It has been a hot minute since the last Saints Row game came out and since then, the absurdity that came with the story that observed the 3rd Street Saints gang’s story has been toned down a couple notches with the franchises’ reboot. Developed by Volition and published by Deep Silver, the player creates their own criminal organisation within the city of Santo Ileso, competing with rival gangs and building an empire that controls the entire city, but this illegal way of life is not without its impediments.
Jumping right into Saints Row, the player first off creates their character and its very quickly shown that the customisation options are second-to-none. Characters can be brewed into all sorts of flavours and to be honest, I probably spent longer here than I would usually do. Players also have access to their character customisation screen at any time through use of the in-game’s phone. The player then begins their journey with their first day on the job with Marshall, an organisation that are on a mission to capture a criminal named Nahualli. At this stage, all the player wishes to accomplish is to make rent for the house they share with cohorts Eli, Kevin, and Neenah.
The problem with the four of them sharing a home is that each of them have ties to a different organisation and through a series of unfortunate events the four eventually have no choice but to leave them. This is where the big idea happens. They believe that with all their skills combined they can create their own successful organisation, and so the second chapter of the players journey begins here. I completed the main story in 15 hours, though I did encounter quite a few moments where I had to reload a mission’s checkpoint due to an in-game glitch where I was impeded from advancing and I also took some time to explore the city. The map of Santo Ileso is a great size, not too small that there is not enough to do, but not so large that every opportunity to fast travel is taken advantage of because the commute to each objective is painful.
Being a Saints Row game, vehicles are easily accessible and there are a large variant of sea, land, and air types at the players disposal to get from point A to B, which are all completely customisable from the bodywork to the paint. Vehicles can easily be taken from members of the community, though it is just as easy to obtain one from the players’ garage. Vehicles can be saved to the garage by driving into it, though the vast majority of mine were simply earned through completing the story and missions.
Each land vehicle has a signature ability that can be unlocked by performing a certain task while driving it. Signature abilities range from receiving a nitrous boost to an ability that connects a wrecking ball the rear of the vehicle. The handling of each vehicle takes some time to get used to, though it remains relatively janky for the most part. It makes it difficult to travel smoothly through corners, unless drifting, which is much more efficient once the player gets the hang of it. Vehicles also have a side swipe ability that is used to swipe at enemy vehicles, causing them to lose ground or crash completely.
There is a massive arsenal of weaponry in Saints Row and each one fits in to a different kind of weapon category. Saints Row offers melee weapons, pistols, shotguns, rifles, heavy weapons such as launchers and special weapons such as sniper rifles. And yes, every weapon is customisable, of course. Each weapon also has a signature ability, much like the vehicles, which give the player a leg-up on the competition. Players can also purchase new weapons from one of the many weapon stores around town.
Gunplay is very arcade-like. It is fast-paced and being evasive as possible is a must-have tactic to survive, as there is no button to use cover. Enemies are very much copy and paste, with a few that possess a shield and take a few more shots to take out, but I never really felt like there was much of a challenge. I only played on the “normal” difficulty; however, it can be changed at any time during gameplay and every aspect is customisable to make is at challenging as the player so wishes. Enemy AI was, for me, a bit inadequate. I found a lot of enemies that would simply get stuck and for some reason I had issues with missions particularly involving the police. They often found it very hard to make it to the mission area and I would have to go searching for them to advance further.
The player has access to several skills that are mapped to X, A, B or Y that, when combined with the press of the Right Button during a gunfight a special ability is activated. These skills vary from tagging enemies with a grenade and tossing them, healing powers for the player and friendlies when hurting enemies and temporarily increasing melee damage. These are gradually unlocked when levelling up through collecting XP during gameplay. By completing challenges that share the same section of the players’ phone as missions, the player can also unlock permanent skills that are allocated to slots that can be purchased. The player can only hold as many perks as there are slots unlocked, so choose which ones to use wisely.
Saints Row’s objectives are solely based on fame and fortune, the two factors for creating a successful “business”. There are several ways for a player to achieve this, through partaking in “criminal ventures” that can be purchased at the Saints base. Things like repossessions, gun trafficking, insurance fraud and dumping toxic waste, just to name a few. These criminal ventures have money making opportunities strewn across the map and when a venture is fully complete there is a nice cash bonus, with some extra rewards for the player too, such as vehicles and weapons.
There are also a number of “side hustles” throughout the city that rewards the player with cash and XP, and they vary from leaving poor reviews at locations owned by enemy factions followed surviving the onslaught that comes with that, riding shotgun with accomplices, protecting them from enemy fire and choplifting, which is the act of stealing valuable items on the ground from the comfort of an aerial vehicle through the use of a giant magnet. For some extra XP the player can travel around Santo Ileso eliminating enemy threats within their territory, go dumpster diving in large bins that show up on the mini map in gold or pull out their phone to take snapshots of collectibles that can then be placed within the Saints headquarters. There is so much to do outside of Saints Row story, and it is all fun!
Saints Row’s music playlist is enormous. There are quite a few unique radio stations that can be played when inside a vehicle and there is something for everyone. The best part is, players can use their character’s phone to play any song at any time, as well as create a custom playlist where they can add all their favourite tunes.
It is hard to rate the look of Saints Row. In one respect, the character models are lacking anything that can be considered next-gen but watching the sun setting over Santo Ileso is mesmerising. Explosions are bright, the neon lighting that continually pops up looks amazing and the shadows are great. Walking around the Saints HQ I am seeing some intricate designs on some surfaces and then next to it, a bush that looks 2D. One saving grace is that Saints Row runs very smoothly. I didn’t notice any performance drops in my entire playthrough.
Saints Row is an MA rated game and so it comes with a lot of foul language and violent themes, so keep any kids away from this one.