Saints Row review: More of the same with tons of heart
Saints Row is the latest iteration in a long line of titles from the franchise that will undoubtedly give fans a healthy dose of nostalgia with its balls-to-the-wall, high-octane gameplay and its equally lovable cast of characters.
In Saints Row, you’ll step into the shoes of your very own Boss through a deep character creation system before venturing out into the city of Santo Ileso to grow your own empire and #BeYourOwnBoss.
Chock full of the typical open world fare of collectibles, side activities, and the surprisingly refreshing ‘Hidden History’ where you’ll learn about an area’s lore to add depth and intrigue to the city, there’s plenty to do off of the beaten path as you advance through its main story.
Saints Row – Key details
- Price: $59.99 / £59.99
- Developer: Deep Silver Volition
- Release date: August 23, 2022
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Stadia
Saints Row trailer
Create the Boss of your dreams in Saints Row
Let’s start right from the top: as someone who spends hours (and hours, and hours) in character creation modes, starting the game over and over again until I’ve got the protagonist looking just so, it’s safe to say that having a detailed creation mode is something I’m always looking for in a game — particularly if it’s an open world title.
With that being said, Saints Row’s Boss creator is undoubtedly the best character customization we’ve seen in the franchise thus far, and it goes above and beyond what you’d typically expect. Being able to customize every aspect of your Boss’ face and body, including something that made me want to shout from the rooftops in joy — asymmetrical face sliders! — you’re able to, rather easily, recreate yourself, one of your favorite characters, or anybody else that you’d like to experience Santo Ileso’s open world as.
While you’re able to choose from a variety of tattoos, voices (hearing my British Boss say things like ‘lorry’, ‘Bob’s your uncle’ and ‘bum’ never got old), scars, and makeup options, including wrinkles or shine for that extra glow to your Boss’ skin, the mostly blocky helmet hair-like hairstyles (and only a handful that feature physics) made me feel as if I was still playing the nearly decade-old Saints Row IV.
Santo Ileso is full of standard open-world fare, with a twist
Once you’ve created your Boss, you’re thrust out into Santo Ileso, a dry, desert environment full of cityscapes, south-western America-inspired locales, and its very own Las Vegas-like strip full of dazzling neon lights.
Initially, your Boss and their three friends, Kev, Neenah, and Eli, are struggling to make ends meet, holed up in a small apartment with your character attempting to work their way up through the mercenary-like Marshall Defense Industries (whose business motto of TLC literally includes ‘loose morals’) before eventually needing to head out into the world to find greener pastures of their own before forming The Saints.
Everything you’d expect from an open world title is here: from side ques– I mean, side hustles, collectibles to find, and a gorgeous city to explore, but it’s all amped up in typical Saints Row fashion.
Glowing golden dumpsters are hidden throughout the city where you can literally go dumpster diving in order to locate some goodies like cash or a cool hat, and side hustles where you’ll leave a bad review for a business to draw out enemies to defeat are great options in exchange for varying rewards. One unexpected addition that I absolutely loved are the ‘Hidden History’ side missions, which are basically guided tours. In these, you’ll head to a spot and interact with various boards that will tell you about the history of each location you’re at in exchange for some EXP and cash. Worldbuilding like this is always really important to me, and it’s a great way to tie the player to the world.
As you progress through the story to build The Saints and your HQ, you’re able to unlock different Criminal Ventures in order to expand your empire. These can be placed wherever you’d like from a selection of spots on the map and provide you with brand new missions alongside a steady stream of income. From JimRob’s chop shop, which tasks you with locating and stealing certain vehicles, to Shady Oaks, an ER that allows you to commit insurance fraud by literally throwing yourself into oncoming traffic while creating combos to wrack up an insane amount of cash, there’s a whole variety to unlock and build.
One of my favorite and most unexpected of these ventures is Castle Kraken, a fort that is built to tie into one of the best, in my opinion, things about Saints Row: a LARPing subplot.
