Title – Saints Row
Platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC
Release Date – August 23rd, 2022
Developer – Volition Studios
Publisher – Deep Silver
MSRP – $59.99
ESRB – M for Mature
Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the Xbox Series X. A review copy was provided by Deep Silver for the purpose of this review. This review may also contain spoilers for certain gameplay and story elements. Watch at your own risk, you have been warned. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon Affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.
Back in the glorious days of Xbox 360, I remember playing a game called Saints Row. For some people, it was considered a blatant copycat to the ever-popular franchise, Grand Theft Auto. While to others, it was just another open-world crime game with its own style, humor, and twists. Saints Row was one of my favorite games back in that era. It took the whole gang rap culture with street wars and put it into a video game, and it was well executed. Saints Row was charming and different enough that I didn’t consider it a competitor to GTA, but rather a title that stood on its own two legs and built its own audience.
Fast forward many years later, and the franchise spawned multiple sequels that got worse and worse with each iteration and now Volition decided to rebrand the series for the new generation and veteran fans. I hate to say this, but the short answer is that this game is an insult not only to the original fan base, but to the whole gaming crowd, and here is why. Welcome to our review of Saints Row.
The Storyline, and The Boring Gameplay
As you all know, gameplay is the most important aspect of any video game. We mention this in previous reviews, and it won’t be any different here. The gameplay in Saints Row is simply awful and barely has any redeeming qualities. First and foremost, let’s talk about the storyline, characters, how everything is set up, and what to expect out of this so called “reboot”.
There are four main characters in Saints Row, yourself, Eli, Kevin, and Neenah. They’re college kids trying to make money by working with a variety of gangs such as The Idols, Los Panteros, and the Marshalls. You start the game by creating your character, who is the boss of your gang, and doing some errands for the Marshalls to prove yourself so you can make enough income to pay your rent.
Saints Row doesn’t have a default protagonist, instead, the player has the freedom to create a boss they want for their gang using the fancy character creator. I will give credit where credit is due. Volition created an extensive character creator that gives a ton of freedom to the user on how they want their character to look. You can change every detail of the face with a bunch of sliders, have prosthetics for your arms or legs, and have goofy outfits, and silly-looking faces. There is so much detail that you can easily spend hours in the character creator. Additionally, throughout the game world, you can unlock a ton of clothing and get even crazier with your custom looks, and that’s always a plus in my book. However, a good character creator doesn’t mean the game is actually good itself, and the gameplay is satisfying.
For the most part, the three main characters of your gang are not terrible, but they’re not great either. It’s more of a subjective matter of whether you’ll enjoy the cast or not. I am 50/50. Eli is your chill friend who likes to hang out and always has your back. Kevin is your shirtless buddy who randomly gets reminiscent of his former relationships with both men and women and provides quite the hilarious dialogue during gameplay missions. Neenah is your hot college girl, who is obsessed with her car and works with the Los Panteros to make quick cash on the side.
The storyline is not super serious, and I don’t think it’s meant to be. Saints Row started as a semi-serious gang simulator and then later evolved into super goofy settings with superheroes and aliens that never took itself too seriously. The reboot is trying to go back to the old-school ways of being semi-serious while at the same time being funny and ridiculous. It is a blend of the two, but it doesn’t have the wackiness of Saints Row 4. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you and is completely subjective. If you are looking for a dark and gritty crime thriller, look elsewhere.
I treated the story like I was watching a comedic Saturday night sitcom. It has its ups and downs with both hilariously bad cringe writing and a few laughs here and there. If you enjoy this type of goofiness, then you’ll be fine; if not, then oh well. Again, it’s a subjective thing, but this is how the game was trying to portray itself. With the story stuff out of the way, it’s time to take a deep dive into the gameplay and feel of the game.
In essence, Saints Row is an open-world action game, and when it comes to games that require a variety of weapons, shooting, and running from place to place, you should focus on getting the gunplay right and how your character interacts with the world around them. First of all, the gunplay feels horrendous, and it doesn’t matter what weapon you use. You can be using a shotgun, a burst rifle, or a pistol, and the impacts of the bullets hitting your enemies feel like you are throwing noodles at them. The feedback is atrocious. There is just a huge disconnect between your gun’s bullets and enemies.
When you hit them in the head, you hear somewhat of a pop, cracking sound, but it’s just not enough. Also, the hitbox is very strange at times, and it’s a bit hard to tell if you are going to land a shot or not. Honestly, the only way I was able to tell my bullets are hitting someone is if I see their health bar depleting. In the year 2022, that is unacceptable. No player should be looking at the enemies’ health bars at all times when they are shooting directly at them. If you want to see an example of fantastic shooting mechanics, take a look at Warframe, which came out in 2013 at the launch of PS4 and Xbox One. Fast forward to 2017, and Destiny 2 is simply a master class when it comes to amazing gunplay.
