Saints Row is back! Can the reboot of the series get back to and build on the strengths of the series? Or should the Saints have stayed in retirement? Find out here in our review of the new Saints Row.
Saints Row was always a funny series. And I don't necessarily mean "ha ha funny", sometimes it was just funny looking. The approach of the first games, of having basically a more cartoony GTA, had as much of a place in society and the gaming world in the late 2000s as did the over-the-top ridiculousness of entry three and four in the early 2010s. Ten years ago, the giant purple dildo was funny for a bit, let's admit it. But by that fourth game, things felt a bit tired and the Saints Row series has lost a lot of its flavor and momentum, resulting in a long hiatus, nine years without a mainline title.
Now in 2022, Saints Row is back, with developers Volition at the helm again, having to navigate the difficult question of how to revive a long-running series which we last saw almost ten years ago. How does the game manage to do that? Surprisingly well, actually. I will admit that I was a bit worried about jumping into this reboot, and while some of my worries ended up being justified, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this game. How did it manage the transition to a new decade? A new audience, a new climate, a new version of Saints Row? Read on to find out.
Note: This entire review is spoiler-free. We tested the PC version via Epic Games Store, but couldn't check out the co-op mode. It all ran smooth as butter though.
Saints Row Review: The Saints Are Back Baby, Awoouu! (Wolf Howl)
In the Saints Row reboot, you take on the role of "The Boss", a self-created character who is the leader of the Saints (btw, the character creator is really great again, and I made a hilariously hideous dude, who you unfortunately won't see here since I couldn't take screenshots while playing).
Throughout the game, you establish the gang in the city of Santo Ileso, against three rivaling factions: Los Panteros, The Idols and Marshall Defense Industries. To do that, you and your ragtag group of friends establish your gang in a (genuinely very cool) base and steadily grow the size of the organization. Sounds familiar? Yeah, Saints Row doesn't stray too far from the path of the first games in the series. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, since those games are now around 15 years old and since doing an actual reboot and starting fresh is actually a pretty good idea that ends up working well for the game.
This is a Saints Row game through and through. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Volition clearly approached this game with the mindset of evolution, not revolution. This also goes beyond the familiar framework of the story. To establish the grasp of the Saints in Santo Ileso, you go on missions to fight off the rival gangs and take over more and more territory as you progress through the main story. You buy or overtake property, which in return gives you a constant stream of income. And you do that in the familiar open world framework: drive around, shoot a bunch of people, upgrade your guns, buy increasingly eccentric clothes, rinse and repeat. Nothing in this game will surprise you, especially if you played the earlier games. But: it is a ton of fun again.
Saints Row Review: An Exhilarating Romp
Saints Row as a series has always been greater than the sum of its parts. The shooting and driving feel ok, the collectibles and side activities can be creative, but are often mundane, the radio is good but not quite on a GTA level and so on. But it always came together in a fun and engaging package and the same goes for Saints Row in 2022.
There isn't one particular gameplay element that shines out, but when all are combined, the game quickly draws you in and becomes a very entertaining ride. That is party due to the serviceable and enjoyable, if uncreative gameplay loop at the core. Seeing the numbers go up is nice, as is unlocking new special abilities and weapons, and the creeping takeover of Santo Ileso is motivating. The open world of Santo Ileso is a very fun sandbox, with the bright lights and desert vibes actually having a comfy and inviting feel to them, in contrast to the big skyscrapers and darkness of the main city parts, another familiar aspect of the series.
Saints Row is the perfect game to play while you're waiting for GTA 6, which we have the first details for here:
The game is most impressive during the main story missions though. In your odyssey to becoming the biggest badasses in town, you will be hauled through one exhilarating action set piece after another. This was always an underrated strength of the series, and the reboot delivers on all fronts. The first few hours especially are fantastic in this regard, with the game delivering one great mission after another. It doesn't always keep that amazing pace up, but the story missions are creative, exciting and generally stand out as the highlights of the game.
Saints Row Review: RIP Giant Dildo, Quippy Dorks Are My New Best Friend Now
Again, it deserves emphasizing, this is still very much a Saints Row game. This also goes for the identity of the game's writing and storytelling. It's ridiculous and over-the-top at all times. It's a world where doing crime and being a mercenary seem to be normal jobs, mowing down dozens or armed goons is every day business and people have ridiculous gadgets and guns. But in this aspect, the game is much more inspired by the first Saints Row titles than the later ones.
There is no giant purple dildo, no aliens, no Keith David, no superheroes. It's an extremely cartoony crime story, full of larger-than-life figures and colorful clownery. It's all profoundly unserious, a barrage of consciously stupid jokes and situations. But it works. The game has a clear identity that is fun without going completely overboard. While only two jokes out of ton get a proper chuckle out of me, the constant quipping gives the game color and character. This is best illustrated by your group of comrades (who we introduced in more detail here). They are very silly, constantly joking idiots. And while it took me a bit, I quickly learned to love these dorks. Of course, the non-stop nonsense can be grating. Some of it is cringe. But it all has a lightness and colorfulness to it that is highly enjoyable throughout and made me enjoy the good vibes and hangout aspect of the game.
Saints Row Review: The Verdict
Saints Row is pretty much exactly what it promises to be: it's a colorful, slightly more down-to-earth version of Saints Row. If you like the series, definitely buy this game. You will have a great time, that is a (not legally binding) promise. It's fun, stupid, hilariously over-the-top nonsense, which strikes a more refined and less childish tone than the latest games in the series. There is very little in this game that is inventive, but it doesn't have to be. It is what is, it knows that, and it executes on that very well.
If you're new to the series, you should be aware of that though. It is a typical open world game with very verbose writing and quippy, easy humor that won't be everyone's cup of tea. Considering the dirge of AAA open world titles in 2022 though, especially ones in a GTA-like fashion, Saints Row could be the one to fill that gap this year. I greatly enjoyed my ride with the game, thanks to the great execution of familiar concepts and the generally good vibes throughout. So yes, call it a comeback and call it a good one. The Saints are well and truly back.
- Rating: 7/10
- Release Date: August 23, 2022
- Developer: Volition
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Genre: Open World Action
- Playtime: 20-30 hours
- Players: Single Player, Co-Op Multiplayer
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC via Epic Games Store & Google Stadia