Saints Row Review – A Disappointing Return

We Hope You Enjoy Our Saints Row (2022) Review.

This Saints Row Review has been a long time coming. As a massive fan of the series, I have been waiting for this game for almost a decade at this point, even before I knew that a new entry was supposedly in development.

The Saints Row games have always reveled in the absurd nature of their setting, and even the earlier titles in the series that many would consider relatively tame, were still pretty goofy when compared to most of their peers. But they still didn’t hold a candle to the latest few entries, which featured settings like a global alien invasion and even a trip down into the underworld. And while opinions are divided in terms of the reception these games received, no one can deny that they were a hell of a lot of fun.

But there was an endpoint to the narrative, even if it was not completely definitive, and the studio could not escalate the setting any further than it already had without completely changing what it once was. And longtime fans of the series were also clamoring for a return to the series gang-warfare roots, but the developers could not deliver on that request without retconning some major plot elements. So instead they decided to reboot the franchise completely.

And what we have before us now is the result of that decision. This is the new Saints Row game that we’ve all been waiting for, and I’ve gotta be honest, it’s not all that great.

Story And Setting

Saints Row Review
Setting.

As part of the reboot, Saints Row (2022) completely scraps the characters and stories that have defined the franchise since its inception and instead opts to start over with a brand new city and a completely new cast of saints. And although that sound’s really really bad at a glance, I want to convey that the idea in itself is not a bad one. The series desperately needed a fresh start, and there were an infinite number of ways that could have been delivered to us. The problem however is that what we did get isn’t all that inspired.

The first and most important character in the game is the protagonist or ‘The Boss’ as they are known. Like previous entries, you can customize the Boss to look like whatever you can imagine, and the game is able to facilitate some of your wildest ideas, complete with emotes and multiple choices of voice actors. Do you want to make an exquisitely detailed recreation of yourself? Well, you can do that. You can also straight up create a giant purple-skinned monstrosity that looks like it crawled out of your worst nightmares.

As always, the Boss is supposed to be your representation within the game world. They don’t really have a personality, so much as a general attitude that you would expect to see from a gang leader. They also have somewhat of a background relating to one of the rival gangs in the city which comes into play during the story.

Saints Row Review
Character Customization.

But again, it’s set dressing mostly and not meant to be taken all that seriously. Some characters that are supposed to have a much greater impact however are your gang members, and the story really fumbles the bag on that end.

The three new saints, Neenah, Kevin, and Eli, each take up the role of Driver, Planner, and the Brains within the organization. Each is specialized in a different skill that the gang requires and has their own criminal background and a reason to want to join up with the Boss to start their own thing. As a foundation, neither of these archetypes is particularly unique, but they can be made to work if the writing is good. They’re supposed to be relatable Millenials with their own goals and troubles. They want to take care of their friends, pay off their student loans, own property, etc, but they’re also murderous maniacs that kill dozens of people in a heartbeat.

This sort of dichotomy can be the perfect basis for a modern Saints Row game, but again, the problem is in the execution. These characters are shallow caricatures of people, instead of someone that you could come to like. They’re shallow and unlikable people with no actual depth beyond their initial personas. The story tries to make you care about them by throwing sob stories about how difficult their childhoods were, but that also creates such a dissonance between who they say they are and the things they actually do.

Saints Row Review
The New Saints Are Extremely Unlikable.

Almost no actual character development takes place over the campaign, and the saints never really grow as people. I hated almost every minute I had to spend with these people, and I could not wait until the game was over. The way they behave is juvenile, the way they talk is cringe-worthy, and the constant banter and lame jokes did nothing to make me empathize with these characters. This is not a funny game unless your sense of humor is exclusively derived from memes.

To be completely clear, the problem is not the setting, or the effort to make the new characters more relatable to a modern younger audience. The problem is how bad the writing is, and how few risks are taken. Say what you want about the older games in the series, but at least they made you care about Johnny Gat and the other gang members.

The new city of Santo Ileso is also a weak setting for you to play around in. It’s based on Las Vegas, and as such features, a large playground comprised of a bunch of regions like a gated community for the rich and powerful, a poorer district with apartment complexes, an urban center with skyscrapers, a strip with casinos, and even a massive desert. But once again, the issue is how lifeless and how utterly barren it all feels. 

Gameplay

Gameplay.

