Play time: 18 hours
Saints Row is an identity crisis distilled into software. While the playful charm of Volition’s third-person mayhem simulators is still alive and well in places, the 2022 iteration of the fan-favorite series struggles to understand what exactly it should be. However, if you believe you can perform the necessary mental gymnastics, you can get a lot out of a visit to Las Vegas. Sorry – saint unharmed.
For newcomers, Saints Row is an open-world GTA third-person shooter where you play the role of an aspiring gang boss, tired of being devalued in your nine-to-five role as a rental. -policeman. The game tries to wed wacky, over-the-top criminal shenanigans with a grounded story about struggling Zellnnials.
It’s been seven years since the last entry in the series and a lot has changed since then. The gig economy has become more rampant, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and politics has somehow become even more caustic and cruel. Saints Row tries to drag the whimsical and chaotic formula of its predecessors into this new decade.
However, it’s in this attempt to have your cake and eat it that Saints Row’s limitations really show. Sometimes the more serious moments of the narrative add a nice layer of spice to the adventure, rooting the antics of the saints in a relatable world. But this contrast often creates as much dissonance as it does intrigue.
Saints Row price and release date
- What is it? An open world third-person shooter where you take on the role of a rising gang boss
- Release date: August 23, 2022
- Price: $59.99 / £54.99 / AU$99.95
- What can I play on? PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and PC via the Epic Games Store.
Angel with a shotgun
You spend most of your time in Saints Row shooting someone. You show up, commit some crime and then shoot some people out of necessity. This is the main gameplay loop. At best, it’s glorious. At worst, it’s tedious and over-the-top. What you get from Saints Row will largely depend on how much you like this process.
Don’t come to Saints Row expecting an accurate handcrafted shooting experience. This is not Battlefield 2042 or Arma. Fortunately, Saints Row doesn’t care that it’s not Battlefield. He delights in that fact. The basic assault rifle looks like a fire hose crossed with its little brother’s fully automatic, electric Nerf gun. It’s like aiming a harpoon stuck inside a giant vat of molasses. This is a feature that makes the game better.
This is because combat in Saints Row is not a carefully organized military competition. On the contrary, it is an exercise in exhibitionism. Despite the title’s more substantiated pretensions, all your actions in combat amount to rejoicing. Fight long enough and your drop meter will fill up. Get close to a hapless enemy wrestler, press the right button, and your boss will deftly execute a no-holds-barred takedown worthy only of the juiciest action movies or the most bombastic WWE fights. They are luxurious.
Adding topping to Layer Cake is the new Flow system, which is a welcome addition to the Saints Row combat experience. As you progress through the game, you unlock abilities that you can use during combat to a destructive effect. These range from mundane dishes like grenades and smoke bombs, to anime fire punches and health-stealing vampiric buffs. These extra tools in your arsenal can be activated by spending flow points, which you acquire as you inflict damage or take lives. While they don’t radically change the third-person shooter status quo, they do add another avenue through which Saints Row’s more over-the-top elements can manifest.
The triad of skills, takedowns, and over-the-top gunplay make you feel at least a little superhuman. It rarely feels like a fair fight. In fact, taking down hordes of enemies in Saints Row often feels free. It is, at its core, a ridiculous power fantasy. I love that.
Unfortunately, the latest from Volition doesn’t always remember this crucial aspect of Saints Row’s appeal. This neglect is no more clearly demonstrated than in the opening mission.
Here, our hero faces his first day at Marshall, an extremely morally dubious private military group. Unlike the much more lighthearted atmosphere that pervades much of the rest of the title, the opening scene comes across as an almost parodic rendering of the worst aspects of the forgettable and raucous FPS games of the late 2000s. Unfortunately, the action is played out in line. straight and doesn’t stray into the parody it seems to be craving. It’s bizarre that Volition refrains from putting their foot on the gas during this first segment.
This is in stark contrast to later quests, most of which are simple but fun, through the city of Santo Ileso. One mission in particular, a tribute to Fortnite and Elden Ring, drops the player on a spooky island and forces them to collect weapons that fall from the sky. Victory is only guaranteed when you are the last person standing. It’s hard to believe that the tutorial mission and this melodramatic battle royale pastiche can be found in the same game. It is in this duality that we see the fundamental struggle woven into almost every aspect of Saints Row.
saints and sinners
Still, there’s a cheeky charm to downtown Saints Row that no amount of indecision can entirely nullify. In its strongest moments, dialogue shines.
