Saints Row has been on an interesting journey through multiple games. At one point, Saints Row was nothing much more than a GTA clone. Then it became a superhero game fighting aliens, and then we fought Satan with the great Johnny Gat. It would be hard to go even further and make Saints Row even more obnoxious, which is probably why we have ourselves a reboot that puts the series back in an evenly placed field where it shines best.
This series has some of the most divided fans around. Some like the grounded GTA-like structure of the first two games, while others (like me) think Saints Row 3 is one of the best games ever made. Personally I think Saints Row shines best when it has a somewhat grounded stake in things, but taking those aspects and going over the top with them. Comedy blended with heists. That’s where Saints Row 3 landed and that’s where this new reboot lands too.
Saints Row (2022)
Platforms: PC (Epic Game Store), PS4/PS5 (Reviewed on PS5), Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Saints Row (2022) does a ton of things right that you might overlook in the bigger scope of things. Right off the bat the game lets you customize literally everything. You can adjust mission timers, enemy health bars, and there’s even a nudity button which has an assortment of hysterical censor options. All this leads right into the character creation menu where you have an huge assortment of options to choose from. You can make an average looking person, or go all out on a mascot-esque creation with odd body parts. Once within the game for a bit even the clothing options become really neat with a huge assortment of options to choose from.
The issues are not bad.
I will get this out of the way: I didn’t have any major game breaking technical issues at all while playing the dozen or hours of the game. I could hop in rides, fight, and explore perfectly fine. The only technical flaws I encountered were mostly visual things. In intense areas of combat the frames would drop noticeably and be an even more noticeable issue at the highest resolution. Lowering the resolution helped some, but it still happened in many populated areas. The aiming mechanic in the game is quite a bit wonky. It has a huge deadzone for some reason and trying to aim at finite areas becomes a hassle at many moments, luckily the game is quite forgiving in where you shoot so it isn’t a major issue.
That being said, anyone saying the game is filled with technical issues might just have some bad luck, or be platform specific. The technical flaws seem more, or less, due to the great scope of the overall game overlooking a few minor issues. I have been playing the game non stop on two different PS5’s with no major issues.
There do seem to be some instances where the game was kind of held back due to the technical restraint though. The biggest example I can think of is the city itself. Instead of a bustling downtown district which lights up the night sky, we are in the middle of a desert city with very few tall buildings at all. It’s a city that reminds me of my own southwest city…and living here I can say our city is not interesting in the slightest bit.
The city isn’t too active compared to previous games, and there really isn’t any major fun in flying around when you can’t weave between buildings and under bridges. This also made the return of the “Insurance Fraud” even harder because there doesn’t seem like there are as many things to tumble into. For those who forgot, insurance fraud missions consist of you literally attempting to be hit by a car and then chaining together several incidents by rag-dolling around and hurting yourself.
Conversely, it felt really well done in respect that the central location basically encompasses aspects from all major cities in the Southwest. You will come across structures like the Cardinals Stadium, the Alamo, and bridges that connect areas that are rather familiar too. Of course none of these are direct pulls from real life for obvious reasons, but they did a good enough job to make you realize what it is.
The only major flaws I’ve noticed is when you jump into co-op. Oddly enough, this is also where the game really shines its best. The co-op is seamless and filled with great ideas that it’s something I hope other games take into consideration. The transition from single player to co-op, for both players, is rather unique. The joining player can choose which save file to play with and their world will evolve with them, just as it does with the host. Both players can be off doing basically anything they want anywhere on the map. The only time it pulls you together is when you do main missions or hit lists. The idea of customizing everything even comes here as well. You can adjust many settings including who joins, how it affects you, and if you want team killing enabled.
The game is set up entirely to be done with co-op partners because it has answers to every area for two people to progress. For example in one mission we are chasing a convoy, instead of taking the main road, your AI car will travel on a side path and the co-op partner will be on the other side. It leads to new alternate paths forward so that both players don’t get stuck behind each other.
The game is heightened when playing with friends. It makes everything so much more fun, and the ability to explore and progress on your own and have it matter is so neat. It’s extra cool the entire campaign is playable via co-op, and players can drop in and drop out at any point.
The down side of the co-op is that it is so seamless that when it hiccups at all it’s very noticeable. For example any connection issues will have you seeing the opposing player doing strange things like falling through the map, or getting in a car and the car going crazy and causing destruction all along its path. There were also some random engine issues where one player was randomly cycling through night and day non stop and I’m not sure what was causing it. However, these issues never affect your own gameplay. One person could see the other player freaking out, but both players are still able to play normally and progress just fine. Again it’s mostly just a visual issue.
The game is filled with awesome ideas
I can’t get over the fact the game simply has some really fun interesting ideas blended in the chaos of Saints Row. Building up your base with artifacts you find in the city. Calling in AI buddies if a real co-op partner isn’t available. A lot of these features are rather common, but all done well when blended together in this game. My favorite feature is a dust storm that will randomly happen in the game. It’s the southwest after all, but looking up and seeing a wall of dust coming is neat. Next thing you know you are mid-mission and can barely see 10 feet in front of you. Sometimes you need to take cover behind buildings to try and see anything.
This is Saints Row after all, so simple things are stepped up with out of this world ideas. For example when in car chases instead of leaning out the window and shooting you will find yourself on the roof of the car laying prone shooting at other cars. There are also some really neat vehicles and gliders to make moving around the city and attacking enemies more fun. You also have some take down moves where you press a button and the boss will go into an animation to take down enemies. These takedowns are really cool animations, but one of my favorites is when your character will slap the enemy a few times then send em flying..
I do think the game is constrained for whatever reason from being too far out there, and I’m not entirely sure why. The game does a good job of accepting, but teasing, the younger generations, but the comedy also seems to shift for them. While they might find a pop culture reference somewhat amusing, I found no joy in it at all. I found quick remarks like characters choosing a truck and complaining about gas milage funny, but there wasn’t enough balance between the two sides. Which leads to more outrageous things like a game show killing people, or running around with a sex toy, non existant. It felt like the game was trying real hard to make jokes, or a character seem like a gangster, and was just missing.
That being said it’s easy to hate these new characters early on. They seem like hipsters with lame jokes, but the further along you play the more connection you make with each one. The fact they all have their downsides, and upsides, makes them really relatable and some of them go to great lengths to be real Saints. I ended up really enjoying almost the entire new cast because the writing did such a good job of making them all likable characters.
The real fun is the gameplay itself. It has a real arcade nature to it which leads to some really obnoxious scenes by simply playing. With my spouse as my co-op partner we found ourselves laughing our asses off many times from random things we did, or found in the city. Outfits we made, mistakes in driving, or just simply watching her come swinging with a bat to save my life. It’s a very enjoyable experience and the arcade nature leads to some really strong gameplay. I’m personally scared of going on sidewalks now because I know a fire hydrant will shoot me through the air.
The gameplay is swift, easy to use, and very fun. Progressing is easy, and I never found myself frustrated with anything. Some enemies are harder to kill than others but overall it is really fun to work together with new weapons at your disposal. Plus there are different ways to approach everything. I like setting up ambushes with a co-op partner where one person is ready to drive in with a large vehicle to take out multiple enemies at once, or fly in from above with a take down prepared.
I wish they played some nods to previous games. For example in the opening sequence there is a graveyard, I kind of wish one of the graves said Johnny Gat, it would have been so cool. Or simply finding stuff from the previous gang would have been neat. There do seem to be some very minor easter eggs in the game, but nothing too blatantly obvious.