While Saints Row doesn’t have to be as good as either of those games regarding shooting mechanics, my point is those titles came out many years ago and are still better than anything else on the market. It’s worth mentioning that Warframe is a free-to-play title and has top-notch quality when it comes to gunplay. The problem is that the gunplay in Saints Row is simply barebones and felt like it was rushed out. It does not feel good to shoot anything in this game, period.
Do you know what else makes already bad gunplay even worse? Enemies that are all basically the same. The only variation is that each of the gangs has maybe 1 or 2 enemies that are somewhat unique compared to the others. For example, the Los Panteros have big buff dudes that carry mini-guns, meanwhile, The Idols have dancers that use their sticks to deflect bullets, and that’s about it. At the end of the day, you are shooting the same things, and it never feels fun.
The AI is another issue in Saints Row – it’s god-awful. Sometimes, the enemies would stand there and not do much. They barely flank you or react to your actions. At one point in the game, I had an entire group of four dudes roll up on my character on a golf kart. They drove into a brick wall and just stayed in the golf kart. No one got out or engaged in combat, they just sat there until I killed them all.
How is this acceptable in today’s day and age of video game development? I do not think anyone is asking for anything super fancy or something we’ve never experienced before when it comes to AI. Why is it so hard to fully develop a functioning AI that can execute on fundamentals and not be broken the majority of the time? We’re not asking for crazy AI dynamics here or some sort of insane complex interactions. This is an action game, and action games need to have enemies that can go behind cover at least, or lob grenades at you when you are in a cornered spot. These are basic things that you’d expect to see out of an action game, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Also, yes we have looked at the difficulty options. The review session was played through on Entrepreneur difficulty, which is the default difficulty set up by the game and is considered the Normal setting.
Volition was kind enough to include a variety of difficulty sliders where you can customize the challenge to your liking. And I hate to inform you but the sliders simply make the game more “challenging” by either increasing the enemies’ HP and attack damage, frequency of how often you go against tougher enemies, the scarcity of ammo, less or more time on timed objectives, how hard the vehicle combat can be, how much more or less damage you can deal to the enemies, and how often you can raise your notoriety level.
None of this adjusts the difficulty level. All it does is makes the game more “artificially” difficult instead of making the AI smarter or more reactive. Increasing an AI’s health or damage is the lamest slider anyone can come up with. It will simply make the game more tedious and annoying. There are some enemies already that are bullet sponges. Why would any player make the enemies take more hits? To waste time and brag that they beat the game with the sliders set to max? I guess someone can do a speedrun or something with all the sliders turned up, but that’s about it, and that’s not your main target audience. My point is that artificial difficulty is simply not fun and doesn’t achieve anything. I get that Volition tried to give players the options on how the game is tuned up when it comes to difficulty, but that doesn’t make the already awful gunplay and the AI any better or worse. It’s useless.
Next, let’s discuss the structure of the game. Your smartphone is how you start engaging with the world of Saints Row. There are a variety of apps on it, such as the Wanted App that lets you hunt down big bounty targets for money. The Missions app is how you will progress through the main storyline. A mission list will come up, and you can choose whatever is available. When completing missions, more of them will unlock. There are also challenges to complete that reward you with money and XP.
The lifeless world of Santo Ileso, set in Las Vegas, Nevada, is filled with your standard run-of-the-mill secondary tasks and collectibles. The city is divided into regions and each region has a specific amount of collectibles to find, such as dumpsters fitting for dumpster diving, threats to eliminate in the regions, which are nothing more than basic shootouts with random gang members, photos to take with your phone of specific decorative objects, drug packages to collect, and so on. A collectathon with a bunch of boring side objectives that every open world has been doing for the last decade or so. Nothing new or unique here whatsoever.
The real storyline missions are the only ones that can get somewhat interesting from time to time and break up the pacing. For example, there was one mission that was pocking fun at LARPing, which stands for “Real Life Action Role-play.” During this mission, your buddy Eli asks you for help and tells you to dress up in a suit to fit in with the role-play and speak a certain way. It was a super goofy and dumb mission, but at least it broke the pace, had some hilarious dialogue, and was fun to do. Sadly, these types of missions are not enough to save Saints Row from its awful core gameplay systems. With how obnoxiously bad the animations are mixed in with the atrocious gunplay and a lack of variety of enemies there is not much to enjoy here. It’s a game that everyone has already played, and those games are likely in a better state. It will take you upwards of thirty to fifty hours to 100 percent the entire city if you are willing to torture yourself.
But what about multiplayer? There is no competitive or any kind of PvP multiplayer in the reboot of Saints Row. You can only play co-op with a friend. This was also another disappointment because the multiplayer modes in the original Saints Row, such as Protect the Pimp, were fun as hell. But it seems Volition believes they can get away with only focusing on the single-player portion this time around. They are completely wrong and this is another slap to the face to the original fans. Also, we were not able to test out or play the co-op mode due to only having access to one review copy of the game.
