PlayStation PlayStation 5 Reviews

Saints Row Is Heaps Of Fun Marred By Expectations

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Saints Row (2022)

Developer: Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Available as: Digital and Physical

The Saints Row series has always been one based on controversy as in when everyone is expected to go right, Volition made sure its flagship child went left. Released in 2006 as one of the Xbox 360's early titles, the original game pitted you, a Stillwater resident who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, at the mercy of the 3rd Street Saints after being saved by an officer. Shortly after, inspired by the act, the player becomes a foot soldier and later a high-ranking general of the Saints, all the while getting made by overwhelming the three rival gangs.

Considered to be a "killer app" by some, it was a title that didn't take itself seriously yet offered players mindless fun. Characters were caricatures of common archetypes in gang-related video games. At the time, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was its closest competition released two years before. Since then, several crime-related sandbox games including the lackluster True Crime series and the abysmal 25 to Life. The Saints Row series would both join the trend while also blazing its own trail, beginning with its sequel in 2008.


From Saints Row 2 onward, the foot soldier turned general became the new boss of the Saints. Here marked the beginning of the sociopathic killing machine that most fans came to know and love. The third game expanded the Saints' operations to a new city, Steelport, and the fourth game jumped the shark in my opinion. The Gat Out Of Hell DLC was the swan song of the original tetralogy, with the lackluster Agents of Mayhem following suit. Then it became silent. Several planned continuations of the series never left the meeting area and for a while, the series was in limbo.

After over half of a decade later, we finally have the Saints Row reboot and as one can expect, initial reviews were polarized. In typical fashion, I like to play my games and give my own opinion before I look at other people's reviews. Unfortunately, social media is a vast ocean and I've already seen the questionable takes from people who haven't played the game much less before the game's official release. Then the official review scores came rolling in with mixed if not lukewarm impressions.


As a longtime fan of the series since the second game and as one who had cleared the main story missions, I am in a good position to talk about this controversial game. Many say it's not like the previous games, it's too "soft," "cringe," and my personal favorite, "woke." I won't rely on trendy buzzwords and join the echo chamber. Following suit are my honest unfiltered thoughts. I will say this much, while I enjoyed the new Saints, it is not without its glaring flaws.

As always, there are story spoilers moving forward, I'll give a warning when we're reaching heavy spoiler territory.

Saints Row begins with the Saints having a huge party and everyone having a good time. The Boss makes a celebratory post while calling out their adversaries, Los Panteros, The Idols, and Marshall Defense Industries. During the celebration, the scene cuts to Boss being buried alive and questioning how did things go wrong in mere hours. Then the scene shifts to a few months before, from the beginning. Already, Saint Row is using the "how did we get here" cliche but it at least kept me engaged.


Throughout the game, despite everything happening, I'm going to keep someone's betrayal in the back of my mind. The big "whodunit??" reveal is already explained in the beginning to be the game's climax, so it's nice to give the player agency on what to look for. It almost turns the game into a "murder mystery" except it's a rather cheap way of doing so. Anyways, the real beginning of the game features the Boss in military gear on their first day as a Marshall employee. The Boss then goes through a cartel, cinches their leader, and takes them into custody. Unfortunately, despite pulling their weight, the Boss doesn't follow protocol and has their bonus rescinded.

What's this? Does the Boss have a job? Those who are used to the series as a whole will know that the only jobs the bosses ever had were whatever odd jobs they are given and being a, well, boss to a criminal empire. Here, the game begins with The Boss having employment, which helps in giving the reboot's main character some personality, to begin with. The job involves killing people, being aggressive, and going hands-on. All of these are traits that The Boss has, but there's more to it than that. They also live in a small apartment with three others, Eli, Neenah, Kevin, and their pet cat Snickerdoodle.


Sidebar, readers who follow my musings will remember a time I reviewed Stray and named the nameless stray cat, Snickerdoodle. Just wanted to let you know that the cat in Stray is but a slighter darker shade than the one in Saints Row but are just about identical. Remember who made the "Snickerdoodle" trend first when they all laughed at me and my naming choice? Who's laughing now?

