Saints Row from Volition and Deep Silver is a reboot of the franchise that’s been around for more than 15 years at this point. Saints Row was known for its over-the-top action, intrigue, and increasingly its goofiness. The reboot, however, seemed rather toned down in its initial marketing. Now we’ve finally got it in our hands to see for ourselves though.
So does the new Saints Row live up to the legacy of its predecessors?
When the Saints go marching in
Players in Saints Row take on the role of “The Boss” or rather their own “Boss” character that they create and customise at the start of the game. The game’s character creator allows you to take a preset and then run wild with it with various customization options. There’s plenty to choose from and you can quite literally spend up to an hour really tweaking your character to make them look “perfect” in your eyes. Everything from prosthetics to make-up, tattoos and piercings, all are on offer here and the options are rather extensive.
This character that you’ve created is then thrust into a mission right after the opening cinematic where you will face off against a criminal mastermind and have a showdown in a saloon. It’s insanely over-the-top and the introductory mission literally has a hovering jet bounce around in a canyon before crash landing. Physics be damned!
This immediately sets the tone for the rest of the game and things definitely get quite a bit crazier here but the story ultimately takes a backseat to everything else. Upon completing the intro mission, you return back to your home and meet the rest of your crew. An aspiring DJ, an “investor” who listens to self-help talks, and a car mechanic. Neenah, the mechanic is the standout from the crew and she shines quite early on when she rescues you from the police.
Missions in Saints Row are quite varied with players having a lot of freedom to choose what they want to do. A lot of the early game focuses on making rent money and getting your crew up to scratch but, once you’ve racked up enough cash, the real fun begins. Players will be able to purchase new weapons at any of the weapons shops scattered across the vast game world of Santo Ileso. Weapons are varied but don’t expect anything outrageous like the dubstep gun here. It’s a shame really because Saints Row as a franchise really leaned into the weirdness and made it its own thing. The lack of zany weaponry here feels like a missed opportunity and Volition really should have stuck with the insanity a bit more since it added the je ne sais quoi that Saints Row was known for.
Saints Row’s world is rather massive and there are tonnes to explore here. Santo Ileso is modelled on the American southwest and based loosely on the city of Las Vegas. The entire region is broken up into various districts and these districts will eventually make up part of your criminal empire as you take them over.
Driving through the desert might seem rather lacklustre at first but as you discover new locales, not only do you get some congratulatory messages popping up on-screen but you also get to take in the sights. And there are plenty of over-the-top sights to see in Santo Ileso and some eye-catching scenery in specific locations. A restaurant in the shape of a giant Stegosaurus? Sure, why not? Combine this with the game’s downright gorgeous graphics and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had simply cruising around listening to the diverse radio stations.
Lots of mission types but all too familiar
Circling back to the missions, there’s a lot of variety but they all rely on some pretty standard open-world game design. There are the typical hit-and-run style jobs, car chases, car theft, etc. That’s not to say there are no highlights though. A standout encounter involved towing a meth lab halfway across the desert to safely destroy it elsewhere – a mission that turned out to be a lot more exciting than we bargained for since enemy forces would give chase at high speeds and we ended up driving off the sheer face of a cliff with an RV in tow.
The driving and physics related to driving in Saints Row is quite literally bonkers, with your car being able to survive multiple crashes while even the slightest of bumps using the sideswipe mechanic will send pursuing vehicles careening off the road to their fiery, explosive doom. If Volition wanted vehicular madness, they certainly created it here.
Many other missions in Saints Row, especially those which involve shooting through waves of enemies, just feel like a slog more than anything else. Thankfully, you can adjust the difficulty to make things easier for you, especially when enemies are swarming you en masse. To offset the rising difficulty, players do also have access to new abilities which they unlock as they level up using XP gained from missions and activities.
Some of the most expensive weapons in the game also make defeating enemies that much easier but getting to that point – by expanding your business interests in each capture region of Santo Ileso – might put off some gamers who lack the patience or time. Saints Row requires you to invest a lot of time into it and, for an IP series whose primary feature was causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible while driving the story forward, this reboot feels very subdued. A bland meal without much spice added to it if you will.
Also, frustratingly, aiming in Saints Row just feels extremely stiff for a game with so much shooting. Even after playing around with the control settings, getting used to the shooting mechanics was a lot more effort than it was worth. Running into enemies and performing takedowns or kicking them in the crotch was infinitely more satisfying than trying to shoot at them through a storm of incoming bullets.
The environments are gorgeous
Graphically, Saints Row looks great. Character models are highly detailed but they pale in comparison to the environment which looks fantastic. On PS5 (and presumably the Xbox Series consoles), there are plenty of resolution settings available and it looked particularly gorgeous in 4K with HDR enabled. That said, playing at the higher resolutions does seem to affect other visual settings somewhat, with plenty of pop-in visible as you tear through the various districts of Santo Illeso. The weather effects and day-night cycle further enhance the visuals, with the neon lighting and sandstorms making things a whole heck of a lot more atmospheric.
The soundtrack on offer in Saints Row is quite varied and the radio stations have a good selection of tracks to listen to. Cruising around to the sound of synthwave always makes for a very relaxing journey across Santo Illeso. Unfortunately, the voice acting, while presumably meant to be over the top, ventures into the “How do you do fellow kids?” meme territory thanks to the way the characters are written.
Overall, the Saints Row refresh is a fun game but one that doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from its competition. Grand Theft Auto V already does a lot of what Saints Row does, and Saints Row honestly felt like we were playing a spruced-up Red Faction: Guerilla at times – just without the absolute carnage of total environmental destruction attached. Had this game been released 5 years ago and with far more outrageous weaponry, it would probably garner universal praise. In 2022, however, it’s just a middling title that some gamers will love and others will find lacking (that means you Saints Row franchise fans). Given the high “AAA” retail price, this is a game you’d want to wait on a decent discount before picking up.
A Review code for Saints Row was provided to gameblur by the publisher
Saints Row (PS) ReviewSaints Row (PS) Review
Graphics8/10 Very Good
- Gorgeous graphics
- Driving around listening to music and taking in the scenery is enjoyable
- The game is at its best when things get chaotic
- Toned down wackiness
- Some of the writing is very vapid
- No truly outrageous weaponry