The Saints Row reboot features a new cast of characters and a different place to explore, but its heart and soul haven’t changed: players are once again in a thrilling crime fest, laugh-worthy humor, purple splatters everywhere, and an open key. can hope. A world full of things to do and secrets to explore. The game also has a habit of blowing up everything. In other words, it’s a lot of fun in that traditional Saints Row and even better when experienced with a friend.
Saints Row establishes an exciting pulse from the beginning of the game that periodically teeters with graphical glitches or gameplay bugs that can outright flatline when it stops progress. The rough edges are noticeable yet a minor nuisance in an otherwise excellent game. Saints Row has never been better, but I wouldn’t call it the next evolution in the series – it feels like an alternate sequel to Saints Row 3. Take this as both a compliment and a minor complaint. The mission design and co-op play creatively build on that formula, while the gunplay and animations haven’t shown much improvement and are well behind what we’ve come to expect in today’s games.
The entry becomes a hit with nostalgia within minutes of the play, with the main character delivering the longest string of F-bombs in all spheres of entertainment. This moment reinforces the silly (and low-brow) vibe of the game, which hits more than it misses, and shows the hero can be a wild card. The player designs the character, determining their gender, voice, facial features and even the shape of their genitalia. The lead is well written and blends seamlessly with a superb supporting cast that gives the game a valid team dynamic in both the story and mission flow. Eli is the brain of the operation, and his love of larping pours out on you. Nina’s passion for cars and art is infectious and is reflected in the play. And then there’s Kev, who’s always been shirtless, loves tacos, and is one of the fathers of a fabulous cat (who actually plays a key role in the plot).
The fantasy world of Santa Ileso is just as colorful as this artist’s, stealing the eye with creative architectural designs like dinosaur sculptures and state-of-the-art skyscrapers backed by beautiful deserts and mountains. I like how developer Deep Silver Volition encourages the player to admire architectural craftsmanship with photo opportunities. When photographed, some of these miracles turn into decorations for the base of the saints. I have no idea how many hours I spent trying to track down these collectibles. They reward you well for taking the time to explore.
Getting around Santa Ileso is rarely a bore, even though its parts are remarkably flat. From hoverbikes to battery-powered tanks, the vehicle variety is high and surprisingly powerful. A basic rusty car doubles as a weapon that can hit other vehicles off the road and break the laws of physics to turn a dime. Most of these rides offer extensive tuner customization, allowing their looks to be changed through a deep wellspring of body mod parts, tyres, paint, and more. Additional customizable parts are put to the side in the form of hidden collectibles, which is yet another reason to explore.
I enjoyed every mission in the game. Critical paths and side hustle and bustle are carefully handled, providing interesting or goofy motives in locations that collectively give you a good look at most of the map’s important landscapes and interiors. It wouldn’t have been fair to me to spoil these setups, but I was particularly impressed by a prison mission that turns up in a music video for Onyx’s “Slam.” These missions scale well for cooperative play, as do most alternate criminal ventures. Insurance fraud is unfortunately not developed (yet dumb fun), but there is a good variety to them collectively. Most are short and sweet, and reward the player with much-needed new skills, cash, weapon crafting materials, and perhaps a new car or costume.
New ventures open up at a decent pace as they are tied to important beats in the story, which provide something different to do at the end of the game as well. The story progresses at a good clip until the third act, where it seems like an entire chapter of the game is missing. Saints move from rags to money in the blink of an eye, and the final act comes to the fore. It’s a jarring plotline that gives the feeling that I missed a big part of the development of the Saints.
Combat is one of the biggest parts of the game, and it never really finds its groove. Part of the problem is that I felt bad for most of my opponents. They either randomly participate in most of the battles, engaging in each stage, or rolling an awkward dive, which leaves them vulnerable as they contemplate what to do next. The firearms selection also disappoints in both experience and variety. The oddly named Thrustbuster is Saints Row’s greatest weapon ever (as it sends enemies into the stratosphere), but most machine guns and pistols feel unremarkable. The default lock-on targeting system takes away the excitement from the firefighters and it’s something that most games abandoned generations ago. All that said, blowing stuff up—which you do all the time—is incredibly rewarding, considering how extensive the damage is at most. Rockets and grenades help speed up the combat system.
In my 30 hours of play, I experienced several glitches, the most serious being that my weapons were no longer firing, but most of the scenes were of the sort, like my character’s head missing. Gameplay can be rough and force you to reload Checkpoint. Thankfully, the game with them is generous, so not too much time is lost, but it still stinks to repeat the moves. Here’s hoping the game gets that extra polish post-launch.
It may not push your new hardware to the limits and is a little rough around the edges, but the latest Saints Row has everything it needs to deliver a wonderfully comical experience with plenty of depth. While a bit annoying, I was never bored and wanted to see where my team’s mindless actions would take them next. The payoff is often well worth the investment of time, and only going off the beaten path pays dividends. I’m glad the Saints are back, hopefully for another long haul.