Also on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Deep Silver
I know that as the Saints Row series has progressed over the past 15+ years, its evolution has been a little divisive. Some (including me) loved how cartoonishly over-the-top it became, while others deplored how far it strayed from its GTA-inspired roots. One thing, though, I think both sides can agree on is that Saints Row – the 2022 reboot of the series that only recently arrived on Steam – is hugely underwhelming.
Obviously, that’s not a groundbreaking observation. People were skeptical about Saints Row even before it was first released last year, then initial reviews seemed to confirm everyone’s worst fears once the game was finally released. For me to say it a year after the fact is hardly novel or brave. The Steam version of the game, after all, is the same bland, uninspired pile of meh that everyone else got. But now that the game is on Steam – and apparently may have been given new life as a PS+ title – it’s probably worth revisiting why, exactly, the game is so mediocre.
A lot of it starts with the setting. Stilwater and Steelport, the cities of the previous Saints Row games, were bustling metropolises, full of people. By contrast, Santo Ileso feels like an empty small town. While it’s understandable that dearly departed developers Volition wanted to try something new, by relocating the game to a desert (and somewhat deserted) city, they gave up a key part of what gave the series its identity. Santo Ileso feels like it offers the opportunity to see some pretty nice landscapes, but little else. You don’t have the distinctive districts, or the useful landmarks, or even the cities’ citizens having rooting interests in different gangs. It’s just a big empty space.
Unfortunately, Saints Row doesn’t find a way to fill up this space with distinctive personalities or a fun plot. The game is designed to be an origin story for the 3rd Street Saints, except all you get is four friends who just go on a bunch of heists and shootouts. There’s the odd mission that tries to stand out from the rest, like a train robbery sequence, but for the most part the game feels pretty rote.
It probably doesn’t help that the friends aren’t particularly interesting, either. The previous Saints Row games were full of characters with identities and backstories – even mythologies, in some cases – and even if you didn’t know all that came before, the games still did a great job of making you care about them. In Saints Row, by comparison, it’s a few aimless, interchangeable twentysomethings who like drinking and karaoke. It’s hard to care about any of them, which in turn makes it hard to care about the story.
And, of course, there are the bugs. To be fair, Saints Row games have always had their fair share of bugs, to the point that they turned them into running jokes. But that doesn’t excuse their existence. In particular, the game really didn’t like when you drive off-road, as your controls suddenly become really wonky and the performance took a noticeable dip – which is a problem, since the wide-open spaces mean you spend a lot of time driving. More broadly, though, I noticed that items would frequently fall from the sky into place; while this could’ve been done for comedic effect, it happened enough while being completely unremarked upon that I think it was more a design flaw.
To be fair, a lot of these criticisms are precisely because the game is called Saints Row. If this were some anonymous open-world shooter, the game might be a little easier to take. It would still be buggy, and the characters still would be dull, and the missions would still be repetitive, but at the very least you might be able to look at the game and see promise for what could come next.
In this case, though, it’s impossible not to look back. There’s a weight of history behind Saints Row, and no matter whether you’re comparing it to the more serious early games or the sillier later ones, it’s pretty clear that the Saints Row reboot doesn’t live up to any of them.
Deep Silver provided us with a Saints Row PC code for review purposes.