The Saints are back… wait the Saints are rebooted! Saints Row (2022) let’s call it is finally here and it features a rebooted universe where the Saints are a group of young scallywags living in the American Southwest. The title pulls back the reins a bit on the superhero antics of Saints Row 4 while staying more over the top than something like GTA. It all comes together in an enjoyable, albeit buggy, 20 or so hour open world sandbox that is fun as hell solo but can be played through entirely with a friend. Let’s break it all down and see if it’s worth a purchase.
You’ll begin the game by creating your Boss. Don’t worry about being locked in here because once you’re in the game proper you can change your character on the fly however you want. The customization options here are incredible and only limited by the amount of in-game cash you have to buy more clothing. One of the biggest things that we’ll get into later is the share system, but first, you begin with a flash-forward cutscene. After witnessing that you’ll go back “a few months” to when your character started working for Marshall Industries to try and make ends meet.
You live in an apartment with your four best friends. Eli is a loveable nerd; Kevin is one hell of a cook and averse to wearing shirts. Neenah is a great mechanic and hell of a driver, and Snickerdoodle is an adorable cat. Kev runs with The Idols, a neon-infused group of radicals who want to live in a post-modern society and Neenah runs with Los Panteros. Thanks to the “roommate code” you all happily co-exist as best friends trying to make their way to the top. After a series of over-the-top events, you end up deciding to start your own gang, named The Saints of course. A big part of the game, though one I had only done about a third of by the time credits rolled, is the Business Venture system. A short while into the game you’ll unlock your empire table, and from there you’ll run various businesses, starting with a chop shop, to earn you passive income and unlock a long-running quest chain.
Classic minigames for the franchise return slowly over time as you unlock each Venture and they’re one of the main ways you’ll unlock customization options for weapons, vehicles, and more alongside actual vehicles themselves. This is a very big game, though it isn’t always signposted the best. I beat the main story at just over 20 hours of playing the game and I was not expecting it. I have continued to play through the business ventures as some of them are quite fun, though others feel like a bit of a drag to complete. Thankfully the game hasn’t demanded I beat them all at any point yet so on the whole I have really enjoyed the system.
I always try to keep these reviews as spoiler free as possible so as far as the story goes, I’ll say that I enjoyed it a lot more by the end than I did at the start. Every character is endlessly snarky, which is the norm, but until I got to know and experience things with them it felt hollow. Thankfully the writing and voice acting are good enough to carry things even when in the end everyone is an unrepentant serial killer. The game goes for an R-rated approach, you can spend the entire thing walking around completely naked with only a blur on your genitalia if you want and there is a lot of cursing. It’s a more “light-hearted group of insane killers who are a fun family” type of story in the end though. Any sense of things being dialed back in the recent titles is gone here. It’s never truly dark or even that grim, but it’s definitely targeted at adults content-wise.
Get Used to Using Your Left Trigger
I played on a Series X in one of the many performance modes that I’ll touch on later. The game run at what felt like 60 fps most of the time while targeting 1440p. Despite this, I don’t think the aim feels particularly good when using guns, and instead, the game relies a lot on snap-to-target aim controls. Every push of the left trigger whenever an enemy is in your sites will yank the reticle over to them. Doing this while near their head and quickly letting off a burst of shots will have you mowing down most weaker enemies. It’s not a bad feeling aiming system, but it reminded me a lot of the 30fps feel of previous generations where the stick movement just isn’t smooth feeling, it’s a herkie jerky dance as you try to finely aim any weapon. You do have options for sensitivity and dead zone which helped after I tweaked them both, but it still didn’t feel good by any stretch.
One area that did feel great once I got used to it was the driving. While your regular steering is fine the main power move is holding A to initiate a slide. Once the system clicks, you’ll be pulling off power slides without losing much if any forward momentum around every tight corner. A less appreciated part of the driving model though is how unbelievably fast every car pursuing you is. I imagine this was done because of their focus on the ramming system. When going fast enough and holding either left or right you can press X to ram your car and deal big damage to enemy vehicles. It’s pretty fun but you start seeing cars magically teleport in all around you while going full speed so that they can get close enough for you to have to check them. Aerial vehicles control well and the missions featuring them were some of my favorites. Being able to call vehicles in once you’ve brought them to your garage or base was a great feature to have back too, let’s get more into that.
As you progress through the game, you’ll get Jim Rob’s garage and a home base, you can bring any vehicle to either and store them for an unlimited amount of future use. Inside you can also customize their looks and unlock unique special abilities. These abilities are tied to a challenge on a per vehicle model basis and can be things like adding a tow winch to the back or unlimited nitro boost. The game features a lot of challenges that are tied to the perk system. There are three levels of perks with 2 slots each and I had only unlocked two minor and one major by the time I beat the main story. It is weird just how unnecessary feeling a lot of the game’s progression is, but I’m glad it’s there and if I had known better, I would have focused on it before completing things. Those perks cover a lot of different playstyles and as you complete challenges they will unlock in a linear fashion, and they complement the skill system well. The base customization system isn’t that deep, but it adds a little spice to things, though I beat the game within an hour of fully upgrading it which felt a bit deflating (though that’s mostly on me).