If you’ve played any of the previous games, then you know what the gameplay in Saints Row (2022) is like. You get to explore a massive open world at your discretion, drive vehicles, do missions, engage with ridiculous side activities, and cause mayhem however you please. It’s the same basic formula that we all know and love, and as far as the foundations are concerned I don’t really have anything to complain about. The problem once again is how by the numbers everything is.

Combat for example is a mix of traditional third-person shooting, mixed with some rudimentary melee attacks and a skill system. The selection of firearms at your disposal ranges all the way from modern guns like assault rifles and shotguns, to high-powered sniper rifles and even rocket and grenade launchers. There are also a bunch of futuristic variations of these weapons that, although look and sound a lot more flashy, basically serve the same function.

And there are a few jokey weapons like the pinata launcher, but you’ll be annoyed to know that they are significantly less varied and wacky this time around. On one hand, I understand why the developers would want to limit these, considering they’re trying to go back to their roots, but I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t have fun using the Dubstep Gun in Saints Row IV. Although admittedly, the cultural landscape has shifted a lot since 2013 and Dubstep isn’t exactly as popular as it once was. But you understand my point.

Shooting itself is quick and snappy, and there’s is a fair bit of kick to it, that much is to be appreciated about it. There are a bunch of tools for you to play with, and it’s always fun to get as loud and flashy as possible when mowing down hordes of rival gang members. But since this series does not feature a cover system, we have to rely on the execution system to get up close and personal and kill targets in excessively brutal ways. This in turn rewards you with health, incentivizing you to keep moving and killing.

Driving.

New to the series with this entry is the Skill system, which allows you to allocate up to four different abilities to shortcuts on your keyboard or controller. These allow you to supplement your regular combat with a selection of powerful melee attacks, takedowns, and even defensive options. As an example, one skill lets you drop sticky mines, while another lets you unleash a flaming punch. These are a nice little addition to the game, and I somewhat enjoyed using them.

But even combined together, all of these systems do not come to form a satisfying whole. I did not enjoy the combat a whole lot, and in fact, it actually started to get repetitive really early on. And considering how much of this game is centered around firefights of some sort, that’s not a good sign. 

Driving is also serviceable, but don’t expect anything akin to what you’ll find in a game like GTA where each vehicle has its own unique feel. Most cars in Saints Row (2022) feel a bit floaty, and there’s nothing that really differentiates say one supercar from another. They all function like one single vehicle, albeit with different appearances and speeds. There are a selection of boats and aircraft in the game, but rarely does the game ever throw a scenario at you where using them could feel fun or rewarding.

After reaching a certain point in the campaign, you will be made aware of the new Criminal Ventures mechanic. By setting these up, the saints can start new businesses that grant them certain buffs, clothing items, and even add a neat amount to their hourly income. Most importantly though, these grant you access to side activities like Mayhem or the incredibly entertaining Insurance Fraud. And yes, like any true Saints Row fan, I constantly had a smile on my face as I threw myself into traffic and bounced from bumper to bumper because it felt so good and familiar.

Saints Row Review
Criminal Ventures.

But unlike Insurance Fraud and one or two other activities, most of the other ones simply aren’t a lot of fun. I really didn’t enjoy the ones that revolved around either driving a vehicle from point A to B, or stealing vehicles from point A or delivering them to B. And what sucks is that you have to do a certain number of these to advance the story, you don’t really get a choice in the matter. Playing through this game made me really miss older activities like Spetic Avenger and Trail Blazing.

Once again, all of my complaints can be condensed down to how predictable and safe this game feels. This is a Saints Row title, and I was expecting a bombastic new entry that would go all out with the characters, missions, and humor, but I’m severely let down. This is one of the most predictable experiences I have had this decade, and it is going to disappoint across the board. The developers were so preoccupied with how to make this feel like the old games, that they never stopped to think about how they could help it stay competitive in 2022.

But to be fair, I’m not going to say that Saints Row (2022) is a boring game all the way through. This is still a title with some solid foundations, and there are some incredibly fun moments during its 12-15 hour run time that can get your heart pumping. But these moments are few and far in-between, and they simply make the bad stuff stand out all that much more. Most of what you’ll play through, even in the main missions, revolves around the same boring old structures. Go here, kill this person, steal that thing and then sit through an extremely cringeworthy cutscene with characters you do not care about.

