After nearly a decade without a new Saints Row game, series developer Volition has brought the Saints back in a full-fledged reboot, albeit in a whole new setting with completely new characters. This isn’t the same boss that you might remember.
Despite the change-up, Saints Row still has the same hollow interior and is plagued with similar issues as its predecessors. While it isn’t severely lacking in any one category, it also doesn’t stand out in a sea of similar games.
Saints Row Review: New Look, Same Old Problems
Saints Row takes you to the city of Santo Ileso, a Las Vegas stand-in located somewhere in the American Southwest. It’s riddled with crime and gangs, all fighting for power and control of the city’s various districts. On the whole, Santo Ileso is easily the best-looking and most interesting location in the Saints Row series to date. Its vibrant and diverse landscape makes it an excellent playground for your criminal activities, all of which almost always end in large-scale destruction.
The map itself strikes the perfect balance between size and necessity. It’s large enough to be immersive without being too empty. The city and its surrounding areas are filled by a stark dichotomy: pedestrians going about their day to day lives and faction gang members openly waging war on each other. While there are stretches of dry land and desert areas that come off as dull and empty, there is so much more to see in the hubs spread across the map.
The casino districts are filled with bright lights, mariachi bands, and dancers, making Santo Ileso more than just a barren wasteland. In addition, Volition does a good job of encouraging exploration with Photo Hunts, which let you unlock fast-travel locations by taking pictures of interesting landmarks. There are also a bunch of secrets spread across the map, such as the hidden history collectibles, which teach you about Santo Illeso’s history, dumpster diving opportunities that reward you with everything from new clothing items to sellable trinkets, and drug pallet drops, which provide bits of experience and cash.
Overall, this reboot outshines older entries in the series in terms of visuals, but it pales in comparison to some of the best titles of this console generation — and even the last. GTA 5, which was originally released in 2013, is significantly more detailed and visually appealing than Saints Row.
One of the main issues with Saints Row‘s graphics is that in-game textures pop up as you draw closer to them, even on the highest graphical settings. The cookie-cutter character and vehicle models also make it difficult to feel fully immersed. While Saints Row takes pride in not taking itself too seriously, a little more attention to detail in this department could have gone a long way.
Moreover, the lighting can be inconsistent and spotty. While not noticeable in broad daylight, inconsistent lighting is very apparent at night, where dark areas are often barely visible, and brighter areas with flashing neon lights are almost blinding.
Thankfully, the incredibly detailed character customization feature adds flavor to your bland character model with seemingly endless options to choose from. It gives you the opportunity to make your Boss look as ridiculous or goofy as you’d like. With clothing options ranging from a bloody hazmat suit and a lampshade helmet to ripped jeans and stylish sunglasses, there is no shortage of ridiculous or serious outfits to choose from. You can also change almost every physical aspect of your character, including prosthetics and face paint.
You will unlock new clothing items as you progress and dumpster dive, but you can also purchase clothes and tattoo styles from shops spread across the map, all of which must be visited and interacted with to 100% the game. Neatly, Saints Row gives you the power to change your character’s look at any moment using your smartphone, a nice quality of life feature that leans into the game’s “Be Your Own Boss” tagline.
Another great feature is the ability to purchase and download community creations designed by other players that let you play as your favorite celebrity or fictional character.
Whether you’re playing through story missions or engaging in criminal shenanigans, you will be met with resistance from rival gangs, paramilitary forces, and law enforcement. Throughout Santo Ileso, you will come across opportunities to clear threats and increase your income in each district, alongside plenty of random side hustles and hitman contracts.
In an attempt to expand your criminal empire, you will get the opportunity to open Criminal Ventures, which are businesses that front for criminal enterprises and return passive income over time. You can view all of the possible business ventures at the Empire Table at Saints HQ, and each of these businesses has its own set of activities, such as participating in new product tests for a Hoverboard and rocket-propelled sticky football of death and committing insurance fraud by getting hit by as many vehicles as possible.
