The Saints Row reboot features a new cast of characters and a different location to explore, but its heart and soul haven’t changed: Players can once again expect an exciting crime fest, giggle-worthy humor, purple splattered everywhere, and an open-world chock full of things to do and secrets to unearth. The game also has a knack for blowing everything up. In other words, it is great fun in that traditional Saints Row way and even better when experienced with a friend.
Saints Row establishes an exciting pulse from the outset of play that periodically palpitates with graphical glitches or can outright flatline when gameplay bugs halt progress. The rough edges are noticeable yet are minor nuisances in an otherwise outstanding 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 that as both a compliment and a minor complaint. The mission designs and co-op play creatively build off that formula, while the gunplay and animations haven’t shown much improvement and are well behind what we expect in games today.
This entry hits with silliness within minutes of play, with the lead character delivering what is likely the longest string of f-bombs in all of entertainment. This moment cements the game’s silly (and low brow) vibe, which hits more than it misses, and shows the protagonist can be a bit of a wild card. The player designs this character, determining their sex, voice, facial features, and even the size of their genitalia. This lead is nicely penned and blends seamlessly with a fantastic supporting cast that gives the game a legitimate team dynamic, both in the story and mission flow. Eli is the brains of the operation, and his love of LARPing rubs off on you. Neenah’s obsession with cars and art is contagious and represented in play. And then there’s Kev, who is always shirtless, loves tacos, and is one of the fathers to a fantastic cat (that actually plays a significant role in the plot).
The fictional world of Santa Ileso is just as colorful as this cast, stealing the eye with creative architectural designs like dinosaur statues and state-of-the-art skyscrapers backed by scenic deserts and mountains. I like how developer Deep Silver Volition encourages the player to stop to admire the architectural craftsmanship with photo opportunities. When photographed, some of these wonders transform into decorations for the Saints’ base. I don’t know how many hours I sunk trying to track these collectibles down. They reward you well for taking the time to explore.
Getting around Santa Ileso is rarely a bore, even if stretches of it are remarkably flat. From hoverbikes to battery-powered tanks, vehicle variety is high and surprisingly powerful. A basic rusted-out car doubles as a weapon that can knock other vehicles off the road and break the laws of physics to turn corners on a dime. Most of these rides offer extensive tuner customization, allowing their looks to transform through deep wells of body mod parts, tires, paint, and more. Additional customization parts are tucked off to the side as hidden collectibles, giving yet another reason to explore.
I enjoyed every mission in the game. The critical path and side hustles are handled with care, delivering interesting or goofy objectives in locations that collectively give you a good look at most of the map’s significant landscapes and interiors. It wouldn’t be fair of me to spoil these setups, but I was particularly impressed by a prison mission that turns into a music video for Onyx’s “Slam.” These missions scale nicely for cooperative play, as do the mostly optional criminal ventures. Insurance Fraud sadly hasn’t evolved (yet is still dumb fun), but there’s a nice variety to them collectively. Most are short and sweet, and reward the player with much-needed new skills, cash, weapon crafting materials, and maybe even a new car or outfit.
New ventures unlock at a nice pace since they are tied to critical beats in the story, delivering something different to dive into even at the game’s end. The story progresses at a decent clip until around the third act, where it feels like an entire chapter of the game is missing. The Saints go from rags to riches in the blink of an eye, and the final act unfolds. It’s a jarring plot skip that delivers the sensation that I missed a big chunk of the Saints’ growth.
Combat is one of the biggest parts of the game, and it never truly finds its groove. Part of the problem is I felt bad for most of my opponents. They either charge haphazardly into most battles, getting riddled with each step, or perform an awkward dive roll, which leaves them vulnerable as they consider what to do next. The selection of firearms also disappoints both in feel and variety. The oddly named Thrustbuster is Saints Row’s greatest weapon to date (as it sends enemies into the stratosphere), but most machineguns and pistols feel unremarkable. The default lock-on targeting system strips excitement from the firefights and is something most games abandoned generations ago. All that said, blowing stuff up – which you do all the time – is incredibly rewarding given just how extensive most damage is. The rockets and grenades help give the combat system a pulse.
In my 30 hours of play, I experienced several glitches, the most severe being my weapons no longer firing, but most were of the visual variety, like my character’s head disappearing. The gameplay can be rough and may force you to reload a checkpoint. Thankfully, the game is liberal with them, so too much time isn’t lost, but it still stinks to have to repeat steps. Here’s hoping the game receives additional polish post-launch.
It may not push your new hardware to the limit and is a little rough around the edges, but the latest Saints Row is everything it needs to be, delivering a wonderful comedic experience with plenty of depth. While a little irritating, I was never bored and wanted to see where my team’s goofy antics would take them next. The payoffs are often worth the time investment, and just veering off the beaten path pays dividends. I’m glad the Saints are back, hopefully for another long haul.