Where does a franchise go after giving you superheroes with the thought process of a crack addict stuck in the Matrix? Back to the “””grounded””” basics apparently!
The Saints are back in a new city, with new enemies but the same healthy dose of wink-to-the-camera irreverence that made the previous games so much fun. It’s a great testament to the game that at no point during my 20ish hours with it did I feel the ridiculous super hero skills from 4 needed to make a comeback.
The main story of the game itself is a typical rags to criminal riches affair but characters within it are genuinely fantastic. Each main member of Saints are such endearing goofballs that I found myself playing the story not for the story beats but for the opportunity to spend more time with them. Folded into the main story are a mix of criminal empire quests that usually serve to unlock more side content but do occasionally give up some incredible side missions with the clear highlight being a quest chain of all the leading Saints involved in a Mad Max style LARP complete with foam dart weapons and cardboard costumes and buildings.
The side activities, which let’s be honest is what most people play these games for, are a very mixed bag. The best is Insurance Fraud which remains mostly unchanged from when it was first introduced back in the PS3/360 era but now comes with the bonus of not tanking your framerate when you have the audacity of blowing up more than 2 cars at once with your ragdolling body. The worse by far is driving trucks of nuclear waste from one side of the town to the other with hefty reward deductions if you cause any damage to the truck itself. If the truck was even remotely fun to drive or if there was the slightest risk/reward system to it, then it wouldn’t be as bad but the idea of a side mission punishing you for driving like a menace when the rest of the game actively rewards you for it is genuinely baffling.
Getting around the city is always entertaining given how you’re encouraged to drive like a menace for XP and challenges (unless you’re driving a nuclear waste truck, I cannot understate how much I hate that thing). My go to for most of the game was wing suiting around and bouncing off pedestrians heads to keep myself in the air, until completing the final main story mission gave me a vehicle that is so ridiculously overpowered I never used anything else unless I was forced out of it.
Music has always been a strong part of the Saints identity but sadly it never comes close to reaching the highs of the franchise here. It’s unfair to be able to expect it to pull off something as incredible as storming the penthouse to Kanye West’s Power, or racing through Steelport to rescue Shaundi to Holding Out for a Hero, and that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments but nothing comes close to the highs that the series can deliver.
Unfortunately, my time with the game was rife with bugs. Never game-breaking but it did require a hard reset more than once in side activities and there were persistent visual hiccups, most frequently some really nasty artifacting appearing around character models and in one extreme case an entire building failing to render.
Regardless of having some small but mostly niggling complaints I very rarely stopped smiling while playing the game. Despite very much being in the shadow of its predecessors it feels like taking a step back was the right move to make going forwards and I’m genuinely interested in following the story of this fresh bunch of misanthropic misfits whether that winds up being in DLC or a follow up game. Plus, what other game series is going to let you cause carnage as a quadruple amputee with cactus skin wearing nothing but a cowboy hat made of diamonds?
I would absolutely love to give Saints Row a higher score than this but given how buggy it was when I played it after retail release I can’t give it higher than
7 / 10
Given time and a few patches I would happily bump that up to an 8. Also, a special shoutout goes to Snickerdoodle the cat who has one of the worst animal character models I’ve ever seen that somehow managed to delight me every time they appeared on screen.
Written by Drew.
Captions by Will.