There are few franchises that instantly leave an impression. Forza impresses you with its realism and fantastic driving mechanics, while GTA inspires you to be violent and aggressive. Moreover, Saints Row is renowned for its unbelievable craziness, dated style, and rehashed mechanics. In an era where gamers crave more for their money, can another visit to the Saints Row franchise really work? I have my concerns, especially after the madness of the last instalment. Consequently, when Saints Row (2022) landed on my desk, I was understandably reserved.

Developed by Deep Silver Volition and published by Deep Silver, this is an open-world sandbox experience. What’s more, it returns to the roots of this much-loved franchise and avoids the amusing, albeit unnecessarily crude stupidity of its recent predecessor. Consequently, many of the cherished and charismatic players have been put to bed. Accordingly, this allows a new set of protagonists to take centre stage in this violent gang-related crime spree.

Review Saints Row

Chill out before you commit more crime.

New location, new gang, new you.

What I adored about the latest instalment was the introduction of a whole new gang. You’re the boss of “The Saints”, and you have Neenah, Kevin, and Eli by your side. This team of 4 criminal masterminds run riot in a dusty metropolis that is filled with crime, drugs, and death. As the new boss, you must stamp your authority on your surroundings. You’ll take on the Los Panteros, The Idols, and the Marshalls as you build your empire and make a name for yourself on the streets of Santo Ileso. With plenty of guns to shoot, vehicles to drive, and locations to visit, it feels like a stereotypical Saints Row title. However, is this enough in a modern market?

Well, if you like cliched and dated mechanics, then you won’t be bothered about its rehashed approach. Thankfully, much of this familiar gameplay plays second fiddle to the insanely massive open world. With 15 enormous districts to infiltrate, explore, and command, you’ll lose your head before you get bored. Every area comprises unique points of interest as well as quests to undertake, side hustles to complete, and many collectables to locate. In short, it uses the classic open-world tropes but injects them with steroids and demands you take them all down.

This aside, as the boss, you must be in control of your gang. What better way to do this than using your mobile phone? This simple mechanic acts as the central hub for every element of the gameplay. Here you can take photos, access skills, customise your character (more on this later), look at the world map, and more. This was one of the better choices from the developer and I wish they made the rest of the action feel as modern.

Play alone or join some friends.

With so much madness to tackle, it would have been insane for the developers to overlook multiplayer action. Thankfully, they have incorporated both cooperative and competitive elements into the gameplay. Once you invite your friends into your world, you can tackle any of the missions, side hustles, or simply lark about. However, if your friends have other ideas, they can unleash hell and cause all sorts of mayhem.

This is exactly what I expected from a Saints Row title. There is always an element of the structure that can be pushed to the very limits. If you attempt to do this alone, it is fun but somewhat lacking. Yet, with friends by your side, it’s great fun to race down the freeway shooting like maniacs and creating a scene. Furthermore, you are free to traverse the world as you wish. Do you want to run and gun, mow everyone down in a truck, or soar through the sky with your wingsuit? Whatever you choose, you’ll laugh until your sides hurt as unexpected shenanigans will always occur.

Review Saints Row

Grab your gun and protect yourself.

Expand your empire and know your enemy.

The freedom to choose your approach was phenomenal. Subsequently, if you wanted to waste hours on side hustles and criminal ventures, it was up to you. Both these elements earn you money while enhancing your reputation amongst the seedier members of society. You can, of course, overlook these opportunities, but where is the fun in that? Instead, I recommend you waste many hours planning heists, stealing cars, and performing an array of other shady tasks.

Moving up the ladder is all well and good, but if you don’t study your opponents, then you are bound to get your ass handed to you. Each of the factions you face has a unique style and strengths and weaknesses that must be overcome. By using the dated and familiar Saints Row 2 shooting mechanics, you must attempt to take them down. However, if this fails, you can turn to melee combat and some killer moves to regain your health.

As there is no cover mechanic, you must rely on dodging and this “Matrix-esque” approach to staying alive, no matter the cost. This is made somewhat worse as every enemy is a “bullet sponge”. Accordingly, this leads to some frustrating experiences and a lack of fluidity. Now, this can be overcome if you simply drive through your enemies, but this isn’t always possible, nor is it the most fun solution. Consequently, the developers have missed the mark and this will disappoint many players.

Saints Row looks dated and janky.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about the graphical fidelity. Some gamers are happy to reduce the quality to achieve something that is barely playable. I, on the other hand, expect a modern title on a next-gen machine to handle a high resolution and smooth frame rate. Sadly, Saints Row failed on both grounds, and the end result is an appalling game that looks and feels horrible. It was such a shame as the cinematic gives the impression of a well-polished and smooth experience. Instead, it is nauseating, dated, and harks back to the Xbox 360 era.

If you are familiar with the open-world genre, then you’ll know how the audio plays out. With an array of radio stations to choose from, you enjoy an eclectic and often unfamiliar lineup of songs. Yet, they have been specifically chosen to match the theme while adding energy and drama to the proceedings. What doesn’t always work, however, are the sound effects. Luckily, Saints Row nails its wonderful blend of explosives, gunfire, and vehicle sounds. Subsequently, there is a nice blend of realistic and whacky audio that adds a fun layer to the gameplay.

Review Saints Row

Meet the team.

It plays like its peers.

The developers have stuck with a tried and tested control system. As such, it is easy to pick up if you love the genre. With a blend of submenus and responsive inputs, it overcomes many of the aforementioned combat issues. Furthermore, the inclusion of the mobile phone mechanic makes it easier, still. On top of this, the use of the d-pad for additional powers ensured it was simple to play without confusing the matter.

Now, if you enjoy exploring massive open-world locations while hunting for collectables, then Saints Row will get you salivating. It is awash with a mind-blowing amount of content, and it’ll keep you busy for days. Alongside this, the customisation options have to be some of the best I’ve witnessed. With plenty of insane options available, this harks back to the stupidity of its predecessor. I, of course, made my hero look as ridiculous as possible. Why? Well, why not?

Saints Row falls short.

I’m glad the game moved away from the madness of the previous iteration. However, I was disheartened by its terrible graphics, awful combat, and spongey bullets. There was so much potential, yet the developers have fallen way short of the mark. Every encounter with an enemy gang feels repetitive, arduous, and limp. Consequently, if it wasn’t for the multiplayer action, you’d be disappointed almost immediately. Now, I adored the open world and the side hustles. But it doesn’t make up for the many shortcomings. As such, I’m not going to recommend that you buy this title. More information can be found here, though! Can you rule the roost and take over Santo Ileso? Grab your friends, run some jobs, and wipe out the opposition.

SUMMARY

Saints Row is a franchise that has its best days behind it. Consequently, the latest iteration is dull, dated, and lacking oomph. The open world is great, as are the side hustles. However, this doesn’t make up for its many shortcomings. Fans of the franchise may overlook the tedium, but I could not.

+ The side hustles are great.+ The multiplayer action is fun.+ I enjoyed the custom options.+ An eclectic blend of music.- A dated franchise.- The graphics are awful.- The combat is lacklustre and frustrating.

(Rating PEGI 18 Bad Language, Violence Release date: 23/08/2022 Price: £59.99+)

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on Xbox One, PC (Steam), PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5)

5.5 Overall Score

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