Ahem, so, your roommates also double as your best friends and future partners. They are also members of your rivals, something that each treats as a crew and less than a gang. I'll preface this by saying that the Saints in the reboot are not gangsters as in the original tetralogy. Sure, they are a part of rival crews but their loyalty stems from each other. At this point, the Boss represents Marshall, rounding out the soon-to-be trio of enemy factions. Before the Saints are established, they were rogue residents of Santa Ileso all trying to make ends meet.

If anything, Saints Row is as much of a millennial fantasy as the original was the fantasy of an older generation of players. We've all been there, strapped for cash and late on a month's rent with no way to get money in sight. The thought of wanting to commit actions of questionable legality for quick cash has also crossed your mind, but you know well not to act on it. In this game, it answers the question "What if we can do the absurd to solve our common problems and get away with it?" That's answered when the quartet of friends decides to rob an insurance place successfully to survive.


The gameplay compared to the older titles will take some time to get used to as the main button to crouch is now an evasion button. Crouching is now assigned to the down button which was weird but it was something I got used to. Saints Row is a game that encourages the player to remain mobile and early on when you don't have enough skills, perks, and health, you'll find yourself rolling like you're playing Syphon Filter. Rather than select what skills to invest in upon leveling up, everything is far linear and simplified this time around.

Instead of "special" tools like frag grenades, proximity mines, and others, it has been replaced by skills that can be equipped as the player levels up. In the beginning, the player can learn how to stuff a frag grenade in an enemy's pants and toss them into a group of enemies as they explode. Other useful skills give what's effectively super armor, a way to heal while attacking enemies, and even a skill that allows you to summon Saints on command. In order to use these skills, you need to acquire Flow which is earned by being in combat and attacking enemies. The longer you disengage the more you eventually lose out on Flow, but there's a trick to keeping your Flow.


There are also Perks in the game, unlocked by completing Challenges in-game. Some may include killing enemies with a sword, driving a set distance, or killing a specific type of enemy with a type of vehicle. These perks range from Minor, Major, and Elite, including fan favorites such as dual-wielding SMGs and Pistols. There's a perk early on that allows players to keep the Flow they gain, which combined with several self-sustaining skills, can turn the Boss into a one-person wrecking crew. Even if the player ends up in low health, the player can use Takedowns to restore a block of health while killing the enemy in a spectacular fashion.

Tinkering with some settings, it's possible to customize the aiming and difficulty to your liking including the density of the enemies, the strength of their attacks, and the rate their notoriety increases. After messing around, I found an aiming system that works for me and that was a soft target lock aim assist. Upon having the enemy in the player's sight, the aim assist snaps to the enemy but it's not obnoxious. It's easy to line headshots with the controller than sporadically waving the camera around. If you feel the aiming is too "loose," perhaps give that a try.

After several jobs working for Marshall, the Boss fails at protecting a codex from the enemy crews, which is enough to prompt the CEO of Marshall to fire them. Downtrodden and without a way to make any money, the Boss mopes in the apartment and has the single act of pitifulness ever seen in a game. Again, this is an attempt to humanize the Boss, and honestly, after losing a well-paying job that you know you're good at, you'd be distraught too Neenah, who takes equal blame for having one of her best friends fired due to her crew, decides to leave Los Panteros after understanding it's not the same crew she fell in love with.

It is there that they realize their friends are at an Idols party in which things will turn violent as they hold the codex and the Panteros want the book back. Why is this book so important? Who knows, but it's something to push the plot much like the cursed record was in Jet Set Radio. No one questioned why it was important then and I won't ask why this museum piece means so much now. All that matters is that Kev and Eli are in danger and the duo rush in to swoop and save them both. Shortly after, the Boss decides to form their own crew as they each have something to bring to the table instead of working for others. Thus, the Saints in this timeline were born.

The concept of "being your own boss" that's echoed throughout the game was more believable to me as a reason for starting the Saints than the original reason. "Saving the troubled youth" huh? I guess Julius was wrong the whole time. We don't need leadership, we just want to make money and not worry about losing money.

