Saints Row is a reboot of the iconic open-world action franchise from Volition and Deep Silver. The new entry introduces a brand new cast, and location, and aims to strike a balance between the tone of Saints Row 2 and 3. Can this new entry live up to the legacy of such a diverse series and stand on its own? In our Saints Row review, we take a look at where it succeeds and where it stumbles.
Story and Characters
Similar to the first Saints Row title, the new cast isn’t exactly a group of hardened criminals yet, but ones struggling to get by. The group is certainly more aimed towards millennials and gen-z and shares similar struggles with student loans, paying rent, and whatnot. The main boss, this time around, meaning you, starts off as a grunt for a private military organization called Marshall. You’re a knucklehead murder machine, but someone that deeply cares about their friends.
Your group includes Eli, a business genius, and Neenah, the getaway character Kevin, that has the most connections in town. Each character fills their role based on their specialty and starts putting in their work to build the Saints. They steer you in the right direction, the one you only know, which is to kill, and cause mayhem. Your character relies on the planning of the crew, and I really like how each character felt integral to part of the bigger picture.
Yes, you’re the one that’s usually doing all the grunt work, but it’s funny how their plans always manage to position you in a central role. There’s a level of respect and admiration among the main cast, and no one wants to let each other down. I appreciate the sense of camaraderie that remains the consistent element of their relationship.
Writing and Humor
This is a funny title, and a lot of missions parody other games in the genre for a hilarious payoff, that always end up in mayhem. Things rarely go as planned, and some of the situations I found myself in were very unexpected. There’s a mission where you just want to take a day off, and have some fun with your friends, but that too results in you killing tons of enemies and getting into high-speed chases.
The humor doesn’t always work, and depending on your tastes, not every joke is going to land. I wouldn’t call this uneven, because I thought the boss themselves was hilarious, and it wasn’t so much about the writing, but the situations they were in that made the scenes funny.
Overall, I thought the story was well executed, and some strong antagonists made the experience even better.
Santo Ileso, the new location of the title is a fictional city that mixes the deserts and urban locations of the United States Southwest and is reminiscent of cities like Las Vegas and Albuquerque. This is certainly a shift from the previous titles, but one that paid off as the general size of the map increased.
I’m usually a fan of open worlds like this, where I can see canyons in the distance, enjoy the sunsets in full view, and travel offroad whenever I feel like it. This is an attractive setting, with tons of landmarks to give it its own touch, and while the open world is always just a backdrop in the Saints series, Santo Ileso is certainly one of the better ones.
I did feel that the game was a bit empty at times, and a little more crowd density with varied NPCs could have made it a more immersive experience. There is a lot of pop-in as well, which isn’t something we’re used to seeing anymore in open-world titles.
One neat addition that I liked is how you fast travel. Instead of those points popping up on your map by climbing some tower, you need to take pictures of various landmarks in Santo Ileso. This encourages exploration and makes the world feel more memorable.
Gameplay and Combat
Saints Row has always managed to stand out in the genre with its hilarious activities without relying fully on realism for its enjoyment. You’re free to go wherever you want, take part in any activity, and establish the Saints in a fairly organic way. Combat is similar to previous titles with the addition of Skills and Perks this time around. The more enemies you kill, the more Flow points you earn, which allow you to perform skills that you unlock as you level up. These range from passive bonuses like health upgrades, to flaming punches, and grenades. It’s a neat system, but I would have liked a few more skills, even if those were minor in effect. You can equip four of these at a time, and you’ll be using these a lot in combat.
Third-person gunplay feels smooth, and I played the entire thing on a mouse and keyboard. Guns aren’t as crazy as Saints Row 3 and fall into the generic weapon classes like Rifles, SMGs, Shotguns, etc. This is where the Saints Row 2 influence shines. Even if you’re a badass murder machine, things feel a bit more grounded. As you play with weapons you like, you’ll unlock signature abilities for those, like turning your regular pistol into a machine pistol. This gives you permission to have favorite weapons, and I stuck with my pistol till the end.
Combat is fun, and getting into fights, even with tons of enemies never loses steam. This is one of those rare games where I don’t actually mind taking on hundreds of enemies. It’s satisfying, and enemies start dropping like flies the stronger you get. The game sells the power fantasy well, without turning you into a superhuman.
Takedowns and Melee Combat
Melee combat isn’t as fun as the previous entries though, and the only special attack you can pull off is the Takedown. This is a smart addition, as a meter for it fills up the more enemies you kill. You perform these John Wick-Esque gun-fu maneuvers to regain health.
