Skip to main content

Saints Row doesn’t evolve the series, but it never needed to

The first thing that comes to mind when Saints Row is mentioned is The Penetrator, the floppy purple pleasure device synonymous with the third game in the series. I don’t imagine I’m alone there. It’s a strange legacy for a franchise that reaches back 16 years, but a fitting one. Saints Row has never been about breaking the mold in terms of gameplay — it was a derivative series from the start. What it has always been about is over-the-top action, ridiculous encounters, and a heavy dash of crude humor.

Saints Row, the 2022 reboot, doesn’t break the mold either. It takes sparse influences from more recent open-world sandboxes, but still focuses on the core of the series: a cast of cartoonish characters, blockbuster action, and an open world that just begs for you to cause mayhem within it. Saints Row doesn’t evolve the series, but after spending four hours with the game at a preview event, I realize it never needed to.

Not an evolution

The Boss shooting at police in Saints Row.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re looking for cutting-edge open-world gameplay, you won’t find it in Saints Row. The reboot doesn’t do anything new — it simply gives you a list of objectives of varying severity to tackle across the wide map of Santo Illeso.

I went through about 10 main missions, spending some of my time tackling side objectives and exploring as well. These missions are mostly linear in the beginning, taking you to locations you can’t explore in the open world and punishing you for getting sidetracked (a bit like Red Dead Redemption 2).

Outside of the 25 main missions, you have 10 side missions, several Side Hustles, and dozens of points of interest that unlock collectibles, skins, money, and fast travel points. I was able to experience a bit of each, but what surprised me is how much I didn’t see. In the four hours I had with the game, I didn’t touch Criminal Ventures like Insurance Fraud, and my demo ended right as I was placing my first collectible in The Saints hideout.

There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, but there’s a lot of it. Immediately after my demo, I wanted to dive back in to check off points on the map, customize my hideout, and start building my criminal enterprise. There’s a lot to do in Santo Illeso, even if there isn’t a ton to explore (more on that later).

Where the game does see some evolution is combat. You now have access to a finisher move that will give you back some health. Your finish meter builds up over time, but you can speed up the process by killing some enemies. The result: Saints Row encourages you to play more aggressively and ramps up the difficulty, resulting in combat that’s closer to Control than a traditional cover shooter.

You have a selection of perks and skills now, too. Perks are passive buffs you unlock for completing certain challenges, while skills give you different combat abilities you can assign to one of four slots. I like perks incentivizing completing challenges, but the skills aren’t too enticing. They follow a linear upgrade path as you level up, so you aren’t able to invest in certain areas or follow a path on a skill tree.

Bringing Saints Row into back down to earth

The Saints outside of a convenience store.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A quick look back at Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV show just how dated they are. Shock value sold the third entry in the series, but the shock lost its value with the fourth. Fighting with giant sex toys and venturing into VR worlds to fight aliens is fun when it’s new; when it’s regurgitated, it’s obnoxious. Saints Row grounds the series.

Gone is the international media brand that is the Saints. The world of Santo Illeso is occupied by three main factions: The private military group Marshall Defense Industries, the anarchist and EDM-ridden cult known as The Idols, and the power-hungry, carjacking street gang Los Paneros. You begin the game as a new hire at Marshall, living in a small apartment with three others.

Needless to say, things are going great for our group of friends, who find themselves founding their own criminal organization called The Saints out of disparate pieces of the other factions. I reached this point at the tail end of my four-hour demo, which illustrates just how much buildup this reboot has. The new cast is a bit underbaked, but I loved my Boss almost immediately. Volition did magic with the voice acting, and the same lines play wildly different depending on which of the eight voices you choose.

Although Saint Row still has the action movie set pieces the series is known for, it’s far removed from the wacky scenarios you’ll encounter in the later games. Volition has said it wanted to cross Saints Row 2 and 3 in the reboot, and that translates.

Empty buildings, vast landscapes

A landscape in Saints Row (2022).
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The world of Santo Illeso is vibrant, varied, and detailed, and I loved exploring it during my demo. Modeled after the Southeastern U.S., you’ll find details inspired by everything from the Las Vegas Strip to The Alamo, and Volition blends them together seamlessly.

This isn’t a city teeming with life, though. Buildings are mostly locked down, city blocks are almost always occupied by only a few pedestrians, and cars seem like a scarcity (especially given how many cops are littered among the streets). The vast majority of what you can explore in Santo Illeso shows up as a map icon.

That doesn’t mean Santo Illeso is lifeless. Each of the nine districts are varied and lively, from trailers and tents out deep in the desert, to shopping districts lined with shoppers, to sparse suburban communities with folks sitting on the porch or grilling in the backyard. In the last area, I caught a line from a nearby NPC that almost made me fall out of my chair laughing: “Yeah, I just can’t stop my son from committing arson.”

Volition clearly went with quality over quantity, but it’s important to recognize that it’s a trade-off. The streets of Santo Illeso are mostly empty, but the environments and NPCs that are in it are fantastic.

