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Saints Row review

The rebooted Saints Row could really do with a dubstep gun.

(Image: © Deep Silver)

Our Verdict

The knockabout glee of classic Saints Row ultraviolence is here, but held back a little by new-found restraint.

Need to know

What is it? An urban playground where the cars are made of explodium but the tone's not quite as incendiary.
Expect to pay: $60/£60
Release date: August 23, 2022
Developer: Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Ryzen 9 5900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 3080
Multiplayer? Yes
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)

Saints Row is a knockabout driving/shooting/flying ragdoll-em-up in which you lead a misnamed gang of sociopaths. The Saints are loveable sociopaths to be fair, who alternate between organised crime and high-spirited hijinx like throwing themselves into traffic for insurance money, and also some light drug trafficking on the side. That's probably the only description I can come up with vague enough to describe every game in the series, including this new reboot, without just saying it's Grand Theft Auto except the jokes are funny.

Until now, every Saints Row sequel was more over-the-top than the one before, eventually finding new tops and then somehow over-ing them. Saints Row 2 had a villain with voodoo powers and your sidekick could take on an entire police force solo. Saints Row: The Third made you fight wrestlers, cyberpunks, and zombies, which Saints Row 4 bettered with an alien invasion, while its spin-off Gat Out of Hell had Satan as the final boss.

When fans of SR2 say they miss how grounded it was, they mean they were OK with a game that had motorbike katana duels, but SR3 including a Japanese game show about straight-up murdering people crossed the line. Personally, I enjoyed the escalating wackiness of the series, but it didn't leave itself a lot of places to go. Which I guess is why, instead of making a new Saints Row where you time-travel or establish a branch on an alien planet or something, Volition hit the reboot button.

A Saints Row about starting from the ground floor might please people who miss the 'grit' of Saints Row 2, but if the internet is anything to go by they hate it already. The reboot comes with a new cast they despised from the first trailer. Online I've seen these Saints called zoomers and millennials, as well as hipsters, which is an impressive range of meaningless descriptors that all amount to "young people I don't understand." 

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

One of the new Saints quit an unpaid internship to become a mechanic for a crime boss, one's a startup entrepreneur who overdosed on motivational TED talks and podcasts, and the other's a DJ who is allergic to wearing a shirt. Meanwhile, you work for a private security firm whose disposable employees often don't survive training. All these characters parody modern archetypes just like the old games' wannabe energy drink mogul, post-hippie stoner, and Auto-Tuned pimp did back when they were relevant. While I don't care about the new crew in the same way as the scoundrels who grew into a close-knit family over the course of the original games, these characters haven't had a bunch of sequels to develop. They're fine.

We meet these rebooted Saints at their peak in an intro where they run the city, then spend the next 25 hours in a flashback covering how they got there. That means after fully customising your boss to look like, say, an elderly Batman villain or a mime who has turned to crime, suddenly you're an ordinary schmo with a day job in law enforcement and roommates who are so young they know and care who Doja Cat is. I ended up swapping my carefully designed character for the first preset an hour in because I felt like a miscast actor. Which is a shame, because it's a great character creator in a series known for them.

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

Even if you stick with a default face, the clothing options let you get fancy with layers, mixing and matching shirts under jackets and socks separately from shoes. That's something Saints Row hasn't done since embracing clothes with physics. The cost is that coats and skirts are noticeably stiff and most of the hairstyles are static, for reasons that became obvious when I tried a ponytail and it clipped right through my face. Still, whether you want your boss to be a leather-jacket badass, bright green doofus, or someone dressed as a taco, Saints Row provides.

When I'm wearing a luchador mask and murdering EDM-themed criminals who twirl glowstick shields, Saints Row is a good time. You can shoot while lying prone on top of moving cars, and unlock abilities that let you do gun-fu or jam a grenade down someone's pants then chuck them at a crowd. The takedown animations include gory knife-and-pistol work, but also human torpedoes and a Karate Kid crane kick. 

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

Options to change how it plays are welcome and plentiful, with a menu that should be shown to other games while they sit in the corner and think about what they've done. The GPS arrows that illuminate streets to show you where to go can be turned off or tweaked so they only highlight corners, the minimap can be resized, enemy health changed if you find them too spongy or too weak, ammo scarcity altered, nudity toggled or covered with a variety of humorous censor bars, time limits extended or turned off completely, and more. 

I was tempted to set mission timers to be more forgiving after a bug made the countdown vanish and I failed one because I didn't realise the clock had started. In the end I didn't actually mess with these settings, apart from the vehicle camera's snappiness. I just appreciate they exist, which is how I feel about the drop-in two-player mode I will also never bother with because leave me alone.

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

It runs well on PC too, which wasn't a given. To get a decent framerate out of Saints Row: The Third Remastered I had to turn off Windows 10's data execution prevention, and the original version of SR3 is just as quirky about running on modern hardware. Meanwhile, the reboot stays well over 60 fps and looks nicer doing it than early trailers suggested. Some of the corners cut to make that framerate happen are obvious, like the fuzzy hair that makes your cat look like it stepped out of another game, the occasional odd shadow or jagged item of clothing, and the way cars in the middle distance transition to the ethereal plane when they see you coming.

The city's not particularly bustling either. Santo Ileso, a desert burg somewhere in the American Southwest, doesn't have the kind of crowded centre that's fun to buzz in a stolen helicopter as you weave between the skyscraper forest. It's so flat I forgot I even had a wingsuit when I wasn't doing the side hustles where you have to use it. 

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

Saint nobody got time for that

A hallmark of the Saints Row games is how they connect those open world activities. You never feel like a different character to the one in the main plot when you pull some sidequest mayhem, because you're just as much of a maniac in the cutscenes. And you have to do side stuff to unlock new missions, a push-and-pull that usually means at least one long stretch of chores because you ate too much meat before polishing off your vegetables. 

That's more aggravating than usual here because the jobs you need to do, called criminal ventures, are the worst they've ever been. Having to drive trucks full of toxic waste to a dump without spilling it gets real tedious, and the returning insurance fraud activity (the one where you run into traffic) is less fun than it used to be. The ragdoll after-touch has been toned down, making it harder to tumble into multiple cars for combos as you flop down the highway like a fish with a death wish.

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

The best new venture is testing experimental prototypes you get to keep, including a hoverboard and sticky rocket-bombs called thrustbusters that propel targets into the sky like they've been alien-abducted. Apart from that I found myself sticking to vanilla side missions, like stealing food trucks, because the others were so underwhelming. Unlocking these criminal ventures costs increasing amounts of cash too, and spending $400,000 or more on one that turns out to be a dud is a real kick in the teeth. (Honestly, delay the toxic dump one as long as you can.)

Compared to spraying sewage on mansions to lower property values or driving a car while being mauled by a tiger who sits in the passenger seat, the reboot's activities seem down to earth. One of them is literally just taking photos. Likewise, apart from the thrustbusters and a foam glove pistol, most of the weapons are real guns, and while there are perks to throw antigravity grenades or summon backup Saints out of thin air, you're only allowed to put four on your ability wheel at a time. (Half the time the backup Saints stand around doing nothing while getting shot anyway.)

Saints Row is always at its best when it cuts loose, when it goes full dubstep-gun stupid, and the reboot forgets that for long stretches. When it remembers, you get things like a storyline in which you take part in a citywide LARP, fighting Mad Max roleplayers with foam weapons while dressed in cardboard armour, and that's the kind of daftness it could do with more of.

The Verdict
Saints Row

The knockabout glee of classic Saints Row ultraviolence is here, but held back a little by new-found restraint.

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was published in 2015, he edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and actually did play every Warhammer videogame.