The first couple of hours into Saints Row I was tossed into the deep end. The game starts off quite unexpectedly as I was thrown across a canyon while chasing down some infamous bad guy. I was fired from my job as a special agent person and I had a group of friends that I hated. If anything, Saints Row comes across as an unlikable game within its first few hours. The writing is atrocious, the story makes no sense whatsoever and the gameplay is all over the place. Thankfully, the game puts itself together and in the end, it turned out to be a lot of fun.
That is to say, there are bugs, lots of them, and there are some weird missions but there’s a solid sandbox game here that kept getting better the more I invested not only my time into the game but all the money I earned while growing my criminal empire. That is the fun of the new Saints Row. The whole “be the boss” theme is excellent and managing a group of people, no matter how random they were at times, made this game quite enjoyable.
There’s a lot of backlash at play from fans of the Saints Row series. Many believe that this game is a new “woke” reboot but I have to shut that down right away. There’s a lot to enjoy here and it is the furthest thing from “woke”. If anything, Saints Row delivers some fantastic storytelling that feeds into its missions and general gameplay. So much so that I often chuckled at some of the writing. Be it while I was running around shooting Nerf-like guns at my enemies while trying to take over their fake LARPG kingdom or towing giant containers of goods across the city while using it as a wrecking ball.
Saints Row felt like it was always changing and always upgrading its general rinse and repeat gameplay to some degree. While the world is yours to explore, the Saints, which is your criminal empire, act as an ever-evolving way to switch things up in the game. Even dozens of hours into Saints Row I was still unlocking new things to do by placing down a new “Venture” somewhere in the city.
Each Venture acts as a landmark for the Saints to gain more influence and each one comes with its own set of objectives and unlockables when you reach certain milestones. The most important part of each Venture is that they all make money. The more you invest your time into completing certain objectives across each Venture, the more money it makes and the more you can grow your organization even more.
It is a cool system. Every time I had enough money to place down a new business, I saw the difference around the city. New objectives would pop up giving me new ways to make money, earn XP and grow even more. I could also place these Ventures anywhere I wanted so in a way, Santa Ileso was mine to control. These objectives helped populate the world around me so while I wasn’t on the main mission for a friend, I could then take something on. Be it stealing cars and speeding them back to the mechanics so he could strip them for parts or breaking into a radio service to jam frequencies and take over the channels.
While I wasn’t growing my brand through all sorts of random activities, I was growing friendships. Saints Row wants you to invest time into the characters in the game and it makes sense to do so. Some Ventures are specifically tied to their hobbies and even personal experiences. Some main missions were even locked at times until I had completed certain objectives in these ventures. The more I followed these stories, the better the relationships I had and these friends were able to wield different weapons in combat and deal more damage.
Saints Row takes a long time to get to where it wants you to be but at the same time, I felt like the general progression curve works with the game. Instead of being handed everything all at once, I was forced to choose between horrible weaponry, slow vehicles and most of the crew features are only trickled into the game. However, later in the game, I was able to blow things up with better guns, call friends and crew to help with missions and even the smallest of things like getting around quicker makes things feel more authentic to the theme of progression.
Even the small details in Saints Row like the ability to customize your “Castle” safehouse take time and effort. I had to find stuff around the world and take a picture of it before I was able to toss it on display in my HQ. You would think there would be a brochure one could simply browse online and buy stuff but no. This is a game where you have to work for nice things.
Building a boss in Saints Row also means looking the part and the game’s customization system is excellent. Mostly everything can be tweaked in some way or another. Guns can be painted, cars can be skinned out and painted. There’s even a half-decent modding system in the garage where I could purchase visual modifications for my vehicles. These added new parts for the car, lights underneath the vehicle, bumpers and more.
Your main character is also whoever you want them to be. I loved this idea and constantly changed things up in Saints Row. I went from an average male character to a trailer park trash-looking older lady. I then decided to play the game with no clothes and nothing but an alien helmet on. I could also choose any face, tweak it, add colour, change patterns, hair or whatever else I chose. It is a fantastic system and sure, I was never able ‘connect’ with my character but I spent a lot of time changing him and her after every hour or so. The possibilities here are endless.
But the system doesn’t just end there. The game wants everything to feel as if it belongs to you. This means changing the way your friends look, the crew around you and more. Usually, games give you the tools to make things look nice but Saints Row lets everything around you feel authentic to your brand. Not many games get this right and it is a superb system.
Outside of owning and running a criminal empire, Saints Row is also a fun open-world game to play. Santa Ileso is a fully open world that is alive with people living their daily lives and unique places to visit. There’s a lot to see and as Ventures are unlocked, more objectives become available to you. By opening up my phone, I could also easily find something nearby or launch an app to hunt down a wanted criminal.
If I felt like racing over the map I found one on the outskirts of the town and picked up a delivery mission. I spent way too much time climbing on houses to find drug caches that so happen to have been dropped conveniently on top of a house. Let’s not forget the usual item collectables that come in the form of taking photos of landmarks to unlock fast travel and listening to historic tours to learn more about the city.
Shooting, driving and the general gameplay approach in Saints Row is fun. It is easy to get around, I could whip myself out of my car into the air and wingsuit down to the ground. Weapons have their own upgrade system that locks away a unique perk behind a certain objective and so do vehicles. These extra objectives required me to do something specific with the vehicle or weapon. Be it shoot enemies a certain way or spin a car in the air. Once unlocked, weapons had extra damage buffs, more ammo, tracking etc. Cars could jump, get extra nitrous and more.
As I mentioned, there’s always something to do in Saints Row and Volition did an excellent job fleshing out the game’s sandbox mechanics. However, Saints Row is buggy and be prepared for rough time every now and then. Some missions were almost unplayable due to bugs. Enemies did not spawn, I would instantly die and worse, my game crashed a lot. There were bugs that made Saints Row fun like being hit by a car only to be swung into the air. Those are forgivable but the game needs some TLC and hopefully, it happens soon.
Saints Row Verdict
I originally thought Saints Row would take itself way too seriously for its own good but I was wrong. Instead, there’s an enjoyable game to be had here with a world worth investing your money into. The game’s “boss” features are excellent and while the gameplay can get in the way at times, it never takes itself too seriously and that is what we love about the Saints Row series.
This Saints Row review is based on a code sent to us by Deep Silver. The game is available on 23 August for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC starting from R1225.
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 8.5/10
Saints Row is an incredibly fun game. The bugs often get in the way but underneath there’s an enjoyable sandbox experience here where you can truly be your own boss.
Boss system is great
Santo Ileso makes for a great world
Doesn’t take itself too seriously
So many bugs