not a glorious return, but just okay.
Sequels are always a risk, something even risker still – a total series reboot. Whilst it has worked in some cases, the recently released Saints Row, unfortunately, is not one of those cases.
Saints Row, often cited as a “GTA clone”, has a long and rich history of being crude, outrageous and downright silly. However, that was a lot of what I really enjoyed about the previous instalments, I liked fighting aliens and making all my tough gang members cut around town in lovely shades of pink and purple outfits. This new reboot sees a much more stripped-back approach, and whilst it isn’t totally without that sense of tongue-in-cheek humour and silliness, it is decidedly less fun.
Playing as the “future boss of The Saints” you begin the game just taking mercenary jobs so you can pay the rent. With your friends Neenah, Kevin and Eli by your side you soon form The Saints and take on rival gangs Los Panteros, The Idols and the local private military Marshalls. You hit the streets of Santo Ileso and build your empire one venture at a time, as you battle for control of the city.
I was pretty optimistic about the reboot and looking forward to playing Saints Row, but I was particularly excited about designing my boss. I mean we can all admit that character creation is the best part of any game, right? And I must admit, I was very impressed with the character creator. There is a huge level of inclusivity and diversity, not only in terms of gender and race but also in the ability to equip prosthetic arms and legs. You aren’t locked into picking male or female, there are just multiple options on sliding scales, and you pick what fits best. It is a brilliant character builder and one I’d love to see replicated through other games.
One thing that struck me in Saints Row is just how long it takes to get going. We’re introduced to the fictional city of Santo Ileso and the gang structure that is operating within it through a series of introductory missions. However, with the game’s open-world sandbox structure it is easy to wander off. This wandering off isn’t through a sense of excitement, rather I just wasn’t sure whether I had even really ‘started’ the game yet.
Narratively, Saints Row is trying to tap into the social climate and embrace the modern technologies we are surrounded by today. However, the repetitive nature of the missions holds the game back from bringing anything new. There is no shortage of shallow, bullet spongey shootouts that after the first few feel more of a chore than anything else. The combat system itself feels wholly unsatisfying, enemies seem to absorb damage at the same rate you appear to take damage. Coupled with crosshairs that have the same accuracy as a rigged circus game, it was during one of the numerous gang shootouts I found myself wishing I was playing one of the earlier instalments and could just shoot them with the Shark-O-Matic.
There is still a good deal of fun to be had in the world of Santo Ileso. The core characters that now make up the saints are generally pretty likeable; each offering side missions that provide insight into the characters. We learn a lot more about our gang and its members compared to earlier instalments of the series but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to have me chomping at the bit to get back to playing it.
Saints Row is a game that will likely earn more favour if players are picking it up for the first time, there are a few bugs and the AI is prone to bouts of crazy unpredictability, but that is half of the charm of the series. The brilliant character creation options are overshadowed by the repetitive side missions/ turf wars. Whilst it is not the crowning return to the series I had hoped for, the best way I can think to describe Saints Row is that it is just okay.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5, available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Steam.