Saints Row Review
Saints Row is a reboot of the popular Saints Row series by Volition and Deep Silver. It moves away from the saga of Johnny Gat to a new generation of “start-up” criminals who adopt the Saints moniker and start their own new saga to make their mark on the world.
After being unceremoniously dismissed from a position at Marshall Securities and struggling to pay rent, the protagonist, along with friends Eli, Neenah, and Kevin, tries to figure out what the future holds for them. Realizing their potential as a group, the (new) Saints are born after some high-speed hijinks that involve the usual Saints Row trimmings.
As they build The Saints to a level of renown, their past catches up with them, as previous employers and rival gang members make an attempt on their life and business. Will Saints Row make the same mark as the previous games in the franchise?
The Game is a Whole Vibe
Saints Row faced some pretty harsh criticism ever since it was announced, with a lot of it pointed towards its new cast of characters and theme that didn’t really land well with the fans. We’ll get to that a bit later, but I want to talk about a couple of general things first.
First off, in true Saints Row fashion, your character can be a creation from your dreams (or nightmares) thanks to the superbly robust Boss Factory character creator. The sky is the limit here, and there’s practically something for everyone. There are a multitude of designs to choose from, and they are really limited only by your imagination, which might even be an understatement.
I can definitely see huge chunks of time being wasted here, and to sweeten the deal, the developers have allowed players to share their creations online, which can be used by your boss should you choose to do so. The sheer number of choices and options can get a bit overwhelming, but it really pays tribute to the creativity and wackyness fans really loved about the series.
Customization doesn’t stop with your character, as there are further options for your weapons, vehicles, and even some limited choices for your crew members.
This latest installment may be a reboot, but Saints Row is not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to gameplay. It will feel familiar to veterans, and newcomers will find an easy-to-pick-up experience that they can get behind and have fun with right away.
One thing I did notice is that aiming seems to be quite troublesome. There seems to be a lack of consistency with aim assist “snappiness” using a controller, and while that on its own is not really a problem, it just feels a bit too slippery to aim properly at a constant clip.
Saints Row has an “auto-shoot” mechanic that helps players trigger explosives and environmental hazards without the need to manually aim for them, shifting the focus to the mayhem at hand rather than keeping on the lookout for tactical advantages. Despite the lack of shoulder switching and a few complaints about aiming, shooting is fast, frantic and generally well done.
Shooting in Saints Row is not the only thing you’ll be doing, but you’ll definitely need to pump lead to build up a couple of gauges that allow you to pull off some impressive maneuvers.
Takedowns are basically moves that will not only eliminate enemies but also regain your health, which is handy while in a prolonged gunfight. Skills cover a wide range of actions, from smokescreens to throwing mines, and are governed by a generous Flow gauge that refills quickly as long as you keep on bringing the pain.
They’re always fun to pull off, but the animations, in general, feel very stiff and janky. When doing takedowns, there’s a big chance that the collision detection won’t pair you up properly with an enemy, resulting in you stabbing the air while the enemy is actually behind you.
This visual complaint extends all the way to the world, which really doesn’t really impress. Despite the varied environments – from the industrial complexes in Smelterville to the neon-lit Vegas-inspired El Dorado – the graphics in Saints Row isn’t anything to write home about, feeling like an uninspired last-gen title even though it is the best-looking game in the series.
Draw distance problems exist, even in the PS5 version of the game. During cutscenes, some textures also look smudged and not rendered well, with some subtitle syncing issues peppered in for good measure.
There are 5 display modes to choose from – 1080p quality, 1080p framerate, 1440p quality, 1440p framerate, and 4K. On the PS5, the 4K mode made the game look sharper, but at a great hit to the framerate. Since this is a game that relies on its fast pace to enhance the action, we found that it looked and performed best with a good balance in the 1440p framerate mode.
