Saints Row didn’t make a great first impression in its opening hour. I found it difficult to care at all for the protagonists of this new outing, and the game didn’t feel as polished as I’d hoped it’d be. However, the hours following the first were a huge improvement. If you’ve played a Saints Row game before, don’t expect revolutionary changes. That said, this year’s reboot has been built on the foundations of the stronger entries in the series and I ended up having a really good time with it.
Those opening moments in Saints Row establish some of the key groups and crews you’ll be dealing with throughout the game, and after things inevitably take a turn for the worst, it’s time for you and your ragtag crew to build up the Saints.
With four specialists as the co-heads of the Saints (one of which is particularly adverse to wearing a shirt), you’re tasked with building a criminal empire that’ll take every last penny from Santo Ileso, the new setting for this year’s reboot.
Spread throughout the city are a bunch of vacant lots, and to build up the Saints’ criminal empire you’ve gotta buy them. Lots are disguised as run of the mill businesses, however beneath these businesses are a range of money laundering schemes that help fill the pockets of you and your crew members. This, in turn, allows the team to bring in more members, upgrade the Saints base, as well as allowing you to purchase more lots to make even more coin.
Businesses, otherwise known as criminal ventures, have their own sets of side missions to complete in order to fully take over districts in Santo Ileso. By completing these missions, you’ll rake in more cash to continue to create a monopoly on the city. Some of these side missions will be very familiar among series vets, with insurance fraud a particular highlight.
Each venture has its own type of side mission, and they don’t really change as you progress. This makes for a relatively repetitive slog if you’ve got to complete a certain amount to progress in the story (which does happen), and it slows the pace of the game’s story down a little bit.
Criminal venture missions aren’t to be confused with side hustles, either, as they’re their own separate thing in Saints Row. Some of these will have you protecting drug dealers, while others will see you making use of a helicopter to transport vehicles across the city. There’s also cool little history lessons you can engage in, gang threats to scupper and photos to snap of notable locations throughout the world that you’ll then be able to add as props inside Saints HQ.
If that wasn’t enough, hitman missions return in the form of the wanted application on your phone, giving you a list of bounties to complete to get more cash.
Every activity you do in Saints Row reaps some sort of cash reward, which you can then inject back into more criminal ventures or into the litany of customisation options for your character. I was really impressed with the sheer amount of customisation on offer. From vehicles, to weaponry to customising the Saints HQ, there’s an unprecedented amount of things to tinker with in Saints Row and it’s a big step up from earlier games in the series.
Co-op play is available in this year’s game, however my attempts to give it a whirl during the review period didn’t work. The game refused to send a final confirmation notification to the host player, so I wasn’t able to test out how it worked and performed. A shame, too, as these missions seem tailor made for some great co-operative fun.
On that subject, I did have my fair share of issues throughout my 15 or so hours with the game. Most notably, the lack of any cover mechanic felt like a bizarre omission as it seemed like enemies had plenty of space and ability to take cover from my character’s shots.
The newly introduced instant takedowns became my go-to during intense firefights because of this, with these rewarding you with a well-needed health boost when executed correctly. The new special abilities, which are earned as you level up, were also extremely useful in clearing out enemies. Some of the abilities available were particularly fun to use, like the powerful limited-use sniper rifle and a grenade that would send enemies hurling up into the air.
Another gripe I had was the game’s general background noise, which felt very low and lifeless at times. Santo Ileso isn’t a bad location by any means, however it lacks any real sense of identity. Compared to Stilwater, this was a major disappointment for me. And this goes hand in hand with the game’s general graphical presentation – it’s not bad, but it isn’t great. For a game that’s released a few years into the current-gen, it certainly won’t turn heads.
During my time with the game I experienced a myriad of graphical, UI and gameplay glitches. From vehicles spawning in at random to not being able to use the weapon wheel or enter vehicles (and having to restart a checkpoint or save), it’s clear the game still has some kinks it needs to iron out.
Something I really liked about Saints Row, though, was its mission variety. The sense of creativity sprinkled across the 10-hour campaign was an absolute joy to play through. And while the story itself felt relatively mediocre when compared to series highlights like Saints Row 2, it’s certainly a step up from Saints Row 4 and Gat Out Of Hell. I just wished I liked the characters more, and that there were any sense of stakes whatsoever.
It’s a good time though, but setting expectations is key. If you like the Saints Row games, you’ll like the reboot. Volition’s done a great job bringing this series back from the depths, and I’m keen to see where they go next. It has quite a few stumbling blocks along the way, but the sheer insanity and fun you get from it is exactly what I want from a Saints Row game.
The Xbox Series X|S version of Saints Row was played primarily for the purpose of this review.
The new Saints Row doesn’t break any new ground, however it's still a relatively fun time. If you’re a fan of the series, there’s no reason not to give this one a spin.