My favorite Saints Row game will always be Saints Row 2 as it offered just enough wackiness and lots of cool gang-building missions to keep me hooked. Plus, building your own criminal empire all the while throwing yourself in front of traffic dressed in a hot dog suit was pure bliss back in 2008. Fast forward to Saints Row IV and your crew is literally fighting off an alien race, and—oh, you have superpowers. It was a drastic jump from the good old days of claiming turf and beating up gang members.
It makes sense, then, that Volition wanted to reboot the series and bring it back to earth by both telling an origin story of the Saints but also by rebalancing the level of humor and seriousness the series was moving away from. In Saints Row, you explore the beginnings of the Saints from a fresh perspective, one that continues the lightheartedness the series is known for despite it feeling like something you’ve already played before. So while the game itself is fun and a blast to play, it doesn’t feel like much has changed besides its usual punch lines.
One of the cool things about Saints Row is that is offers you a wide array of customization options for your protagonist right at the start. The cast may refer to your character as “the boss,” but you decide what they look like down from their voice to their style of underwear. Its voice selection is quite generous and gives your boss a unique personality that even changes how certain lines are delivered based on the voice you pick. One option throws out Mexican slang every now and then while the British lady voice is both proper and utterly sassy. You can definitely spend a long time perfecting your creation, and the best thing is you can change your appearance, voice, or clothes anytime you want.
- Plethora of customization options to make the boss you want;
- Story missions are dramatic and cinematic;
- Some side missions will keep you coming back for more.
- The story is too short and ends abruptly;
- Lack of a backstory to characters makes the game feel distant;
- Bugs and glitches ruin the fun.
As an open world game, Saints Row offers you plenty of missions and objectives to complete while letting you explore story missions that move the plot along and let you explore the origins of the Saints. Right from the get-go, the game establishes its sense of humor, one that will be familiar to fans of the series but doesn’t overly do it to the point of being cringey. The wackiness is toned down here so don’t expect to wield a giant dildo or blast your foes with an abduction gun. This reboot feels more like good old Saints Row 2.
And that’s both good and bad. Good because it feels like a familiar game with plenty of charm and things to do, but bad because it doesn’t shake anything up or give you something you haven’t experienced before. Even the game’s format is very much like other open world games you have played with story missions, side missions, and lots of collectibles to find. It’s not that the game won’t entertain you, but it just plays it safe in many ways.
A Short Story
The boss lives with three roommates—Neenah, the car prodigy member of the Panteros gang, Kevin, a foodie who never wears a shirt and a member of the Idols, and Eli, the smartest guy in the room who has a penchant for LARPing. How they ended up together, we will never know, but seeing these distinct personalities all get along like a dysfunctional family, playfully arguing over a card game, or laughing together during various car rides is the highlight of the game’s story missions. Character-specific missions also not only let you upgrade their kit when in battle, but they also provide you with more insight on each of your friend’s lives.
As you would have guessed, at one point you establish your own gang and name call yourselves the Saints due in part because your headquarters are in a former church. The missions leading up to this important part in the story are cinematic and adrenaline-filled romps, and the missions that follow continue making your climb to power a big deal. You will leap onto moving trucks, engage in a prison riot, and escape a burning yacht on a jet ski. They are not as mind-blowing as those in previous Saints Row installments, but they are the most dramatic and exhilarating missions in the game.
Saints Row left me wanting more. Even the radio stations you can listen to and the track selection felt small in comparison to how bombastic of a soundtrack its past games had. While its side missions checked the open-world box of giving you something to do to keep you busy during or after you finish the story, most of them felt repetitive and only some truly captured the fun the games are known for thanks to some clever writing and line delivery.
But don’t get too excited—the game’s story ends when you least expect it. Even the final mission is milder than you would have hoped. To be fair, previous Saints Row games took you on some wild rides so going back and telling the story of the humble beginnings of a crime gang can only get you so much. Still, I would have preferred a more menacing threat or more chaos to elicit some sort of bigger response from your Saints. Even the rival gangs you have to beat up, don’t seem that threatening because their personalities aren’t truly developed as thoroughly as you would have hoped and the game doesn’t spend too much time on them individually for you to even care about them other than telling you they’re bad and must be defeated.
At any point during or after you finish the main story, you can also complete side missions in the form of ventures you establish across Santo Ileso. These are essentially types of missions you can complete that expand the amount of money you rake in and get you one step closer in completing the game. Some of these ventures include carefully delivering trucks filled with toxic waste before they explode, stealing cars and surviving the incessant pursuit of the cops, and my favorite—throwing yourself in front of traffic for insurance money.
Each venture contains many missions for you to complete it so, while I enjoyed the rag-doll goodness of Insurance Fraud, I got bored hauling toxic waste when I realized I had to do it 13 times. There are plenty more ventures to unlock, but each one essentially has you doing the same type of mission in different areas in varying degrees of difficulty. Their repetitive nature is made less frustrating, however, thanks to clever lines that pepper them and give what you are doing a purpose. Besides money, completing them also gets you some unlockable goodies like unique weapons and customization options. They may not all be winners, but these side missions come with their own completion requirements that at least offer you some respite from just shooting people down.
Not too big and not too small, Santo Ileso is just the right size for exploring and commuting with various districts inspired by various states like Nevada, Arizona, and California. There is a Southwestern theme to Santo Ileso, and you can see it in the orange hues that permeate throughout the city and the dust storms that occasionally show up. You have your congested streets, pedestrians walking aimlessly unaware you may run them over, and lots of collectibles to find. It’s a lot more welcoming than the grungy city of Stillwater from the original game, but it feels (and even looks) like every other open-world city you probably have played before.
It also comes with technical issues that pop up every now and then. I encountered several in my 30 some hours with the game including some bugs that prevented me from completing certain missions and trapped me in areas that required me to quit and restart. Granted, I played the game during its review phase before it could get patched up so I would hope the game runs more smoothly from here on out.
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When all is said and done, Saints Row left me wanting more. Even the radio stations you can listen to and the track selection felt small in comparison to how bombastic of a soundtrack its past games had. While its side missions checked the open-world box of giving you something to do to keep you busy during or after you finish the story, most of them felt repetitive and only some truly captured the fun the games are known for thanks to some clever writing and line delivery. Even its story, the foundation of any open world game, felt like it needed a shot of adrenaline and ended too quickly.
I totally understand why Saints Row needed a reboot, but I only wish it offered more creativity like that of its past games. It may not needed to go off the rails like Saints Row IV did, but providing more cinematic story missions or even spending more time on the backstory of your foes and allies would have made the game feel more cohesive and fulfilling. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it just plays it too safe to feel spanking new.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com