Saints Row Review – A Softer, Softer Groin Kick
Saints Row review
You don’t have to be an action game fan to have heard of the Saints Row franchise. In terms of popularity, games are not that many below GTA. In terms of notoriety and raunchy, boundary-pushing, nose-pushing scorch, Saints Row Saints Row has always edged out Rockstar’s series. But times are changing. Wielding oversized sex toys as weapons and using crude as a starting point is no longer enough. So, in the spirit of these more enlightened times, Volition has rebooted Saints Row. How does this new version of Saints stand up to its hilarious but sometimes awkward predecessors?
The short answer: damn good. The long answer, well, it’s a bit more nuanced and populated with qualifiers.
Keepin’ It Real
Volition said this Saints reboot is “more grounded in reality.” Instead of aliens and presidents in clown makeup, your team is a nerdy MBA named Eli; a shirtless brawling DJ named Kevin; Neenah, a LatinX wrench and ace pilot and you, the Boss, a former paramilitary soldier and weapons expert. Their stories and issues are more down-to-earth and related, like paying off student debt or succeeding in a new start-up business. This company is The Saints, your newly formed gang. The Saints are part social media brand, part real estate moguls, and remain largely an ambitious criminal enterprise.
Saints Row’s realistic and newly invented approach to characters and narrative doesn’t always do a great job of avoiding clichés or trying too hard to reflect Me-Too culture, social media savvy and fueled by the irony of its Gen Z protagonists. This realism can also feel like a disconnect from the game’s still ridiculous action. Of course, Eli listens to motivational tapes and tracks the progress of the Saints’ business on a whiteboard. But bullet sponge enemies still take repeated headshots to take them down, your character glides around Santo Ileso in a wingsuit and drops grenades into enemies’ pants. Do the characters feel like real people in the real world? No, they look like video game builds, but they’re generally pretty cool.
do it in town
Forget Stilwater and Steelport from previous Saints Row games. For the restart, the Saints moved to a massive new city called Santo Ileso. It’s a cross between Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and a handful of other Southwestern landmarks. Although it has an upscale financial center with towering skyscrapers, Santo Ileso’s nine neighborhoods make use of the wide open spaces of the western landscape. It might not have the biggest town center of any open-world game, but overall the map is huge and almost always interesting to explore. Like the characters, Santo Ileso is a patchwork of reality and ideas taken from other games. Still, Saints Row’s open world is probably its defining feature.
Except in small doses, Santo Ileso is too big to navigate on foot, so as you complete main and side missions you will have access to a wide variety of cars, boats, bikes, trucks, tanks, hovercraft, jet skis, helicopters, your wingsuit and anything you can fly. They’re all pretty well controlled, and the game does a good job of showing you mission objectives. You don’t have to waste time looking for the next stop along the mission route, and getting there is half the fun. The game rewards you for the most reckless driving imaginable. Cars restore themselves in your garage, no matter how badly damaged they are.
Your crib can become a collector’s dream and the vehicles can be customized endlessly. In fact, the appearance of just about everything from guns and rides to your character can be changed as new skins and options are unlocked. Saints Row has always had a pretty robust character designer, and this new one is definitely the most detailed. Unlike some games, are you listening to Cyberpunk 2077? – Saints Row blurs naughty bits, but other than that, anything goes. It’s extremely fun to keep exchanging glances and voices, although of course the rest of the characters never recognize even your most outlandish appearance. Santo Ileso has tons of shops selling specialty clothing and weapons. There is even a street stall selling Volition branded products.
Three factions control Santo Ileso. There’s a military-style security force called Marshall Defense Industries, Los Panteros, obsessed with car culture and fitness, and the Idols, a raving anarchist faction that tries to “stick to the man” while co-opting the media. social media and as many high-tech toys as possible. The Saints’ relationships and conflicts with all factions as they rise to power form the heart of the campaign. As boss, your goal and that of your fellow saints is to take control of Santo Ileso. You play one faction against another, but more importantly, you wage war on them all.
Broadly speaking, most multi-part missions in the campaign end in prolonged firefights. They often include a driving sequence with a few small battles along the way. You’ll fight many of the same types of enemies from each faction, but at least the different gangs have unique approaches and weapons. Either the Saints have poor conflict resolution skills or the developers lack imagination as the main missions get quite repetitive.
Part of that comes from the scripted, puzzle-like nature of the shootouts. Aside from weapon selection, there are few ways to be creative. You just shoot until everyone is dead, playing by the rules the mission is built on. Having more freedom to approach each fight as you see fit would definitely reduce the fatigue factor. It would also help if your fellow faction members were actually contributing. Most of the time they don’t do much.
A game for the easily distracted
Unlike some open-world games, Saints Row’s main campaign isn’t really optional, at least for several hours. The campaign opens up the world, adds useful apps to your phone, and lays the groundwork for exploring Santo Ileso. In addition to the campaign, Saints Row is committed to ensuring that you never run out of something to do. There are dozens of hours of succinct content aimed at short attention spans. You can do quick challenges for money, XP, and gear. You can hunt wanted criminals in various districts. The most important side missions are to eliminate enemy gangs and establish legitimate fronts for criminal enterprises. Do enough and you’ll claim new quarters for the Saints. If nothing else, you can circle around Santo Ileso in search of treasure and trouble. In terms of open-world design, Saints Row feels pretty old-school. The map is dense with icons.
Unfortunately, sometimes this problem can take the form of serious technical problems. All open worlds have jank, and the Saints Row franchise is legendary for it. There’s the usual stuff like weird visual anomalies, clipping, and cameras getting in the way. More problematic are bugs like mission checkpoints not reloading but crashing the game instead. Or characters stuck in an animation that blocks a mission and requires a restart. There were three or four story missions that I had to replay several times due to bugs and crashes. There were also significant frame rate slowdowns in multi-vehicle footage.
One of the districts is Uncanny Valley
Graphics aren’t everything. That’s a good thing, too, because Saints Row is all over the map. Santo Ileso looks great, with an efficient day/night cycle and impressive light effects. The character models seem quite far behind the curve, sometimes shockingly for a triple-A game in 2022. I was tired of seeing my character’s beard floating inches from his face, so I changed it to a more manageable soul patch. Sure, he looked a bit like an insufferable hipster, but at least that connected to his chin. That said, the PC version has an admirable number of graphics, sound, control, and accessibility options to play with. My personal suggestion: Dramatically decrease enemy damage. Even in the mid-range, they’re annoying bullet sponges that take way too long to kill.
The voice acting is well done, with an incredible number of choices and scripted lines. The writing itself is quite understated, especially compared to previous games. As always, Saints Row is packed with sharp commentary on current culture. This time around, the target of a lot of satire is social media.
Different radio stations have a good variety of licensed tracks in a range of genres, which can be muted for streamers and YouTubers. Overall, the sound design is detailed and effective.
Ride with the saints or stay home?
Saints Row is an ambitious reboot of a popular franchise. Its open world is vast and entertaining to explore. There’s always something to keep you busy, with most being served in bite-sized missions that are fun to tick off. The game rewards you for almost everything, so your time is never wasted. Unfortunately, the main campaign is a little less successful, often falling back on repetitive action, shootouts and set pieces that go on too long. Despite some technical issues and inconsistent mission design, this softer, smoother incarnation of Saints Row is probably a step in the right direction.
***PC code provided by publisher for review***
- Imaginative open world
- Tons of content and things to do
- Detailed customization of everything
- Good game
- Pleasant action
- Bugs, some serious and game crashes
- Repetitive main campaign
- Dated character models