The 3rd Street Saints have been absent from the scene since their last release, Gat out of Hell, in 2015. Seven years is a long time between some franchises, but with the release of IV and the aforementioned Gat Out of Hell, the reception to the series began dwindling. Not to mention the endings to both games didn’t leave much in the way for a core cast return. So here we are in 2022 and in a prime time for Saints Row to roll out. But in an age where the open-world gang-wars schtick is old hat, can Volition shine up those big ass chains to their former luster?
Saints Row (2022) is a series reboot. Your Boss is starting a criminal empire from the streets of Santo Ileso, a vibrant fictional city in the American Southwest. You are part of a group of young friends who embark on their own criminal venture to make a name for themselves. Reminiscent of the prior Saints Row games, your friends are each part of one of the different crime families in the city. Los Panteros are the epitome of muscle with loud cars, monster trucks, and burly dudes in tank tops. The Idols are the glitzy partygoers who scream dance club scene adorned with their neon lights, Daft Punk-esque helmets, and EDM blasting wherever they roll. Finally, we have the armed defense forces of Marshall, who are essentially big-budget rent-a-cops. They bring high-powered weaponry and assist law enforcement if you get into big trouble.
The story begins with you working out your first day for Marshall, trying to make ends meet with your rag-tag group of friends, who also happen to be your roommates. After a crazy first couple of days, you find yourself worse off than when you began, and you and the crew decide it’s time to start your own organization. The story begins almost too quickly. I felt rushed to get past the game’s opening sections, to land where the developers wanted me to be. Going from one large action set piece to the next felt rushed. I wasn’t a fan of the writing during these parts either; it all felt a little too “try hard.” It was difficult to make the logical jumps from each scenario, and nearly felt disjointed. I never got this same feeling from the openings of the previous installments.
Yet, at the same time, once you’re out in the open world, available to choose what you want to do, I felt the pacing was more comfortable and allowed me to breathe a bit. I found out that I was completing more of the side jobs and collectible tasks rather than hopping back into the story. It may have been because of how unconnected I was to the opening of this game. I had so much fun running around and doing the various side stuff that I had to remind myself to finish more of the story.
One of the greatest staples of the Saints Row series is all the side activities they give you to do, and this new Saints Row is no slouch. You have a handful of collectible items to find, unique photo spots to take pictures of, nature campgrounds to listen to history narrations of, and you’re even given the opportunity to run specific business ventures within each territory. One of these ventures is running your own restaurant business with Chalupacabra. As the Boss, you must capture four food trucks and drive them back to the Chalupacabra restaurant, and if successful, the Saints capture the truck’s territory and earn a constant income.
Another business venture harkens back to Saints Row’s past with the Shady Oaks Medical Clinic. If you’re familiar with the old Insurance Fraud activities, you’ll find these job activities very similar; throw yourself in front of vehicles and collect the insurance. The harder the hit, the more cash you earn. There are even more ventures you can choose to run, and the more jobs you complete with each of these business ventures, the higher your payout becomes. This is a great addition as these business ventures will generate money for you passively. They will earn thousands of dollars in a few in-game hours; for you to then boot up an app on your in-game phone and transfer the earned money into your bank account.
What will you spend your money on, though? Saints Row IV did a lot to make your Boss feel like a superhero by using the virtual aspect of the story, so buying things and driving around became almost unnecessary. The 2022 Saints Row wrangles all that back and ask you to get behind the wheel and pay for your crap again, well, aside from the stuff you don’t steal. Driving around is essential, and this is where one of my first concerns comes in. The physics feels off to me. They aren’t terrible, but they feel very floaty. My memory of the first four Saints titles compares the driving to that of Grand Theft Auto V where cars have more weight. Although I may be wrong, and they have consistently driven like this, it was a bit of a letdown to feel the cars drive like they weigh next to nothing. Well, until you hit another vehicle, then it’s like you’re made out of cinderblocks. Again, not terrible, but disappointing. It’s still fun to slam other cars out of the way.
While yes, this was a disappointment, it wasn’t any deal breaker. The game already comes across as a more lighthearted, comedic take on the genre, so having cars drive like they were coming straight out of a cartoon seems to fit with the in-game atmosphere. Another issue was the game’s bugs, which I frequently ran into. This review comes before any day one patch, and I could feel they are missing a few things. Early on, you find out that hitting a fire hydrant causes the water to flow, but what I wasn’t ready for was the water shooting my car up into the sky. This may or may not be a bug, remember, cartoon-like atmosphere, but it still created a bit of a double-take moment. There were times the camera would pull out into a birds-eye view and wouldn’t let me move it. I had to hop into a different menu where the camera was pulled in, like the customization menu, for it to reset. The enemies occasionally can be seen taking cover, yet I haven’t found any way to have my Boss take cover. Previous Saints Row titles had cover systems to help you in firefights, but in the 2022 title, I’m running out into the open, being a bullet sponge, and hoping I can kill everyone quickly before my health drops to zero. It feels so much out of place; that I have to wonder if this was a forgotten feature. One that was forgotten to be turned on before any day one patch. I even ran into audio issues where I could not hear changes to car audio when selecting different engine or horn sounds. You have to choose the audio item, and if you don’t like it once in-game, you have to unequip it. Luckily those changes are free of charge, but it’s still annoying to go about it that way.
