The Saints Row games have always been one of my favorites when it comes to the open-world crime genre. Though the first game was somewhat mediocre, Saints Row 2 set a standard of how you can make an entertaining game without feeling too much like Grand Theft Auto. Then, Saints Row 3 took us in a different but welcome direction, which gave Saints Row more humor and less seriousness – but the heart of the game was still intact.
Then came Saints Row 4, which was bonkers but still had the charisma of the Saints gang and some of the gameplay feel intact. It wasn’t a game that everyone appreciated, but it was still a game most people had fun with. And with Saints Row 4, the franchise took a backseat.
First of all, we saw Agents of Mayhem which was a very mediocre game that was nothing like Saints Row but was advertised as a spiritual successor. Then, we did not have anything for years until almost a decade later, we have Saints Row (2022) which is essentially the fifth game in the series.
As soon as the first trailer for the rebooted Saints Row (2022) was revealed, fans were divided because it looked like a different take on the franchise’s tone. Not only the tone, but none of the original characters came back and we were introduced to a new city. Reactionary fans immediately considered the game ‘woke’ (not that it’s ever a valid complaint) due to its teenage characters and progressive dialogue, but everyone else decided to wait until they play the game to judge.
Eventually, Saints Row (2022) has found its way on our shelves. There is a lot to be said about the game and unfortunately not all of it is positive.
Let’s start with the ‘game’ part of a video game. Saints Row has always been a little on the clunky side, as the shooting was entertaining but not the smoothest, and the driving wasn’t as good as other open-world games either. However, the developers always added so much fun to the game that it was easy to ignore any of the shortcomings. The story missions were fun and long, some of the side missions developed characters further, and the random activities were outrageously fun, such as Insurance Fraud.
Saints Row (2022) is easily the clunkiest entry in the series since Saints Row 2. The shooting does not feel satisfying and for some reason even normal enemies are bullet sponges. This suits loot shooters like Borderlands, but not a quick run-and-gun game like Saints Row. Melee combat has been reduced to you hitting characters with takedown abilities or using sticks (you can still kick and whatnot but it’s useless), which has such buggy animation that it genuinely breaks the immersion.
In one of the missions, I was tasked with protecting a museum from a gang attack. But halfway through, a different gang joins the mess too and they have motorcycles inside the building. The button for melee is also the button for entering a vehicle on the default PC binding – so I tried to do a melee attack and instead my character went into a stiff animation for a bunch of seconds where he neither got onto the bike nor attacked anyone. Eventually, the animation was exited since I wasn’t supposed to grab the bike in this mission – but the stuck animation was long enough to get me killed anyway. Nothing is more annoying than a game causing you to lose rather than your own skill.
And the driving in Saints Row (2022) is some of the worst in the series as even regular cars feel like driving a tank. And it still feels this way even when you’re riding a motorbike. The game does not have the type of clunkiness that’s still fun. Instead, it enters the frustrating category because this is a 2022 game that you paid full retail price for. Even if previous games had bugs, it doesn’t change the fact that a game coming out almost a decade later should have less of those problems. If a reboot isn’t going to improve the game, what’s the point?
The main story is very uninteresting and the missions are not that great either. I liked some of them, as taking down a gang in the middle of a desert storm was genuinely entertaining. However, a lot of the missions are simply about shooting long mobs of enemies and when shooting is unsatisfying at its core, it just begins to feel repetitive. The uncharismatic cast of characters does not help either.
The side content is very lacking too and all of it just reduces to shooting people even if the scenario starts as fun. The creativity from the previous games is gone and only a few things like Insurance Fraud is still fun. The game does not innovate in any way but somehow managed to leave out most of what made the previous entries such a great time too. The bugs range from visual to effecting gameplay, so you’ll need a lot of patches for it to get better.
Even if we judge Saints Row (2022) without the previous games in mind, it’s still just another open-world game with little to no content and just lots of land that is pointless to travel. Grand Theft Auto remains relevant to this day because they have fun with their missions. And Saints Row was known to go beyond fun and be absolutely wild with the objectives the players had. Unfortunately, Saints Row (2022) just feels like a bland annual Ubisoft experience. It doesn’t even have human shields!