Getting back to fun

A tank running through the streets in Saints Row.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I could write down a list of all of the things wrong with Saints Row compared to the best open-world games today, and it would be lengthy. But I still want to play more. I had a blast barreling through Santo Illeso over the course of a few hours, and I’m eager to jump back in on August 23.

I don’t think the game is too big — I was able to get through a decent chunk of the story in just four hours — but the endless customization for weapons, vehicles, your Boss, and your hideout promises dozens of hours of ridiculous, crime-fueled fun. The story seems set up for a promising payoff, too, even if it’s wrapped in a cast of admittedly cliché characters.

Saints Row as a franchise is all about having fun, and I had a lot of fun with the reboot. It doesn’t push the envelope and it doesn’t evolve the series, but it never needed to.

Editors' Recommendations

Jacob Roach
Lead Reporter, PC Hardware
Jacob Roach is the lead reporter for PC hardware at Digital Trends. In addition to covering the latest PC components, from…
France doesn’t want its citizens to say ‘esports’
Tracer, Reinhardt, and Mei as they appear in Overwatch 2.

France is limiting the use of the term "esports" and other English video game jargon in an ongoing effort to preserve the purity of the French language.

According to a report from The Guardian, French officials in the culture ministry aren't outright banning the use of English gaming buzzwords per se, but rather they are rewriting some of the rules around their usage to make such words drip out of the French mouth as smooth as melted camembert. Even so, they said that words like "esports" and "streamers" contain so many Anglicisms that they act as "a barrier to understanding" for many non-gamers.

Read more
Saints Row reboot still looks wacky, even if it’s formulaic
The main character of Saints Row glides in a wingsuit.

The Saints Row series is making its grand return after seven years. The Saints Row universe fully reset at the end of the Saints Row IV DLC Gat Out of Hell, so Volition's next game is a full-on reboot of the series. After the underwhelming Agents of Mayhem, this reboot allowed the developer to redefine what a Saints Row game could be without the constraints of classic characters or settings. Unfortunately, that new vision is much more plain than I'd hoped despite the series' expected madcap tone.
While the results of this reimagining have the enjoyable and wacky Saints Row flair that one would expect, I was left quite underwhelmed by a recent hands-off preview of several missions, combat, and the open world in Saints Row. This upcoming game is set in a new Southwestern city of Santo Ileso and features a new cast of Saints characters, so Volition has an opportunity to go big and bold here. Ultimately, it's looking formulaic for a series that's known for being off-kilter and wildly creative.
SAINTS ROW – Game Awards Gameplay Trailer
Grounded absurdism 
During my hands-off preview, I got to see the new team of Saints in a variety of missions. These include a loan agency robbery gone wrong that results in a big car chase, a raid of a car-loving Panteros gang's headquarters in a helicopter, and a rescue mission for one of the player-character's friends after he's kidnapped by a bunch of Deadmau5-looking crooks from a gang called the Idols.
The new cast of Saints seems likable enough, but the "angry but endearingly funny millennial" tone of each character's writing has yet to be nearly as endearing as classic Saints Row characters like Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. The "try-hard lulz" writing that the series was known for isn't as funny now as it was in 2015 when the last Saints Row game was released. It's hard to tell from this early look if Volition's writers will succumb to the same unfunny writing problems that plagued 2019's Borderlands 3.

Also, because it's an entirely new cast of characters that have yet to prove themselves to fans, there isn't any nostalgia factor that can help make up for subpar jokes. Currently, Volition's strategy is to give the narrative a sense of "groundedness" despite its kooky aspects to make players care about this character and that narrative.
"Absurdism for the sake of absurdism, that's where everything feels fluffy, and it doesn't feel like anything really means anything," lead writer Jeremy Bernstein said at the preview event. "We worked very hard to avoid that, so there's a groundedness, even to the most absurd things that you do in the game." It remains to be seen if this new, more grounded approach successfully introduces a new cast and setting for Saints Row or just leaves me yearning for the classic Saints and city of Steelport.
Absurdly generic 
While each mission that I described earlier does have the Saints Row series' trademark quirk, they aren't exactly pushing the boundaries of what to expect from a third-person, open-world game so far. While I only saw a few side missions, like one where players had to ride shotgun and fend off cops for a jewelry thief, our look at the map and missions suggest that Saints Row may be a fairly boilerplate open-world game.

Read more
Call of Duty’s Godzilla vs. Kong event doesn’t match the hype
King Kong and Godzilla in Warzone.

One of the most important aspects of a live-service game is its ability to keep players engaged for long periods of time. This can be done in a multitude of ways, but a common trend is to implement limited-time events that aim to attract players. Call of Duty: Warzone, one of the most popular free-to-play live-service games, has heavily relied on its seasonal events, most recently with the implementation of Godzilla and King Kong.

The event, titled Operation Monarch, launched on May 10 and allows players to battle alongside the massive monsters. While the event itself was intriguing and fun at times, the marketing leading up to Operation Monarch was highly misleading, due in part to the fact that King Kong and Godzilla don't fight one another at all. Instead, the two beasts simply wander around the map, aimlessly, which has sparked a major sense of disappointment.
Misleading marketing
Operation Monarch Official Teaser feat. Godzilla vs. Kong | Call of Duty: Warzone

Read more