There are so many problems with this game, and I find it hard to believe that anyone thought that it was worth releasing like this.

Visuals And Performance

Visuals.

And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, Saints Row (2022) is also one of the most broken AAA games I have played in recent memory. It is embarrassing how many game-breaking bugs I encountered during my playthrough.

Multiple times during cutscenes the audio would randomly cut out and characters would start moving their mouths and nothing would actually come out. Other times someone would shoot a gun and you’d hear no gunshot. This is so utterly immersion-breaking, but maybe it can also be a good thing if you didn’t enjoy listening to any of the saints actually talking. You know, on account of how unlikable they all are.

Another issue I noticed was that the character models would sometimes start freaking out as if the person in question is trying to jump out of their skin. This happened in the middle of talking, or when they were performing an action. There is a particular moment during the story when this happens during a key mission and it robs the moment of any weight. I thought that it might have been an isolated thing, but upon reloading a save I was frustrated to find that it was a recurring bug.

But these are still minor issues, there are much bigger bugs in the game that prevent you from actually completing story missions and performing in combat. Some of these include enemies not responding to being shot even at point-blank range, or spawning in an area completely inaccessible by the player. A number of these are actually so bad that they stop you from accomplishing your objectives. The fact that I actually managed to finish the campaign at all is a wonder.

A lot of you might have watched some gameplay trailers before launch and may be thinking to yourself; hey, at least the game looks really good right? Well, the answer to that is also a bit complicated as well.

On one hand, Saints Row (2022) has some absolutely gorgeous vistas, and it makes excellent use of the lighting and the environment to make the city feel like it’s alive. Whether it’s the beautiful orange sunset off in the distance, or the neon glow of the casino lights during the nighttime, there is a lot to appreciate about the visuals. One particular highlight is the sandstorms, that transform the city into something out of a completely different universe.

But on the other hand, everything else about the city makes it look like it’s barren. Santo Ileso has a lot of density and space, but that space is mostly empty whenever you pass through it. At any point in the game, you will only find a handful of civilians walking through the streets, and the AI is about as bad as everything else. You can go on rampages where you kill dozens of innocents, and then the ensuing police chase can be evaded by simply driving in the opposite direction for less than a minute.

Perhaps the only saving grace is that the game runs fairly well on PC. And with an RTX 2080 I was able to maintain a steady 60 FPS on high settings for the vast majority of my runtime. But even then, there are a lot of extremely noticeable pop-in issues, and the experience isn’t any better because of it.

This is an extremely flawed product, and I highly recommend that you wait a couple of months before picking it up.

Saints Row (2022) Verdict

Saints Row Review.
Verdict.

As a massive fan of the Saints Row franchise, I really wanted to love this game. But It’s an incomplete and buggy mess that made it hard to play at the best of times. The AI is terrible, the art style is outdated and the world is uninspired. Combat is serviceable, but it’s the exact same formula we’ve already seen from multiple other games before it. It’s old and uninspired, and it gets repetitive really quickly. 

This series has always been kept aloft by the strength of characters, and the silly humor. And yes, in hindsight, a lot of the jokes in the previous games were pretty juvenile and lame, but what matters is that there was some heart there. None of that can be seen here, and the new cast of saints is simply an unlikable bunch.

The writing is really bad, and I cannot remember a bunch of supporting characters that I actively disliked as much as these three new ones. The problem is not with who they are or where they start out, the problem is that they are shallow and one-note people who do not grow over the course of the story. 

All in all, I do not recommend you pick this game up right now, If you’re a really big fan of the Saints Row series, then I ask that you wait at least a couple of months so that the studio can patch out some of the major game-breaking bugs.

Pros

  • Solid Foundation.
  • World Can Be Pretty Sometimes.
  • Smooth Framerate.

Cons

  • Extremely Repetitive Gameplay.
  • Cringeworthy Writing.
  • New Saints Are Unlikable.
  • Game-Breaking Bugs.
  • World Feels Dead.
  • Bad AI.

Saints Row (2022) Rating – 2/5

We hope that you enjoyed our Saints Row (2022) Review. While you’re here, why not also check out some of our other articles? 

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Huzaifah Durrani


As an RPG fanatic, Huzaifah is probably Immersed in yet another playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas or Elden Ring. He will also help you complete game quests, and stay familiar with the latest game releases.