I’ve gone through this whole review so far and have yet to mention the incredible character and car customizations. From the drop of the hat, you’re placed into a character creator to whip together your Boss. Later in the game, you can even pull up your phone and change your physical appearance at any time, free of charge, anywhere in the world. So don’t feel like you have to stick with what you got. I changed my character’s voice three times to find the right fit. In previous titles, you had to go to a plastic surgeon and pay money. This new Saints Row drops that requirement, and for the better.
You’ll notice that once you’re in the creator, you’re given a ton of sliders and options to choose from, letting you craft the Boss of your dreams or nightmares. It’s a very robust system, and I’ve seen some copycat designs out there resembling famous people, scarily accurate, and even some funky cartoon characters that are spot on. One of the oddest additions to the character creator is the modesty features. You can adjust how “modest” you are with your Boss’ character. You can decide to have underwear be the most minimal layer of clothing or go full out birthday suit and be completely naked with no censorship over the chest area for any character, in any gender you create. So if you’re a little cautious about this type of explicitness, keep that modesty slider on.
The customization doesn’t end with the Boss either. You’re also given an incredible number of options for all the cars in the game. Some items are free, but others do require you to pay. Things like bumpers, body panels, body accessories, and so on will change your car’s appearance and cost you cash. But there are plenty of free things you can still customize your vehicle with. You can change paint colors freely, tire sizes, and a few upgradeable parts are free as well. They have introduced a new mechanic to incentivize you to drive various cars. If you complete specific tasks in certain vehicles, they will unlock new special abilities you can utilize. For example, one of the sports cars I found could unlock unlimited boost if I completed three full boost burns without crashing. You can also store a ton of cars in your garage, unlike GTA Online, where they limit the stolen cars you can keep because they want you to purchase them. Quite a refreshing feeling to have access to everything.
When it comes to gunplay, the game doesn’t stray too far from Saints Row history. Pull the left trigger to lock on to the nearest target and use the right stick to fine-tune your aim. Strangely, they didn’t incorporate the limb targeting system of previous titles. The older titles allowed you to lock on to the chest and flick your right stick up for headshots or left and right for arm strikes. Here you have to aim up for that headshot carefully. Move too far, and your auto-target gets lost. It’s not a flawed system, but I can easily see this being one of the major complaints for others. It didn’t bother me much, though. The lack of a cover system bothered me more.
I’m playing on the PS5, and graphically, this game looks great and holds up well on its framerate. If you’re looking for something that is going to reach for realism, Saints Row will not be it. This game, like its predecessors, is very stylized. As I mentioned earlier, the game plays and feels like you’re in a cartoon, and the graphics help to emphasize that. Bright colors, soft blends, and some crisp outlines help give off the vibe that this world is in a larger-than-life environment. The writing is predictably corny but in that same fun Saints Row feel, ever since they opened up a bit in Saints Row 2. I don’t feel its writing is as strong as III and IV, but it’s still passable. It will not take things as seriously as the first Saints Row if that’s what you were looking for.
One final thing to quickly touch on is Co-Op. Unfortunately, I could not test the co-op functionality myself, but if you’re curious, the game is not crossplay with different platforms. It’s only cross-generational play between the two recent Xboxes and two recent PlayStations. Don’t expect to have your Xbox or PlayStation friends connect to PC players, either. Get past that, and the co-op is drop-in, drop-out, so you can enjoy your time in any of your friend’s cities without waiting for an invite, as long as they keep their session open.
Other than a few hiccups I’ve encountered, I am loving my time in the game. Even if the car physics aren’t the best, they are nowhere near unmanageable. Flying around the world in helicopters, drifting cars, and weaving in between traffic is just as satisfying as ever. Gunplay is tight, and if you’re the type to pull the aim trigger and have it lock on, you’re going to love the way this plays too. The writing is corny, but in the right kind of corny, I can respect. Doing all there is to do in Santo Ileso will keep me hopping back into this world more and more. Now excuse me as I wrap this big ass gold chain around my neck and get back to my criminal empire. The Saints are back, baby.
A PlayStation 5 code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes