It was back in 2006 that Saints Row burst onto the scene.
Delivered by Deep Silver Volition as an alternative to Rockstar’s blockbusting Grand Theft Auto, the initial game in the series failed to really hit home. In fact, even though some of the ideas behind it were interesting, it was ultimately a little, dare we say, dull.
But then the franchise began to come into its own. Saints Row 2, Saints Row: The Third, Saints Row IV, and then the standalone Gat out of Hell brought the fun; each one slightly more wacky, slightly more crazy, than the last. Perhaps the peak was with Saints Row: The Third, but there was certainly room to continue moving forward.
The problem was, as each successive game was that much crazier and wackier, it left Volition with nowhere to go. I mean, once you’ve messed around and taken control of the universe and travelled to the depths of Hell, where can you go?
Well, you can go back to the start, rebooting the Saints with an origin tale. And that’s exactly what they’ve done with Saints Row.
Let’s get the big question out of the way before we begin. Saints Row (2022) is much like what went before it. It may have toned down slightly in the weirdnesses, but it’s still full of humour and fun. It’s still a game that will make you smile; a game that will tempt you into some laugh out loud moments. In that regard, Saints Row is a game that is going to appeal massively to, well, fans of Saints Row. Yet equally, many may wish to slate it as an open-worlder that is full of repetitive fetch quests, each one accompanied by shoot out after shoot out, as the newly-found Saints fail to ever really move forward from previous franchise heights.
For us, it’s that old school Saints Row formula that works. And it’s exactly that which has kept us playing for multiple dozens of hours. And yes, aside from some issues – some which can be overlooked, others which can’t – we’ve enjoyed every second of it.
It’s the issues with which we’ll start with and it must be said that Saints Row suffers from a few graphical glitches. This isn’t a game that is going to blow you away visually, but the Saints have never been about providing a super realistic world. They are about fun and the tone that is used in Santo Ileso is one that relates to that feel. But there’s definitely open-world pop-up going on here, no more so than when you’re travelling at speed or high in the sky, making the most of faster travel via a helicopter, free-falling and wingsuiting into place. It’s disappointing to see buildings and structures arrive from out of nowhere.
There are graphical options available to players on Xbox Series X though, with UHD/ 4K, 1440p High Quality and High Framerate decisions, along with similar for those happy to run at 1080p levels. We’ve preferred the sheen of the UHD/4K, happy to take a hit on some of the frame rate, but there’s enough about this reboot to allow for any of the visual options that Volition have provided. It does however bring us to an age-old issue, a bit of a pet hate, in that as a console player we feel that the developers should be setting the standard and letting us players run with it. Perhaps that’s our age and failure to embrace technologies that have filtered in from the world of the PC.
Saints Row also suffers from the usual visual problems that pretty much hit any and every open-world game: characters sometimes morph into the world, cars blend into surroundings and there are just a few little oddities that crop up. We’re well versed with the likes of this and don’t feel that the odd collision issue is one that ever drops Saints Row down a notch.
It’s a similar feel in terms of the audio too. Much of it is great and there’s no debating that some of the accompanying tunes that play out as the big missions evolve are stunners; banging, increasing the intensity as they do so. And there’s also no debate that Saints Row caters for many in terms of the soundtrack that plays as you jump in a vehicle, with a radio-wheel – and later on a full custom playlist – letting you pick and choose exactly what you are listening to. Whether it’s metal, hardcore, rap, country, easy-listening, retro tunes or anything else, there’s a bunch worth taking in.
That audio also plays out well in terms of the world-sensing that is taking place. Cars crash, explosions are meaty, gun shots are deep and – for the most part – conversations are well voiced. Lipsyncing may be off in cutscenes and we’ve occasionally had full audio drops for a few seconds at a time, but again, it depends how you want to approach your gaming. If you’re fully understanding that these huge worlds will have problems and are happy to settle for them in return for a ton of enjoyment, Saints Row will deliver. On the other hand, should you be wanting a properly tight, no glitch, no bug, no problem session, you’re unlikely to find it here.
But let’s get back to the good stuff and it’s in the origin story of the Saints where this really shines. It focuses on you as The Boss looking to become self-made as you and your bunch of down-and-out, sacked-off mates of Kevin, Eli and Neenah go about working the streets, building up a criminal empire to take on all-comers. It’s a slow starter if we’re honest, as opening scenes and tutorial-styled moments set what is to follow, but as the gang begin to go their own way, as criminal enterprises open up and this world becomes the foursome’s home, Saints Row really gets moving at pace.