One of the big talking points here is the new cast of characters and the cringe-worthy writing that’s aimed at a younger and more modern audience. The dialogue feels like it is trying too hard to fit into the demographic, coming off like a bad joke that does land sometimes but doesn’t for the most part. Once given a chance, it really isn’t as bad as it looks, and certainly not something that will completely turn you off from playing.
Eventually, as you progress, you’ll either learn to ignore it or just get used to it, which I did in equal parts. The stories in these games aren’t exactly award-winning, so you can just let the fantastic action sequences take over, and Saints Row excels in bringing a ton of mindless fun.
Open World is a Big Mood
Santo Ileso is where all the action takes place, and thankfully, there’s a lot to see and do that pairs well with the trademark craziness that the Saints Row series is best known for.
The open world doesn’t immediately bombard you with countless activities, but instead gradually opens a number of features and events as you progress in the game. There’s always something to do, whether it be some random activity on the streets or the main storyline. Exploring is fun and rewarding, despite not being able to enter most buildings and establishments.
Over the course of your travels, you’ll come across rival factions that will make your life of crime a living hell. Each gang has its own specialty, with some enemy types that will take a slightly different approach to kill. The Los Panteros are epitomized by being beefy enemies that can take more punishment than usual, and will usually rush you and try to catch you off guard, while The Idols use various tools to disorient, along with the ability to turn the tide of battle by convincing nearby civilians to take up arms against you.
Driving around the world of Saints Row is pretty easy and straightforward, even with the controls feeling a bit iffy and floaty, which is exacerbated by its dependence on the drift mechanic to make sharp turns. Vehicles have abilities that you can unlock under certain conditions that are quite fun and useful in some events.
One of the more noteworthy activities in Saints Row is building your criminal empire from the ground up. You’ll be setting up dubious establishments over vacant lots across Santo Ileso that will serve as a front to cover up your shady dealings, each providing you with passive income that can be used to purchase upgrades and cosmetics.
Challenges that unlock additional perks and skills are fully merged into Saints Row so that it doesn’t feel like you have to go out of your way to earn them. Simply doing your own thing will unlock these along the way.
By engaging in the various activities offered by the world of Saints Row, players are treated to an expanding empire that feels gratifying, seeing you rise from the slumps to a full-blown crime ring. We never got to try out the multiplayer aspect of the game, but we’ll be sure to update this when we do!
Buyer beware though, our playthrough produced a lot of glitches that were irritating, to say the least. At times, we couldn’t even exit the boss customizer mode for some reason, which we’re hoping gets fixed once it releases.
As a whole, Saints Row feels like a return to the second and third games, all while leaving out the outworldliness of the fourth game, which was either loved or hated by the community. This latest installment feels more grounded in reality despite the outrageousness of the action, and the characters are surprisingly relatable once you get past their looks and language.
What We Liked:
- Sharp, fluid shooting mechanics that keep the action frenetic.
- Fun activities that maximize your open world experience.
- Challenges keep gameplay fresh.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Uninspired graphics appear inconsistent throughout.
- Character dialogue may not be for everyone.
- The game doesn’t innovate on the existing formula
- Numerous glitches
Verdict: Buy It!
Saints Row doesn’t exactly add anything new to the franchise, taking a back-to-basics approach and reliving what made previous Saints Row games fantastic by building up on that. While the reboot makes it cater to certain sensibilities, the new direction will not be for everyone. Hopefully, it won’t deter you from having a good time.
The series fanbase will either love or hate the game because of this sharp change in direction, which is especially felt in the new cast of characters and the writing. Should you choose to overlook these, you can expect a lot of mindless and unapologetic fun for hours.
Saints Row is not a perfect game, but the components that make it a good game are good enough. The visuals and presentation could’ve used a bit of work, and some bugs could have been squashed first, but Saints Row delivers on an open world front that is somewhat fun and entertaining despite the tired formula that could use a fresher take next time.
*Saints Row was reviewed on a PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.