I promise I won't make too many comparisons to the original tetralogy but this is one thing I felt the original has beat over the reboot; The storytelling. Perhaps it's not fair to mention this so soon as it is a reboot and an entirely new origin story, but the second game was my first introduction to the series. Within the first several hours I understood the predicament I was in and everyone had their own goals for doing what they felt was right, which led to betrayal and constant clashing among the Saints.

In Saints Row there are no such conflicts among the Saints themselves which I felt was a wasted opportunity. The three seemed to follow the Boss blindly and if there was a purpose for doing so outside of "You were kind enough to let me in on your criminal empire," then yeah I'd go along with it. I bring this up because Neenah was the perfect example of a failed opportunity. Her beef with Los Panteros ignites due to Sergio taking her prized car and pushing it into a ravine. A distraught Neenah states that getting killed is one thing but without a signature set of wheels, you're nothing.


It also doesn't help that the car Sergio destroyed was originally Neenah's mother's and was the only keepsake she had from her. The only thing left on Neenah's mind is revenge, something that the series' best moments stem from. Naturally, I was excited to see where things went, but aside from the Boss and Neenah blowing up the Panteros' forge as well as Sergio's ride, nothing else comes from it.

Seeing the Panteros in disarray is enough for her but it would have been cool to have more intimate moments with the rival bosses just to make their downfall more impactful. Considering the fate of Sergio, it made this buildup even more disappointing. I'll do my best to keep the heavy spoilers for a separate post as this is just the review of the game itself in general.


The Idols are even worse off as there is no "boss" that the Idols answer to. Their entire existence is based on anarchy and "sticking it to the man," while being obviously ironic as they host extravagant parties consisting of wealthy youth. Kevin's ties to this group were as a popular DJ who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty in a firefight. Despite his hedonism, Kevin is arguably the polar opposite of the message behind Idols as one of his loyalty missions highlights this.

A child at heart, his quest for a limited edition kid's meal toy wounds up at the heart of the Idols, who are hoarding all the toys to...stick it to The mission ends with him being the owner of all the toys the Idols stole, yet he plans to go to the orphanage and donate the toys there. He's also the comic relief character, being a parody of the frat "dudebro" archetype much as Neenah is the "Latina mechanic wheelman."


What better way to round out the cast than with a token blerd then, yeah? Enter Eli, the member of the crew whose usefulness lies in the Saints' business department than firing a gun. Through his loyalty missions, he learns to be self-sufficient with a firearm, but his rise to shine is arguably the best part of Saints Row; LARP sessions. Not like the one in Life is Strange: True Colors where it incorporates JRPG battles in its gameplay either, but close.

Eli introduces the Boss (and slowly the rest of the crew) to LARPing, or Live Action Role Playing, by dressing up in cosplay and using non-lethal weapons. The goal is to travel to other houses, light their beacons, and take them over for themselves. The Boss's interest in the games increases once they realize that Gwen, their former superior in Marshall, is heavily into LARP. Never one to back down from a chance to get one over a rival, the Boss becomes invested as a way of payback. Despite the weapons being non-lethal, they operate the same as regular weapons, but with added "pew pew" effects.


"Killing" enemies will cause them to dramatically fall to the floor and "dying" at any time while holding a LARP weapon will cause the Boss to act the same. What's more, the rather brutal Takedowns are non-lethal and reference other forms of media such as Mortal Kombat's "fatalities." Except you're not ripping anyone's heart, just mimicking the gesture. Regardless, while the core gameplay doesn't change, how NPCs interact with the player does. These interactions continue outside of the LARP as even enemy crews act in character when the player uses non-lethal weapons. It's a minor thing, but it's an important addition to ensure your world is believable and full of charm.

The LARP is also a form of a "criminal venture" introduced in Saints Row, replacing the Activities that existed since the first game. In the past, the player needed to do Activities to "get their name out there," but it was often seen as a way of padding to break the monotony of the story missions. Neither game in the series are what I'd consider "lengthy" but they are filled with required "activities" to stretch a couple of hours. Criminal Ventures plays this very same role in the reboot which leads to an important piece of information I wish I knew back then that I knew now.