Main missions are the thrust of the matter, but these can be tackled as you see fit, well accompanied by a ton – and we mean, a ton – of side quests, challenges, unfolding secrets, collectibles and more. The world of Santo Ileso really is one that is ripe for exploring, as you slowly and surely uncover each district and their own unique threats, side hustles and discoveries. Each of these areas has their own stores too, letting you equip you and your gang as you wish, customising them and personalising Saints Row to your own unique tastes.
It’s with the Empire Table where things really step up though. Creating a name for yourself is key to that self-made success in Saints Row, as is earning cash in order to unlock a host of criminal ventures. These are a real blast from the past as you go about creating fronts for criminal enterprises in the form of Laundromats, delivering drops to toxic waste dumping grounds, enjoying the ‘customisation’ of a chop shop, playing in traffic with insurance frauds, and taking on repossession services, international arms trafficking, the running of a radio station and more. We’ve always enjoyed these little sub-games that appear in Saints Row games, and it’s definitely the case here again.
What’s a really good addition is that you can place the locations for each of these spots wherever you fancy in Santo Ileso, letting you build up the city in your own unique way. Dropping in and out of each one, earning cash and experience as you go is then as simple as owning the streets. Although, owning the streets really isn’t that easy.
The Empire Table is a strong point for Saints Row, but equally important is your overall map screen and mobile phone. The former of these is crucial for working your way through town and even though the waypointing is hit and miss, occasionally pointing you in directions that are much lengthier than they need be, it’s easy enough to travel from point-to-point. That’s mostly due to the wide array of vehicles on offer in Saints Row, each of which can be jumped in and driven/piloted/flown, again with special abilities and tons of customisation opportunities available. There’s some real draw in finding new vehicles, getting behind their wheel and making them your own. They handle nicely too; nitrous and drift very much the focus on how you travel the mean streets. Side-swiping enemy cars is front and centre, as is the need to drop the cops in a host of chases or attach hooks and magnets as you drag stuff through Santo Ileso.
And in regards to that mobile phone, well, it’s basically your gateway to destruction. Brought up at the touch of a button, it provides direct access to pretty much everything you could ever need in Saints Row – a map, mission and challenge lists, a fully styled out, on-the-fly, character customisation screen, your camera for shooting points of interest and fast travel options, a range of amendable skills and perks, one of the most lengthy of collectible lists we’ve seen in a game and the chance to hunt down some of the most wanted folk hiding away in the world of Santo Ileso.
On the whole, the phone and the app system is a brilliant way of keeping things at hand for when you are looking for them. But again, we’ve had issues; certain apps refusing to open being the main cause of frustration. We’d expect Deep Silver Volition to fix this with urgency, as a full game shutdown and reboot has occasionally been required in order for everything to work seamlessly.
Again though, a save and shutdown isn’t the end of the world, especially when you have one that is so ready to be your playground. We’ve not even spoken of the History Boards which give insight into the land, nor the Golden Dumpsters which deliver additional goodies, the shooting ranges, or the Crimes of Opportunity which take you off the beaten path even more.
Hell, we’ve not even told you too much about the gangs of Santo Ileso that you’ll be going up against as you form your criminal empire – the likes of Los Panteros, the Idols, Marshall or the police. In fact, we’re not going to go into too much detail here as each brings something new to the table; something that is best found for yourself as you explore the massive world that has been thrown out. What we will say is that you’ll need to use a variety of tactics, strategies, weaponry, lock-ons, dodges and skills in order to overcome these that get in your way. Oh, and we’ll mention that it’s hugely disappointing to see each of those gangs only coming with a set number of character models. It seems that even though Saints Row has one of the biggest, deepest Boss and character customisation tools of recent times, those tools haven’t been fully utilised by Volition in how the NPCs frequent the streets. It seems like a perfect opportunity missed.
At the end of the day, Saints Row is going to be a game, a series, a franchise that will split the community. And that means there are two ways of looking at the newly rebooted Saints Row. For some it’ll be a much needed move; a boost to a franchise that had pretty much tried everything. For those folk, Saints Row will be a delight – a game that can deliver tens, dozens and probably a hundred odd hours of fun, enjoyment and madness. For others, it’ll be seen as a disappointment – a game that could have done much more; a game that could have gone uber-realistic, attempting new things, delivering a gritty take on a world of gangs and the struggles that await those looking to self-make. A game that comes complete with many a glitch and bug.
Which gang you fall into will be completely up to you. For us, we’ve always been on the side of the Third Street Saints and with the rebooted Saints Row, will continue to do so.
Long live the Saints. Bugs and all.
Saints Row is available on the Xbox Store