aside from that, though, it’s a fairly standard modern-day open-world setting.
Most missions involve you shooting hordes of enemy gangs, law enforcement agents and private military contractors. You initially have an assortment of handguns, shotguns, assault rifles and melee weapons. As the game progresses, you’ll acquire outlandish weapons that defy the laws of physics. I won’t spoil things here, but these tools of destruction help spice things up.
You can also traverse the world with a variety of vehicles. You’ll mostly drive land-based vehicles, such as cars and motorcycles, but you can also pilot boats and jet skis, or fly helicopters and military jets. New vehicles appear in your garage as you complete main missions, but you can acquire vehicles throughout the world to store and use later.
You’ll gain experience points by completing missions, killing enemies or simply exploring the world. Reaching specific levels unlocks different perks that aid you in combat. For example, one perk boosts your defense, while another lets you target and shoot multiple enemies in rapid succession. You can have as many as four perks pinned to the quick select submenu, and you’re free to switch them up as more become available. Perks can turn the tide if things become too chaotic during combat.
Saints Row review: Side quests
Like all open-world games, Saints Row has no shortage of side missions. “Side hustles” involve activities such as trafficking illegal items across the desert, destroying communication towers and leaving bad online reviews for stores (yes, that’s a real mission type). “Ventures” are more involved side missions, since they help you control portions of the city. This, in turn, generates more revenue for The Saints gang.
One thing I found somewhat frustrating is that you need to complete a certain number of Ventures to progress the story. This wouldn’t be so bad if most Ventures weren’t glorified fetch-quests. For example: The tow truck Venture has you repossessing cars, while the nuclear waste truck Venture has you finding trucks filled with nuclear barrels. A little more variety, both in terms of Ventures and the requirements to complete them, would have gone a long way.
Saints Row review: Modifications
Saints Row features a slew of customization options for your character, vehicles and even weapons. It’s easy to spend hours with the character creator alone, but it’s also easy to get sucked into modifying vehicles and weapons.
Most mods are cosmetic, but weapon mods can give your favorite gun additional firepower and better stability. You can also kit your vehicle out with nitrous boost and off-road tires.
Saints Row review: Co-op
You can play the entirety of Saints Row with another player via co-op mode. Though I prefer playing Saints Row games alone, I appreciate the fact co-op exists for gamers who like having a partner.
I had difficulty connecting with other players, so I can't speak much about this mode from firsthand experience.
Saints Row review: Technical issues
Saints Row seems to have its share of technical problems. While I didn't personally experience in-game bugs, such as those detailed in the Saints Row 2022 Bugs Thread subreddit or in Digital Foundry's technical review, I have seen many Twitter posts showing them off. Granted, I sometimes had issues getting the game to boot up on the Epic Games Store. But once it ran, it ran smoothly.
Developer Deep Silver Volition promises to patch existing bugs in the future.
Saints Row review: Visuals and sound
Saints Row retains the somewhat stylized art design of the last two installments. It’s not as neon-drenched as the previous two entries but it still retains enough of a visual identity to distinguish itself from other open-world games.
Everything you see, including the characters, environments, vehicles and more, come across convincingly, even if nothing is overly detailed. This isn’t the most graphically intensive title out there, but it's still pleasing to look at, whether you're playing on PC, PS5 or Xbox Series X.
As with previous installments, the new Saints Row features a great deal of licensed music. In-game radio stations focus on genres such as old-school hip-hop, electronica, heavy metal, salsa and much more. If you want, you can even create your own playlist, which is great if you don’t want to stick to a specific radio station.
Saints Row review: Verdict
While Saints Row doesn’t live up to the previous installments, it still provides an enjoyable enough experience if you lower your expectations. Gun combat feels solid, and it’s fun trying out all the different available weapons. The Las Vegas-inspired open-world setting is a decent departure from the dense urban environments of the past. There are also plenty of side missions — even if they can become overly repetitive.
In spite of its merits, it’s still hard for me to fully recommend Saints Row. Since this entry has considerably dialed back the excesses of the past, both in terms of humor and set pieces, the game has lost much of its identity. Even if older Saints Row games were trying to outdo Grand Theft Auto, they were still doing something unique in the pursuit of that goal.
The new Saints Row feels entirely too safe, despite the fact you’re playing as a murderous criminal. I suppose if you want a more (for the lack of a better term) “family-friendly” GTA clone, this game is for you. But if you desire something with more bite, you probably won’t like what the new Saints Row has to offer.