Having a LARP of a time
Yes, you heard that right. Completely out of the blue, one of your besties and criminal partners, Eli, asks you to help them out with a citywide LARP. Complete with cardboard armor and absolute hilarity as your Boss gives themself over to the ludicrosity of what’s going (and eventually ends up enjoying it), you’ll shoot ‘enemies’ with non-lethal weapons that spray confetti as you attempt to overthrow the ruling houses within Santo Ileso’s LARP community. Think Fallout-meets-Game-of-Thrones and you’re on the right track.
There are plenty of other instances like this where you’ll take part in activities that leave you really getting to know (and care for) your Boss’ friends too; like driving Kev around the city from drive-through to drive-through in order to find a MechaBurger toy from one of Santo Ileso’s fast food chains, FB’s. The four integral characters are probably one of the things that I love most about Saints Row, and are the glue that kept me interested in the story and what unfolded throughout it.
As you take part in these missions, your companions will unlock new weapons to use or gain a boost in a certain skill, making these incredibly rewarding when you’re needing to deal with one of the city’s three rival gangs. You’re even able to customize their look slightly through outfits that they unlock for added crew personalization.
Speaking of gangs, the three groups of enemies that you’ll be faced with while vying for control over the city are the previously mentioned Marshall, The Idols, and Los Panteros. Marshall are full of militaristic mercenaries while also having a slight cowboy feel to them (one enemy type is dressed in armor with a rancher hat, for example); The Idols are all about fame and bringing down what’s referred to as ‘the system’ — basically society as it is; and Los Panteros, a gang that holds their vehicles above everything else. They all have their own unique attack styles too, meaning you’ll need to approach each faction slightly differently in a firefight.
Back out in the open world, what would Saints Row be without all manner of vehicles to drive the streets in style in, and endless weapons to cause destruction with?
As you play, you’ll unlock different cars and weapons that, coupled with the game’s different Skills and Perks, allow you to approach standoffs from different angles. Use the Sideswiping skill to ram your enemies off of the road, attack items to the back of your vehicle to swing them around like a wrecking ball, or literally attack your enemies with a flaming punch to keep the mayhem going in fights.
During one mission, you’re shipped off to an island called Boothill for a battle royale-styled brawl to the death as you make your way through waves of enemies, picking up everything from a longsword to laser weapons to try and survive the onslaught. It’s hallmark Saints Row hilarity, and it’s moments like this where the game truly comes into its own.
It’s eerily quiet in Santo Ileso
That being said, one thing that stuck out during my time in Santo Ileso is how quiet the world felt. Vehicle engines sound nearly silent despite my audio being set to maximum in-game along with my headphones, and oftentimes I’d lose all sense of immersion when I realized that the game’s ambient sounds seemed to all but disappear when driving around.
Unless I went looking for them, or aside from the odd random encounter of NPCs standing outside their cars after what looked like someone had hit a tail light or something similar (I don’t drive — go figure), it felt like most of the game’s ambient action had been reserved for missions. Sure, these background characters will verbally react to you if you get a little too close and quip about you or The Saints, but I can only describe it as that it felt like there was a little je ne sais quoi missing, both from how NPCs act and the ambient audio itself.
What’s more, when utilizing my character’s emotes — one of which is a wave — the NPCs seemed to all react the same when I tested it out near them: not reacting at all or fleeing as quickly as they could.
Top-notch accessibility features
One thing that always stands out to me in games are accessibility features, and Volition have taken the cake when it comes to providing lots of them. Whether you’re looking for a range of different difficulty modes (like me, who played on Tourist — the easiest mode available) or fancy a bit more of a challenge, you’ve got five different levels of difficulty to choose from. You can even fine-tune this and create your own hybrid difficulty if you like, selecting certain ‘levels’ of particular elements on a scale of one to five.
Aside from that, you can select from lots of additional options to tweak your Saints Row experience, including High Contrast Mode and aim assist settings to selections that prioritize critical speech by lowering other audio during these segments or adding chat bubbles for ambient speech.
The Verdict: 7/10
Saints Row is everything you’d expect from a new entry into the franchise: It’s full of larger-than-life story beats, a LARPing subplot, oodles of customization, and outlandish Skills to take down your enemies with. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, your Boss and their three companions are where this reboot truly shines — and it’s a joy to experience Santo Ileso and all that it has to offer with them.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.