Initially, these activities are a nice change of pace from the main campaign missions. Ironically, they start to get even more tedious and repetitive than the main missions after a while.
As such, having a solid combat system plays a big part in how enjoyable the moment-to-moment gameplay is in Saints Row. Thankfully, the core mechanics are tight enough once you come to grips with them, and mowing down dozens of enemies at a time is extremely satisfying. Though combat doesn’t really push you to cycle through all of the different weapons or make full use of the best abilities. Almost every combat encounter can be completed by spamming enemies with bullets from your pistol or assault rifle, which is much more time efficient than using skills or melee finishers that may look cool but have long animation times.
The most frustrating part, though, is that enemies have an annoying habit of dodging bullets, even when you’re firing at them from point-blank range. Admittedly, seeing basic enemies evade incoming bullets like Neo from The Matrix is equally as hilarious as it is annoying. In addition, aiming tends to be inconsistent, making combat even more of a chore if you don’t rely on aim assist.
When you’re not busy fighting gangs and blowing things up, you’ll be spending a lot of time behind the controls of land, air, and sea vehicles. You can drive just about anything, from golfcarts and dump trucks to helicopters and speedboats. Just like with your character, vehicles also have a ton of customization options, both cosmetic and mechanical. These include adding nitrous kits and off-road kits, as well as completing challenges to unlock signature abilities such as ejector seats and wrecking balls.
Driving has an arcade-like feel, which makes it easy to pull off incredible stunts and evade oncoming traffic. Vehicles don’t have much weight to them, but they handle well even when driving offroad. Although driving in Saints Row isn’t the most realistic, it is still one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Plus, the vehicles make for some great high-speed chase sequences that really get your adrenaline pumping. The ability to ram and sideswipe enemy vehicles and instantly watch them burst into flames is extremely satisfying.
The reboot replaces Gat’s crew and brings forward completely new characters. You play as The Boss and will spend most of your time accompanied by Neenah, Kevin, and Eli, who are the founding members of the Saints. As they struggle to make ends meet, the group of friends kickstarts a criminal organization to make some quick bucks and seize power from rival factions.
The 15-hour-long story attempts to make its cast likable and interesting, but it ultimately underachieves. While the characters have distinct looks and personalities, poor writing and underwhelming dialogue make them unbearable to listen to at times. Saints Row also loves to throw cringe-worthy jokes at you every so often, which fall flat most of the time. While some of these jokes could slide in previous series games, they don’t match the more serious tone of this reboot and end up feeling forced or mistimed.
The narrative also suffers from sub-par writing and a short run time. There are some great over-the-top action set pieces sprinkled throughout the story, but they don’t do enough to offset the repetitive mission structure.
Saints Row Review — The Bottom Line
- Satisfying driving and combat.
- Exciting action-packed sequences.
- Vibrant new setting and location.
- Uninteresting story and characters.
- Repetitive missions.
- Awful humor and dialogue.
This Saints Row reboot stays true to what the series is all about but fails to address the issues that have held back the series from competing with the likes of Grand Theft Auto. While the classic open-world formula may have worked in the past, Saints Row comes off as unambitious and basic. Both mechanically and visually, the game is closer to being a remaster of a last-gen game than a full-blown reboot.
That’s not to say Saints Row doesn’t have redeeming qualities, but its memorable moments are so few and far between. It delivers what is expected from a typical action sandbox game, but only at the bare minimum. Most of what Saints Row has to offer has already been done better elsewhere. If you’re looking for an open-world game with silly fun and over-the-top action, then maybe it’s worth taking a trip to Santo Ileso. Unfortunately for most, this reboot struggles to provide anything unique that makes it stand out from the crowd of similar games.
[Note: Deep Silver provided the copy of Saints Row used for this review.]
Saints Row Review: New Look, Same Old Problems
The Saints Row reboot has its great moments but ultimately fails to provide a memorable experience.What Our Ratings Mean