Save. Your. Money. Only use them to buy Criminal Ventures. The earlier you start this, the less headache you'll endure as you realize you need to build and complete several to progress through the story. The game will require at least several purchased and completed before you can complete the final story mission. Obtaining money in Saints Row is a bit scarce if you're trying to accelerate the process. A large sum of income will arrive through passive revenue obtained through Criminal Ventures. Clearing enemy threats will increase the flow of money. However, the game will state that you're making "X per hour," and that is real game time. The sooner you purchase Ventures and properties, the sooner more money will come flowing in.

Otherwise, there will be a point when you run out of the big payout missions and you must resort to either side hustles or passive revenue. This is a time-consuming way to make money, spend money, and make more money. To unlock the final final mission, you have to obtain all the criminal ventures as well as complete all the previous missions including the final story. Unlocking all 14 Ventures will cost millions of dollars. Fortunately, by the time you are in need of cash, there are several cost-efficient yet grindy ways to do so as you supplement the passive income.


This is where the honeymoon phase began to end with Saints Row and I. It's also why there will be a part two of this review discussing the heavier spoilers as I want to give this game its proper closure. As of right now, I am currently letting the game run to give me passive cash while I type this review. It's almost a parody of the 21st Century millennial gaming that Saints Row pokes jabs at on occasion. Perhaps we as players are all cogs in the machine Volition has created. Bad game design is bad game design and the numerous glitches do not help matters.

While a late-game spoiler, this must be mentioned. At some point, you get to pilot the VTOL which is an iconic futuristic fighter jet featured since Saints Row The Third. Ruining what should have been a satisfying moment in the late game are the dreadful controls. I couldn't stop the VTOL as it was in motion and I could only do so by switching to firing mode. The problem is, as shown in the picture below, the firing mode zooms in like 100,000x into the Earth's core.

It's worse than it looks.

I was zoomed in so deep I could look up the enemy's nostrils...from tens of thousands of feet in the air! This made aiming a nuisance especially when attack choppers are putting dents in my VTOL. However, through patience and perseverance, I made it through only to encounter more visual glitches.

Other bugs included the color of my clothing changing to default, my guns being registered on the weapon wheel but not in my cache, and weapons disappearing from the wheel but still being able to use them. One time I used a Skill and my character entered "auto melee attack mode in the wrong direction" until the buff wore off. There are animation glitches when you use Takedowns, cars phase through buildings and the streets, it became a scavenger hunt to find glitches than avoid them.

You, uh, ok there buddy?

Aside from the VTOL experience, neither of these were "game breaking" that restarting from a checkpoint couldn't solve. I'm aware it's no excuse, but I survived a full playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 and nothing was worse than that from anything I played in the past two years. Even video game darling Elden Ring wasn't immune to such glitches.

The point is, Saints Row is not a perfect game and it's very rare that a sandbox game is. People don't play Grand Theft Auto 5 for its riveting story and pristine gameplay. It's the glitches and eyebrow-raising shenanigans that lure the players in. That and GTA Online is a bigger draw than 5 can ever be at this point. The game is rough around the edges but The Boss is well equipped to turn what would be a broken mess into an actual murder fest. Status quo remains strong as pistols are as great as ever and with weapon perks unlocked, certain boring weapons become actual mini weapons of mass destruction.

While I'll talk more about the story and my quips about it in a separate post, I wanted to spend this space to denounce the unnecessary hate the game has been getting. Having Saints Row be called "soulless" yet only seeing less than 2% of players finish the final story mission is intriguing. Even seeing a lesser amount of players finish the first few missions have also left me scratching my head. It makes me think if the others who reviewed had played past the tutorial but, that is them and this is me.

As Saints Row has always been Volition's favorite child, there will be bug fixes and future additions later much like the previous games in the series. Players who wish to wait until the bugs have been squashed can do so, but at least give it a fair shot before moaning that it's the worst game on the planet, yeah?

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