I still miss holding, and throwing enemies though, or running into them to perform a wrestling move. You can kick enemies, but it doesn’t really have any impact, and I don’t think I ever used it after a few times.
Vehicles ram into each other and cause explosions, and I was reminded of Burnout when I was involved in a high-speed chase, or if I just wanted to wreak havoc in the traffic. You aren’t getting realistic driving controls, or physics, and that’s always been something I enjoyed in Saints Row.
Side Activities and Criminal Ventures
The map of Saints Row is filled with activities you can take part in. These are small ones like dumpster dividing, which is exactly what it sounds like, and larger ones you set up called Criminal Ventures. Unlike previous titles where you initiated these by interacting on the map, you first have to set these up from your headquarters.
There are tons of criminal ventures with a variety of sub-missions for each. You have to complete different missions for each venture to fully complete it and earn tons of cash. Jim Robs’ venture tasks you with stealing different vehicles spread out in Santo Ileso, and the fan favorite Insurance Fraud lets you ragdoll into incoming traffic to generate insurance damages.
All these activities are organically added to the open world in a smart way to ensure that you’re always doing something. The more activities you do, the more your hourly income increases, and the Saints’ influence. Some of these activities are certainly better than others. I didn’t particularly care for Bright Future, which has you driving a truck with radioactive waste, where one small slip-up can basically ruin the entire activity.
Overall though, if you’re a fan of completing activities like these in previous Saints titles, you’re going to have a really good time owning the map and expanding your empire.
There is a ridiculous amount of customization at display here. You can alter practically everything about your character, and later on, your vehicles as well. Clothing stores are themed, and even small vendors sell specific items that make sense for their location, and the things on display.
One of the great features of this game is you can change everything about your character on the fly. Pull out your phone, and change what you want as you see fit.
You can unlock different clothing items for yourself, and your crew the more you explore the world, and the activities you take part in.
This is arguably one of the highlights of our Saints Row review. If you’re a fan of deep customization, you won’t be disappointed in the least.
Bugs, Big and Small
This is where most of my issues with this game lie. Despite my enjoyment, Saints Row has quite a number of bugs that range from funny to disruptive. There are tons of visual bugs, like the character t-posing during cutscenes, clipping out of their vehicle while driving, or NPCs being suspended in the air for no reason.
At times, enemies will forget to attack you. This means you’ll have to find them, and remind them you’re the threat, so you can progress the mission.
In one very long mission, my character’s voice completely changed to a different one. I think something went wrong when I accidentally opened the Style menu, but for the duration of this mission, my character sounded completely different. Okay, this was a bit funny, but it certainly wasn’t the character I was attached to anymore, and that’s no fun.
Now, one of the major bugs I encountered was that my Challenges section didn’t progress properly. Some of the challenges would complete normally, but even ones with simple requirements like “Do 50 Near Misses” or “Buy a Hat” were completely frozen. No matter how many hats I bought, or how many cars I near missed the bar was stuck at 0. Completing challenges unlocks Perks, and I had to wait a very long time for the bug to randomly go away for specific challenges to unlock more of these.
Saints Row’s presentation can be a bit of a mixed bag. We previously mentioned pop-in and a lack of crowd density, but there’s a bit of flatness when it comes to general presentation. It makes the game look a bit dated, especially during the daytime. When the lighting engine really shines though, things look excellent, especially as it passes through dust or near sunset.
Things look much better at night, and all the lights and dense atmosphere sets in to create some very immersive environments. Character models are decent, and most of the animations felt fine, especially during cutscenes.
I played the game on PC, and there was visible ghosting, and blurriness at native resolution. I had to use DSR to get a sharper image quality, even if I lost some frames.
The track selection was decent, and I really appreciated a dedicated Synth channel. I think there’s a good variety of songs here, and I always had something on while I drove. You have around 8 voices to choose from, and most of the voice acting was great in my experience.
Saints Row is a return to form, and some of the most fun I’ve had in an open world in a while. It manages to strike a good balance between the wackiness of previous entries with grounded combat mechanics, and tone. The Boss is hilarious as ever, and a true murder machine completely loyal to their friends through thick and thin. It’s bogged down by a number of bugs that take you out of the experience and uneven presentation with dated elements and plenty of pop-in. Despite these issues, it manages to remain true to its roots with smart additions to the series’ open-world formula.
What did you think of our Saints Row Review? Share what you think about it in the comments below.
This review is based on the PC version of Saints Row. The key was provided by Plaion