Review: Saints Row Introduces Us to the New Saints, Who Are Just Like the Old Saints—Mostly

I know not everyone is going to welcome the new Saint’s Crew. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was going to welcome the new Saints after the rebooted Saints Row was initially announced about a year ago. But with the 3rd Street Saints’ planet destroyed, Volition chose a great time to reboot the franchise and have another crew don the iconic fleur-de-lis.

Saints Row is a third person open world action adventure game. In it, you play as an ex-employee of a private military organization as you establish the new Saints’ criminal empire. In an interview with Lead Artist and Creative Director Brian Traficante, he mentioned that 2+3=5—and in this case, it means combining the series defining game Saints Row 2  with where the series started really embracing its zaniness in Saints Row 3. The result is a Saints Row that is just as familiar as it is different with a whole new group of Saints.

Screenshot: Saints Row

Weirdly, I really got attached to the new Saints in a way I wasn’t expecting. Even after spending almost a decade with the 3rd St. Saints, I was almost instantly enamored with this new crew.  While they’re definitely not saintly, they feel like a whole new generation of (almost) wholesome criminal.  Each of them is a loyal friend before they’re loyal to their crime syndicates. This comes to a head and is ultimately the catalyst for the creation of the eponymous Saints, which is an excellent setup and ultimately puts the new Saints in a multi-front gang war right at their inception. Saints Row is ultimately an origin story, and while I’m a little sick of them in general, this story is told with some real gusto.  

Before you start your crime spree in the southwestern Santo Illeso, you get a chance to use the great Boss Creator to make your own customized character. Saints Row has one of the most detailed character customization options, and you can even share your Boss creations with other players—and use others’ for inspiration or steal their look for yourself. If you change your mind, you can change your style at almost any point—that is, if you’re not too busy causing mayhem around Santo Illeso.

Screenshot: Saints Row

Not just one or two locations, Santo Illeso is made up of multiple distinct districts.  Saints Row doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of how it approaches its open world. Abilities like the wingsuit make getting around Santo Illeso more fun—and there is a pretty good selection of vehicles to steal or purchase, but there’s really not much you haven’t seen before. There are side activitices to make money, stores to purchase new clothing items to unlock, etc.

As you build your criminal empire through Santo Illeso you will set up criminial ventures. These ventures work as a sort of base of operations and source of side quests.  Each of these ventures usually requires some sort of intervention from the boss (you) to complete. For instance, to complete Jim Rob’s venture, you have to steal vehicles to progress.  

Screenshot: Saints Row

While there is a fair amount to do in the open world, Saints Row has a whole bunch of campaign missions to play to drive the story forward. As you progress through Saints Row’s narrative, you watch the Saints’ base of operations improve visually along with your notoriety. The story missions are also where I had the most fun. While the combat, physics and animations aren’t always top notch—Saints Row constantly throws the player into over-the-top action encounters that somehow manage to stay fresh throughout. It’s a major bummer, therefore, that mission progressions is halted around the midpoint of the game to complete venture projects. This isn’t the first time an open world game (or even a Saints Row game) halted story progress to grind out side projects. However, I suffered these activities so I could see where the new Saints end up.

With as much fun as I had with Saints Row, it isn’t a perfect game. Gameplay-wise it isn’t a huge departure from previous Saints Row games, and doesn’t feel like a huge improvement over Saints Row IV, which is almost ten years old at this point. Animations leave a lot to be desired, and so do the gameplay physics, with character and vehicle movement feeling light—like nothing has real world weight to it, something a lot of open world games suffer from.  

And while Volition was initially going for a Saints Row 2 + Saints Row 3,  the tone definitely leans a lot more towards the latter. Saints Row has an abundance of zaniness and a style of over-the-top humor that almost bypasses satire in a way that the similar Grand Theft Auto series keeps restrained.  If you’re hoping for more gangster and less zany, you’ll be disappointed.

Saints Row is definitely not a bad game, but despite it presumably being the first in a new series of Saints Row games, it feels low risk. But, it’s also a fun game that I found myself really enjoying. The Saints are back, and I’m here for it.  

Saints Row will be available tomorrow for PC on the Epic Games Store as well as on PlayStation 4 and 5 and Xbox Series S|X

A copy of Saints Row was provided to us for the purposes of this review.

Antal Bokor
Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian.
He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.

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