When the mighty Grand Theft Auto was at the height of its ever-ascending popularity, hardly anything could touch it. It started the open-world sandbox genre, and every entry in the series is a true gem. Well, along came Saints Row, a similarly styled game with more emphasis on humour than its clear inspiration. It went down well with critics and subsequently started a franchise of its own. The 2006 Saints Row is hard to pick up today as it certainly shows its age; however, its sequels hold up extremely well. Saints Row: The Third, in particular, is one of my all-time favorite games. The humour, cast, fun gameplay and sheer number of things you can do all just hit me in the right spot. Characters like Pierce, Kinzie, Gat and even the boss character you play as all bond well and bounce off each other brilliantly. Things went a bit crazy for the fourth entry since Volition gave you superpowers, made you president and plopped you in a Matrix-style simulation. Sure, Saints Row IV was fun, but it just went a little too far out there for me. Volition eventually decided to go back to basics, strip the player of all powers and reboot the franchise. Enter Saints Row (2022).
This Saints Row takes place in an entirely different city. Gone is the skyscraper-littered skyline of Stilwater and Steelport in favour of Santo Ileso, a Las Vegas-style metropolis split into nine districts. Gone too are Pierce, Oleg, Kinzie and Gat. Instead, we have Kevin, Eli and Neenah, each bringing their own expertise and personalities that couldn’t be further away from each other. You play as “The Boss”, who you design yourself using an impressively deep customisation tool. After a failed attempt at being a militant of Marshall, a private security firm with a sturdy interest in advanced weaponry, The Boss and his three friends, who are in different gangs, decide to put their heads together and form their own gang: The Saints. The plot is simple, but thanks to the cast and great voice acting, it is told in a humorous fashion. The Boss, Kevin, Eli and Neenah interact with each other constantly which, in itself, carries the story along beautifully. Saints Row is a lot more grounded here. You won’t see gang bosses wearing lucha-libre wrestling masks, but they are just as ruthless as bosses we have seen before in previous entries.
If you’ve played a Saints Row game before, this entry won’t feel much different. The city is yours to explore from the off. The Boss handles just like the protagonists before him. You use your phone to accept missions, alter your appearance, listen to the game’s music or news reports, use the cash transfer app and more. Once you have acquired the Church, you can go about decorating it. Taking photos of specific items in the world will allow you to place the same object in certain places in the Church, and upstairs there is a city map table that allows you to expand your empire by placing Criminal Ventures. More on those later. Missions are varied, but they mostly boil down to dispatching bad guys or partaking in car chases. Unfortunately, the enemy AI is dumb and will gladly just stand there or run at you whilst you unload your clip into them. Hardly any strategy is needed when the going gets tough. Upgrading your guns at a Friendly Fire shop just makes it a little easier. Don’t get me wrong, shooting fools is good fun, but it gets rather repetitive. Thankfully, you do get a bit of a breather when you unlock more weapons; however, there aren’t any that are as interesting or fun to use as the Dubstep Gun, Shark Shotgun or even the UAV drone from previous games; even the big purple dildo has been removed.
The missions themselves are very grounded at times. One sees you take your team on a bonding expedition in which you all get matching hats to mark the occasion. Then there’s the contrast of robbing one of Marshall’s trains or chasing down a gang leader after he steals Neenah’s prize motor. The missions are good; however, as I mentioned before, they always end up in scraps with Marshall troops or gang members.
Getting around Santo Ileso is easy thanks to the wingsuit, which is seems to constantly be attached to you. You can use high buildings or bounce off of pedestrians and cars to keep your momentum. If that ain’t your thing, there are always the many forms of transport at your disposal. These can be standard sedan types to unique vehicles such as the Frying Dutchman, which is essentially a pirate ship on wheels, or the Bowelrod, which is a van with a giant worm on the top. Each vehicle has a unique ability that is unlocked by performing a few specific maneouvres and then going to Jim Rob’s garage to buy the upgrades. These range from Crab Steering, which allows you to drive sideways, to Ball and Chain, which releases a swinging ball to the rear of your vehicle. This is perfect for chases or, of course, boosting.
Back to the Criminal Ventures, then. Ventures are unique missions that are unlocked once you have bought and placed a new location on the map located in your Church. Once placed, a new collection of missions unique to that Venture opens up to you. You can make money by hunting down trucks holding very unstable toxic waste and carefully driving them back to the plant you placed in the city. Another Venture requires you to test out stolen Marshall prototypes, such as the hilarious rocket football. Or the returning mission of Insurance Fraud unlocks with another Venture. These are optional but open up new missions and plotlines.
Now, seeing as though this review is a bit late to the party, it is no secret that Saints Row got heavily review bombed. Well, as much as I can see why, I don’t think it is fair. The game is fun to play through. I wanted to see and hear every cutscene and line of dialogue thanks to the humour and outlandish content, there is no calling for its hate. But I did encounter some serious problems whilst playing, some of which were game-breaking. One time, a glitch caused the camera to zoom in way too far when entering a vehicle, which caused me to reload the game. Another time during a particular mission, cops were meant to be killed stationed on top of an overpass, but a glitch made them stay still and not approach the edge, which didn’t allow me to take them out. And I couldn’t leave the mission area as it meant I would fail, so I had to reboot the game. Then, there were other annoying glitches, such as my character locking to a sturdy stance position when I walked around and entered vehicles. I see why people hated it. It felt unfinished, but I still enjoyed it.
So, Saints Row is the reboot that we didn’t want or need but got anyway, and it’s good fun. A lot of great humour carries the plot and makes the cast fun to spend time with. There are a ton of things to do thanks to the Criminal Ventures, and exploring the sights and sounds of Santo Ileso is superb.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 23rd August 2022
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Saints Row (2022) was provided by the publisher.