Saints Row, when it first came out in 2006, was in many ways the anti-Grand Theft Auto despite being a clone of that franchise. As GTA tried to be a satire and make the player laugh through subtlety, Saints Row responded by driving a motorcycle through a glass window and punching you in the face. It was loud, bombastic, and that dumb, stupid kind of fun that fit so perfectly in an open-world sandbox like Stillwater or Steelport.
Fast forward 16 years and the franchise has been rebooted. The new Saints Row takes place in the new location of Santo Ileso. It has the potential for that level of dumb fun but, unfortunately, it’s completely dragged down by a game that can’t decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be a heartfelt crime drama, a satire, or walk in the footsteps of the original franchise?
The moment that it was clear that the new Saints Row wasn’t going to be anything like the games that many fell in love with is relatively early on in its plot. You and your group of friends have recently gotten your new criminal empire business venture off the ground when a rival gang retaliates against one of your friends. In a moment of despair, your friend falls to their knees and begins telling a tragic backstory of why this moment is so painful for them, and in a more well-written story, it would have possibly left an emotional impact.
Instead, it comes across as a forced and unearned way of making you care for this character. It also makes it very clear that this is no longer the franchise that gained popularity because of assassination missions involving dudes in hot dog suits.
Saints Row desperately wants you to like its characters and it also really wants younger people to relate to them. They enjoy LARPing, cooking, and trying to hunt down nostalgic fast food toys. Write down a list of things that younger millennials and older Gen-Zers enjoy and that’s probably a personality trait they’ve attached to these characters. Unfortunately, none of it is handled in a way that is particularly interesting and is usually delivered in ways similar to the shallow “tragic backstory ” moments from before.
So, the story and characters are a miss, but for many people, that was never the point of Saints Row to begin with, and as long as exploring the sandbox is fun then that’s all that should matter. This one is going to be hard to explain, but the sandbox accomplishes what someone would have wanted from a game in 2014. In 2022, however, it feels outdated compared to other games in the genre. The side missions aren’t the best, largely because many of them are built on a basic combat system, but none of them are particularly offensive. Some are good, such as the welcome return of insurance fraud, but others, like the wingsuit missions, feel like they had the potential to be so much more. They will scratch that itch of completing a checklist item that most of us like sandbox games for, but it never felt like the side missions were worth sinking too much time into.
Unfortunately, it’s just really hard to recommend playing Saints Row right now at its full price. Not only does the base game not feel like it’s worth the price of admission, but there are many reports of some really awful bugs on the Xbox/PC version, in particular. I played through the PS5 version without too many issues, but it definitely feels like this is a game that you’ll want to wait on a price drop, or Game Pass, before playing.
If there is anything to build on for this game, it’s that the original Saints Row was considered mediocre at the time. This doesn’t have to be the end of attempts to reboot the series, and if this ends up being the groundwork for a better franchise down the road, then awesome. But right now what we have is a game that’s better experienced on Game Pass than at full price. Play this one after it’s been patched, but not right now.