Saints Row is a franchise that trapped lightning in a bottle during the seventh generation of console gaming. The satirical take on modern American culture and the unlikely scenario that a criminal gang could ever be 'the good guys' criminal is what made the 3rd Street Saints an appealing alternative option to the likes of GTA and other open world titles.
Fast forward to 2022 and the world is a very different place. That doesn't mean that a game like the original titles would no longer work, but certain adjustments would need to be made in order to create a successful title. The result is unfortunately a disjointed and somewhat lacklustre game that plays it far too safe in all the wrong ways. Here's my take on the Saints Row reboot.
Saints by name, but not by nature
I love the Saints Row franchise. There, I said it, and for far too long it's faced criticism for its over-the-top action, storytelling and chaotic gameplay but that's what made it great.
Each game slowly evolved the world and characters before things ultimately got a little too out of hand in the fourth game. Even then, it was still a mindless rollercoaster of fun that was well worth playing just to see what crazy story Volition had come up with.
My primary issue with the Saints Row reboot is that all of the heart and soul that made the original games unique has just been replicated in the most linear way possible.
Whether it's the sheer lack of interesting side missions/activities, limited freedom with business opportunities or the lack of general storytelling that left me outright furious in some moments, Saints Row is just an attempt to safely bring the franchise back to relevance without taking any risks.
Building a story
While I won't reveal any story spoilers I have to mention a moment early in the main story that left me speechless and sums up my overall experience with Saints Row. A mission takes place and ends with the destruction of property that belongs to one of your crewmates.
It's played out like this tragic event but in truth, not nearly enough has been done to make you care for this character or their possessions. Instead, once the deed has been done, the character goes into this big exposition dump which lists all the reasons why this property was special to them in some last-ditch attempt to get you to care.
This lack of attention to how the story plays out left me deflated. To try and force this moment of great importance to mean more after the fact with meaningful background makes no sense. This could have been built up over time to make me care more but instead, it ends up feeling like more of a throwaway vehicle to just progress a storyline with one of the rival gangs.
For a franchise with a history of big story moments of deceit, tragedy and comedy, it just makes this iteration of Saints Row feel flat.
You're the boss
Once again, you take up the mantle of 'The Boss' in Saints Row and are tasked with taking over Santo Ileso and conquering the existing gangs and military force. Alongside this, you can eliminate threats, complete discoveries, visit stores and take part in side hustles to earn extra XP and cash.
The lack of creativity that has gone into this side content means there's very little incentive to complete it all. One of the worst offenders is the Drug Pallet Pickup discovery missions which see you locate three closely packed pallets and just interact with them. They're rarely placed in interesting locations and almost always just automatically appear on the map once you're nearby, taking any guesswork out of the equation.
At one point, while out near a particularly empty section of the map, I have Saints Row too much credit and started looking up towards a nearby billboard for one of the pallets but no, it was just at the base of the billboard with no challenge posed accessing it.
I do appreciate the humour that goes into the Dumpster Diving and Hidden History discoveries but they again are just very simple to complete. At least with the Hidden Histories, they offer some humorous backstory to certain locations and can be quite fun to complete.
It's not all doom and gloom
I don't want to spend this entire review talking about the negatives I found within Saints Row without highlighting what it does very well. First of all, is the character creation. I think this nailed the feel of old-school Saints and gives plenty of options that lend themselves well to creativity.
Some of the story missions are incredibly fun and the LARP'ing series is one of the best I can remember from any game ever. It's in moments like this that we can see there really were moments where risks were considered, but what we get to play seems like only a slither of what could have been.
The general tone of the game also has to be commended. It has humour throughout without feeling the need to be edgy or tread dangerous ground with its subject matter.
Some will see this as woke behaviour but that's just not the case. Taking on board the state of humanity in 2022 and creating a funny and non-offensive story shouldn't be seen as a negative.
With a small exception of some weather glitches with fog, Saints Row also looks very pretty almost all of the time. It has a certain aesthetic to it that does scream 'this is a Saints Row game' and it's a welcome sight.
I initially was a little let down by the game world but the longer I played the more I came to appreciate Santo Ileso as a location.
Vehicles also take some getting used to but once you master how they handle, it can make for some very fun gameplay. It's just a shame that this isn't factored into any kind of racing mini-game or side activity.
The challenge system also offers some incentives for exploring the world and experiencing as much of the game as possible. It also offers a bit of a helping hand if you get lost and are not sure what to do next in the game.
The business opportunities and way that the missions play out can also provide a lot of mayhem and fun. In particular, some of the unique ventures offer up mindless chaos that is very rewarding and also furthers certain stories within the game by unlockunlockings more main missions.
Levelling up is satisfying and unlocking new abilities is always interesting as you trial out combinations to see which four are best suited to your playstyle. Perks are another level of this but require some financial investment to unlock ass of the available slots. It's great to see that the challenge system is also tied into the unlocking of perks too!
Finally, the selection of weapons, while again falling short of other entries in the series, is still quite enjoyable and the way you upgrade the weapons is actually quite fun. Rather than just buying upgrades and attachments over time, you have to meet certain criteria with each one to level them up.
Saints Row isn't a bad game. It just isn't and that would be incredibly unfair to say. What I can say is that it plays very things very safe, to the point where it becomes a detriment to the overall experience and has me wondering what could have been if the team were allowed to just go crazy.
In many ways, it's hard to tell whether Saints Row needed another 6 months or 2 years to reach the point where it is a truly incredible experience both as a standalone game and one from the Saints franchise.
I'm left with a lot of disappointment but also hope that this can be a learning experience. I'm keen to see what Volition could do with another game in this world if they are able to produce another game.