Is the brand new Saints Row reboot the best game in the series yet? Find out in our Saints Row review for PS5!
Coming 9 years after Saints Row IV, developer Volition promised their next title, aptly named Saints Row, would be a full reboot: taking a step back from the series’ current overly wacky and outdated tone. Better balancing elements of comedy, drama, and over-the-top action movies – wrapped up in a massive map to build yourself a criminal empire – 2022’s Saints Row brings what’s best about the older games to fit in with the new generation, even when held back by the scale of its ambition and the technical issues that come with it.
Saints Row Review – What is it about?
In the fictional and vibrant American Southwest city of Santo Ileso, crime is the biggest business of all. You play as The Boss, a custom-made protagonist who starts out as a soldier of Marshall, one of three large warring gangs who have dominion over the city.
When that doesn’t work out, you and your roommates – including respective former members of the other two gangs – decide to take your own crack at the criminal empire business, eventually hoping to snatch control of Santo Ileso for yourselves. All in all, Saints Row is aimed to be the ultimate story of the illegal start-up.
Saints Row – What is the world like?
Taking a few missions to properly throw you out of the world and ease you in, you definitely feel from the get-go that this is the biggest Saints Row map to date, with a smartphone-style interface to interact with it all. Made up of nine districts, Santo Ileso is a ginormous playground with additional opportunities for your criminal empire. Side hustles, bounty missions, collectibles for your HQ, and so much more are packed in what feels like an effort to give you as much to do as possible.
The most fun of this are the Criminal Ventures: front businesses which you can populate and manage across the city from your HQ’s Empire Table. Each with their own missions to complete, every venture increases your control of a district plus the Saints’ regular income. It takes a short while to get the ball rolling, but as the money starts rolling in, along with gang-rival threats popping up which you’ll need to go eliminate, the illegal-business-sim gameplay is a joy enough to get lost in all on its own.
Although, what you’ll inevitably find as you progress, is that a large number of activities like dumpster diving or photo hunting, you’ll feel absolutely no desire to engage with compared to bigger and better missions available beyond the first two hours. As often found with a number of crime sandbox titles, a significant portion of the content is more like stuffing to justify such a huge map.
Nevertheless, Volition’s refinement of driving mechanics make getting around the city a breeze more than a chore. Even though you’re able to go around and unlock options for fast travel, driving around Santo Ileso is a delight at speed along the highway; narrowly missing or crashing into fellow motorists against the sunset backdrop – likely running into some cops or rival gang members to contend with – all performing tricks and feats to earn bonus XP along the way never gets old.
Other vehicles like bikes, helicopters and even numerous chances to fly around in your wingsuit add some variety if you want to mix it up. However, it’s also the added emphasis on turning your vehicle a weapon that adds further excitement to the driving gameplay. Encouraging car combat like head-on slams and sideswipes, eventually forcing your enemy’s car to explode in a fiery blaze – injects that extra bit of Saints Row excitement into a combat trope of the genre.
Saints Row shares much with a plethora of open-world crime games that came before, but its depth into customisation is part of what makes it stand out. You’re presented with proof of that almost immediately in its character customisation. Going as far as letting you choose from skin conditions and colour schemes for any prosthetic limbs you might want, Saints Row continues this theme throughout in a deep dive tailoring of vehicles, weapons, fashion and even the look and loadout of your crew.
Sure, Saints Row is nowhere near the first game to do this either. On the other hand, if you’re the type of player who takes to tweak every aspect of their arsenal from their MSG’s colour scheme, to your favourite car’s engine audio, to even the exact shade of purple on your second-favourite car’s underglow – Saints Row is equipped to meet all manner of tastes from casual players to completionists before they explore Volition’s humongous playground.
Combat and Skills
Combat is a peculiar area of Saints Row – ironically being both where it’s at it’s best and where the cracks start to show. Along with incorporating all manner of weaponry, your smartphone also gives you access to unlockable perks and skills to enhance the experience. So, whilst being mindful of your surroundings and to keep roll-dodging gunfire, you’ll also have the extra spice of unique abilities like using a fire fist or stuffing a grenade down a foe’s pants for massive damage.
But it’s in the heat of battle where there’s a variety of problems symptomatic of the game feeling underbaked. There are many instances where the enemy AI were simply acting unaware they were in a firefight and not knowing where they were going. When using the Boss’ John Wick-esque finishing move – a melee quick-time attack that also replenishes health – more often than that, your player character’s punches simply wouldn’t connect with the enemy, said enemies’ character model would be totally out of place, or the attack would abruptly end.
That was just one of the many bugs encountered in Saints Row. Others included various pop-ins when using vehicles that covered much of the map quickly, like the helicopter. Cutscenes for side missions would again feature your protagonist throwing invisible grunts around. Most frequently, conversations with numerous NPCs during missions would be interrupted by their character models stretching, morphing, and flipping about all over the place mid-interaction.
Finally, in the current build at this time of review, we were unable to make the most of playing the game on PS5 without inverted controls – since when we tried to turn on the setting for adaptive triggers, it would automatically flip inverted controls right back on.
When armed with your customised weaponry with your fellow criminals at your back, blowing up rival gangs and kicking them out of your territory is truly where Saints Row can feel like an absolute blast, especially in co-op. Sadly, these numerous technical hiccups will take you right out of the action – surely too many for even a day one patch to resolve completely.
Saints Row Review – That Saints personality
Throughout the series, Saints Row has always been tropey in its open world and gameplay, with it’s tone and personality of the characters and their stories standing out. This reboot is no different, bringing not only colourful protagonists to this bizarre story with the chemistry to back it up, but a surprising amount of depth to boot.
While this is all abundant throughout the course of the main story, it also shines through inside missions dedicated to members of your crew which also reward you by boosting their combat abilities and other benefits. For example, entrepreneurial crew member and brain of the Saints, Eli, takes you on a city-wide Fallout/Mad Max-style LARP that’s both charming and hilarious.
Meanwhile, the lovable and shirtless Kevin takes you on a quest to retrieve a McDonalds-esque burger toy he could never have as a kid, so he can enjoy a piece of the childhood he could never have. Neenah, The Saints’ getaway driver, goes on a deep personal journey of revenge against her former gang – all of these being a blast to play through, with the mission-specific benefits being a sweet bonus for the ride.
Ironically, in a game that encourages you to go out and make the most of a huge open world, it’s actually when you’re taken away from the massive scope of Santo Ileso into something more linear is where Saints Row is by far the most gripping. As the campaign progresses and events get ever wilder, it’s the love between their adorable gang of criminals and their growth which will keep you going.
Final Thoughts – Is Saints Row good?
In a time where there’s more open-world crime games out than ever since the series’ last game, the Saints Row reboot still manages to carve out an identity for itself even in such a crowded landscape.
Although hindered in reaching its full potential by technical issues and being packed in an overly inflated map, building your criminal empire via driving and shooting your way through Santo Ileso is a molotov cocktail of fun – made more so with the wealth of perks, skills, and customisation options at your disposal. Still, it’s the modern take of the Saints Row series’ signature writing and tone – carried through an entertaining story and its lovable characters – that shines brightest.
For our Saints Row review on PS5 was provided by Premier.