The new Saints Row is fun to play but, controller in hand, it feels like being in a 15-year-old title, for better or for worse. When Volition let the world know that it would make a reboot of the ingnorantissima saga of Saints Row, two factions were immediately created: there were those who wanted a title faithful to the past and those who were hoping for a more innovative experience, similar to GTA V. The game we tried makes both sides happy and disappointed.
Already from the introductory mission, one thing is clear: ignorance of the series is safe and sound and permeates every aspect of the game. The character customization editor is full of goodies and easy laughs so you will have a lot of fun creating your Saint. After a few hours of introductory missions that explain the background of your crew and the city of Santo Ileso, you will begin to set up the your criminal empire in an abandoned church.
On a narrative level, don’t expect revolutionary twists or an Oscar-winning story: the missions are loud and fun but nothing surprising. The 3 adventure companions (literally our roommates with whom we have to pay the rent) are interesting and bombastic but underdeveloped characters as well as the identity of the 3 enemy factions. There is the militarist private security company, the latinx gang of super gyms with monster trucks and a group of anti-capitalist / anarchist ravers who seem to have escaped from a Daft Punk show.
What’s surprising about this game is its deeply millennial identity. The protagonists turn to crime because they can’t pay the rent, the enemies talk about “late stage capitalism” like the tiktokers and the city’s response to any violence is to give more funds to a private security company that doesn’t mind to kill dozens of people.
In this case Saints Row is surprisingly modern, in everything else it is worryingly old-fashioned.
From gunplay to the driving system through to enemy AI, many aspects of the game seem stuck in 2007. The handling of most of the dynamic scenes is woody and often transforms what should be wow moments into moments of total cringe. Particularly annoying (especially on PS5 where loading times should be non-existent) a black and blank screen between the end of a cutscene and the return to the game.
Games like Saints Row (and its godfather GTA), however, are first and foremost sandboxes: large environments in which to live the life of a criminal. The activities are not lacking but the woodiness just described worsens with the passage of time and the decrease of the wow factor. Once all the skills are discovered (there is a level progression system that unlocks creative finishers) the combat almost loses its meaning because the weapons have no heaviness. Over time they end up turning into a simple tool for coloring off the enemy’s health bar.
Even worse is the guidance system which on a map as large as Santo Ileso should be one of the cornerstones of the game. The cars get stuck on the side of the road, the “drift” button works once in two and is the centerpiece of the car combat against the police. In short, we see that Volition has put a lot of care in making this game but some parts just don’t work.
Despite its flaws Saints Row manages to entertain in a way that only old video games can: guaranteeing you zero thoughts. The goal is clear, with two buttons things explode and activities are varied enough to prevent boredom. If you miss the old way of making games and have no vintage hardware or old software, then Saints Row might be the game for you.
If you’re into GTA V burnout and want to pass the time all the way to GTA VI, then Saints Row will keep you pleasantly busy. Don’t expect revolutions, depths or high technical levels, though, even if the multiplayer is quite fun.