Skills to Pay the Bills
That skill system is tied to your Boss’s level, which goes up to 20. Each level can offer either a new skill or a permanent character upgrade to either health or flow. Flow is an in-fight consumable that you gain through defeating enemies. As you gain pips of flow you can use them to activate skills that are tied to a combo of your right bumper and face buttons. The first one you unlock has you dropping a grenade in an enemy’s pants and tossing them forward 15 feet or so and it is incredibly powerful. I ended up using it for my entire playthrough, but I did find a lot of the skills to be useful and I would change them up to suit the situation as needed. All of this is done through your phone which is brought up with a press of the view button. In there you have access to your perks, skills, contacts, music, appearance, and more. Contacts allow you to call in your friends to run around the open world with you as you complete side content, in case you don’t have a co-op partner online looking to play with you.
One of the biggest and best features in the game though are the character customization options. I’m terrible at creating things but thanks to the share system you can search through characters that others have made. They released “The Boss Factory”, a standalone app, well before launch and it has thousands of users created characters already. From celebrities to superheroes and characters from past Saints games the only limit is having enough in-game cash to pay for the outfits they’re wearing. After purchase, you can alter these characters however you want and if a bottomless humanoid Winnie the Pooh with a truly horrifying-looking face is for you then your dreams are finally a reality. You can change up your look on the fly whenever you’re not in a vehicle or at certain points of missions. I routinely would start a play session as John Wick only to change to She-Hulk before deciding on Billy Eilish. It’s a ton of fun and one of the best parts of the game for me.
This is a very big game with a lot to do in it. I imagine that you could mainline the story in 10 or 12 hours, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. The side content is routinely some of the best the game has to offer and engaging with it to push the progression systems makes the entire experience a more rewarding experience. I didn’t get to try it pre-launch due to a scarcity of review copies but the co-op system I previewed before launch sounds fantastic on paper. You can play (almost) the entire game together and both the host and person playing get full mission progression. If you’re joining a friend then any mission, you complete is “checked off” on that account, and once you reach it in your own game you can choose to play it or skip it since you’ve already done it once and gotten the rewards for it.
Glitchy Sites and Glorious Sounds
There are five main graphical settings in the game, each targeting a specific resolution. You can choose 1080p quality or performance, 1440p quality or performance, and 4k quality. Every quality mode looked horrible to me in motion. The bump in fidelity while staying still was quite large, especially as you decreased the resolution which appeared to up the amount of objects/people/detail. The issue is that not only does the game feel far worse to play but it becomes a smeary mess with way too much motion blur and image retention. After only a minute I started getting a headache when I tried the 4k 30fps mode and went back to the one best suited for my gaming monitor. 1440p 60fps should be the main way most people play, and it ran well, though not perfectly.
On the whole, I think the game looks decent. There is a ton of pop-in for either of the performance modes whenever you’re flying, and vehicles tend to disappear you while driving at high speed. Character models match the series’ traditional look, but things are clean and extremely colorful. Santo Ileso is a great-looking map with much-appreciated variety in its landscapes. From the sprawling deserts to the skyscraper-laden city areas there is a lot to find as you explore and unlock fast travel and customization items for your base with the photo mode.
One of the main issues in the pre-release build I played on, and I do not know if there will be a day one patch coming after I finished, is the amount of lighting pop-in. It happens a lot and you may see it in the video review. Almost non-stop I found the game’s lighting engine breaking for a split second, glitching through the environment and lighting up everything in front of me before returning to normal. It was distracting and a constant reminder about the state that most games are launching in nowadays. It was matched with multiple occasions where my game completely broke and no matter what I did the UI did not react to me pressing buttons. Another frequent issue that happened at least four or five times was an endless loading screen. None of the loads in the game take more than five seconds so I knew whenever I had counted to ten in my head that it was time to turn off the game and redo the mission I had just completed from the very start. The bugginess is by far my biggest complaint outside of how aiming feels and I hope it’s either fixed at or not long before launch.
Audio wise the game is solid for the most part though the mix seemed off at times. It may have been further bugs but sometimes the vehicle I was driving, or piloting barely made a sound, people shooting their guns directly in front of me sounded off to the side, and characters talking fell out of sync with their mouths in cutscenes. None of these ruined things for me, but it did detract from the overall experience. The in-game music while driving covers a ton of genres and was pretty damned fantastic. I tended to stick to the vaporwave channel but the heavy metal one worked well during the more insane parts of my playthrough.
You can choose between various masculine and feminine voices for your character, and I found Voice 2 and Voice 7 as my favorites. None of them were bad, but those stood out with the excellent jobs that the actors did. Overall, it’s an impressive amount of work to have the main character of the entire game voiced by so many different people, and being able to use any voice for any Boss you create/download is awesome.
Saints Row is a franchise I’ve really liked but never loved, at least before. This reboot is different though, and after 20 hours in a few days, I keep coming back for more. Once the game is out in full, I’ll gladly play it all again, and often, in co-op. It’s a big, over-the-top, extremely fun game and if they can sort out the bugginess quickly it’s an easy one to recommend.