There is some fun to be had but only for a few hours, which is not enough for a full-priced AAA game. And it’s undercut by weird things like the issues I’ve mentioned, and other problems like the game randomly restarting your mission because it thinks you left the area even if you were just a few inches away.
Even if you try to stick to the main story, the game softlocks the player by putting requirements of what side content you have to play before you’re allowed to advance. Which is insanely annoying because the side content, as I stated, isn’t fun. So I can’t even just zoom through the main story if I want to beat the game.
The graphics of Saints Row (2022) are a mixed bag. Generally, the city looks decent and the character creation is pretty detailed too in the best way. Though it feels a bit cartoonish, I’d say it’s the best customization that the franchise has had so far.
However, once you’re inside the game, it doesn’t feel all that great for a 2022 game with a AAA budget. The city feels barren when you explore all of it and the character models don’t look all that great. The choice of a less-realistic art style is not a problem at all, but the way it has been utilized just makes it look like an older game. And on the PC port of Saints Row (2022), things are even worse because even on the best hardware, the game feels a little blurry to look at due to poor optimization.
Last but not least, Saints Row 3 and 4 had a unique visual atmosphere that made you acknowledge that it’s a Saints Row game even at a quick glance. Nothing like that is present in the reboot and it just feels like ‘yet another open-world game’. And of course, the poorly animated action does not help either, especially when you use Melee attacks or any special abilities. Which is further ruined by bugs where your player will often attack the air or ground rather than the enemy – but the enemy is still dying nonetheless.
If the developers were not going to make Santo Ileso a great city filled with life, at least they could’ve made it look as good as what other AAA games are offering these days.
Sure, Saints Row 2, 3 and 4 were the type of games where you can just ignore the story and still have tons of fun – but it’s undeniable that most fans did pay attention to it. The bad-assery of the Boss, the hilarious but loyal gang of Saints that playfully make fun of each other, and the occasional seriousness of the story were things that made the gameplay feel more meaningful when you’re playing the main missions. And of course, the humor has always been an important part of Saints Row because without that, it would just be slightly wackier GTA.
Saints Row (2022) does have a few good moments and some of the jokes land, but it’s very disinteresting in general. The characters feel like they are written by an adult’s idea of what zoomers are like, which is never a good thing. Their chemistry is not that great and it just feels like you’re watching a bunch of college students who use too much social media rather than a gang of criminals who will take over the city.
The humor is also not very good this time around and that is evident even very early on in the game. There is a moment when, after the first mission, the main character (no matter what voice you pick) will go on rant where they say things like crap repeatedly and then throw in random swear words to make it longer even though nothing is really going on. It’s just not funny or creative and it’s clearly aimed at a juvenile audience. There are weird changes like Rim Jobs becoming Jim Robs too – which I’m confused about.
I’m not pretending that the previous games were Shakespearean, but the jokes landed for most people instead of being limited to just one audience. The characters say GG after killing people.
The soundtrack of the game is pretty decent. The radio songs haven’t grown on me yet, but that’s more of a preference thing than the music in the game being bad. The background music is fine and the main theme is pretty catchy.
As for the voice acting, I wish there were more options for the Boss but it’s still okay. The writing may suck but the quality of them being delivered is good.
There’s not too much I can say about the sound design of the game as it’s quite cookie-cutter at the end of the day – but if it’s not bad then that’s sometimes good enough.
5/10 – The Boss isn’t taking over this time
Saints Row (2022) is a reboot that completely misses the mark of what makes a game fun. If you compare it to the previous games, you’ll dislike it for not managing to retain the soul and fun of the franchise. And if you see it as a standalone experience, it’s still too much like the average annual barren open-world experience with a subpar story that Ubisoft or EA releases – which is a terrible path for the Saints franchise to take because all that these games were ever known for was unapologetic entertainment.
At best, you’ll enjoy the game as a mediocre open-world shooter. But that shouldn’t be the standard unless you’re picking the game up on a yard sale.
As unbiased as I was in giving this game a chance, unfortunately I think the Saints Row franchise should just be given a break for another decade or two until a truly passionate team can bring back the magic.