During the early stages of the game, you and your group of downtrodden Zellenial friends, Eli, Neenah, and Kevin, attempt to break out of the economic impasse by judiciously enforcing rampant crime. For the most part, these characters are great fun to pass the time with. They offer quick, well-polished conversations. Unfortunately, they’re not free from the uncomfortable tonal ambiguity that plagues the game. In more personal missions with each character, the whip is plentiful.
Tragically, Saints Row often seems ashamed of itself. While the game flirts with a refreshingly skeptical line about the excesses of capitalism, it rarely commits to a political statement for long. The main characters, all of them hard-pressed show economy workers, often deliver exactly the kinds of bitter and critical phrases that are right for their situation. However, in the next moment, they will scoff at the idealism of others who share their skepticism. The lack of consistency is sometimes disconcerting. Why does a cast of characters who can steal cars and rob pawn shops on a whim feel trapped by mundane concerns like “rent” and “job security”?
On a mission, you help a character get revenge for the destruction of his car, a gift from his terminally ill beloved mother. Their heartfelt conversation about a delicate and painful family situation is instantly followed by a helicopter battle. On their own, these two things are compelling, albeit in profoundly different ways. Together, they make a strange cocktail.
At its most serious, Saints Row asks you to pretend you’re not a superhuman killing machine in a world full of hapless NPCs. While this attempt at sleight of hand is occasionally successful, the game never escapes the strain this places on the main story.
be your own boss
Saints Row is keen to remind you that you are the figurehead of a rising street gang.
In addition to playing a significant role in the lives of your friends, you’ll also find yourself leading the gang’s financial prospects through the Venture system. This system allows you to build shady businesses and revenue streams across the city. Each venture offers a series of side missions that improve the financial output of the business and the passive income of the Saints as a whole. These Vice City-style side hustles don’t disappoint. Ranging from insurance scams to a literal LARP stronghold, each Criminal Company is captivatingly characteristic.
When it comes to the Boss himself, Saints Row doesn’t skimp on more opportunities to build the character, literally. The character creator is lavish in his offering, bordering on free. Dispensing with the Gender Slider from previous titles, Boss Factory allows you to customize every facet of your physical appearance and gender presentation individually, allowing a fuller spectrum of human beings to be represented. The game also offers a degree of representation for people with disabilities. For example, you can create a head with prosthetic limbs. It’s refreshing to see and emblematic of Saints Row’s pervasive generosity.
Most vehicles are also fully customizable, allowing you to mix and match with paint jobs, extra accessories and even hood ornaments if you want. There are a wide variety of distinctive rides on offer as you make your way through the bustling open world of Saints Row. Muscle cars, convertibles and even jet bikes are readily available for those looking for them. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that radio is also back, allowing you to cruise the road accompanied by anything from Bach to KRS-One. Fans of personalized open-world experiences will likely not be disappointed.
is not no rest for the wicked
Saints Row is ultimately an ambitious but flawed title. The game delves into two contrasting tones, sometimes to its advantage, but often to its detriment. However, when he decides to exploit the brazen melodrama of his predecessors at the expense of a grittier GTA 5 adjacent experience, he shines.
Some aspects of Saints Row will need to stand the test of time before being evaluated. Bugs are infrequent but present, and while none have broken the game so far, some have required the occasional restart of the quest. While it seems likely that Volition will resolve this in time, I would be lying if I said they didn’t affect the gameplay experience. On the other hand, the co-op campaign system, while promising, will require stress tests before anyone can talk about its robustness or enjoyment.
If you play Saints Row, I guarantee something about it will make you laugh. It could be a joke from one of the central cast that catches you. Or maybe you revel in the childlike joy that only comes from flipping a car full of cops with a dump truck. Despite sometimes appearing ashamed of his own excesses, Volition packs enough of them to amuse even the most stoic of us. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth wearing a neck brace after all the tonal whipping.