The Performance, AI, and Visuals of Old
Now that we have the gameplay portion out of the way, I would like to discuss the performance of the game, the visual art style, and the issues that come with it. Believe it or not, Volition decided to use the original engine from Saints Row 3 and give it a few upgrades. I am not sure why they chose to go down that path or why they thought it was a good idea. The Saints Row reboot looks like a triple-A, high-quality production value game made specifically for mobile platforms such as iOS and Android.
Yes, it looks that awful. It is a cross-gen game, but the new generation systems don’t help it much either. The game has plenty of weird pop-in issues and shadows that appear out of thin air as you drive across a bridge at high speeds. The city also looks lifeless, the textures are super bland, and it feels like a game that came straight out of the PS3/360 era. Obviously, for those days, this would be considered somewhat decent visuals, but even then, we had better-looking games from other 3rd party developers.
The game also suffers from awful bloom effects and over-saturation when it comes to lighting. The obnoxious bloom is everywhere, and it gets bad on the eyes. The animations are hilarious and by hilarious, I mean horrible, stiff, and unintentionally funny. After some research, it seems that Volition used some of the older animations from previous games. I have no idea why the developer took so many shortcuts when they could have waited a few more years, developed a new engine, and built the game from scratch to take advantage of the new generation systems. Not only are they hurting their reputation by taking shortcuts, but they also think the fan base won’t care about receiving a piss-poor rushed product.
While we’re still on the subject of visuals, let’s discuss the performances of Saints Row. When you boot up the game, you are offered a wide variety of graphical options that you can change later in the menus if you wish. The following graphical quality presets are – 2160p UHD/4K, 1080p Ultra Quality 1080p Max framerate, 1440p high Quality and 1440p high framerate. I’ll give them some brownie points here because options are nice. At first, we tested out the 2160p/4K option.
The game was running like a complete slog despite the visuals looking a tad crisper, thanks to a higher resolution. However, for a title with high-paced action and shooting, the 4K option made it unplayable. I am honestly not sure why it even was included in the first place, it’s so badly optimized that it’s not even worth having. Sure, options are nice, but not when they make the game barely playable.
During our review session, we played the game on 1440p max framerate, and it felt smoother and was playable. I will be honest, we have not tried the other graphical presets because I felt no real need to play at a lower resolution. The game already looks horrible as it is, even at 1440p. There are so many visual draw distance issues that it just doesn’t matter.
Look, graphics are not the most important thing when it comes to video games, but there is a limit to how bad they can get. Sadly, in the case of Saints Row, it hit that limit and went into the “not allowed” territory by our standards and that is unfortunate. A game that looks like a high-end mobile game shouldn’t have any weird graphical issues or draw distance problems on new-generation hardware. Also, please do not give me the “but it’s an open-world game excuse!” Technology has come far along at this point where you can make an open-world game look good enough while maintaining a steady framerate and keeping a crisp look. It won’t look super jazzy or purely next-gen, but it will run well and feel much better to play. The fact that a reboot is using an ancient engine, old re-used animations, and has glaring visual issues on new-gen platforms is unacceptable, and points will be taken off for that. Volition, please do better next time, when it comes to the technical department. The next title (if there is going to be one) doesn’t need to blow anyone’s socks off. It just needs to look decent, run well and avoid glaring visual annoyances. With that said, let’s move on to audio.
I think the only real redeeming quality besides the character creator in Saints Row Reboot is its soundtrack. Both the original and licensed music that’s played on various radio stations is quite a treat. You can find metal, rap, hip hop, 80s synth-wave, and even country music. There is something for everyone here, and there are also a lot of old-school tracks. The voice acting is a hit and a miss. Some characters match with how they look, and others not so much. The voice-over choices for the main protagonist, however, are god-awful, and there is not enough variety of voices to choose from.
The guns don’t sound good and that doesn’t help the gunplay either. Again, the feedback in the gunplay is severely lacking and good feedback normally consists of satisfying audio of the gun’s firing, the impact of the bullet itself when it hits something, and good animations, of which Saints Row has none. Thankfully, I did not find any weird audio issues such as clipping or a loss of sound.
All in all, if you enjoy a good soundtrack, I think you’ll be happy with what the game has to offer. If you are looking for stellar voice acting and fantastic sound design, then you need to look elsewhere.
Dear fans of Saints Row, the reality is that Volition does not care for you anymore, so please stay away from this product, as far as possible, and do not reward lazy and poor quality work. Otherwise, we will keep getting hot garbage like this that fills up your precious Xbox Series X or PS5’s SSD space. There are plenty of games on both Game Pass and PS+ that will give you far better value, gameplay, and, most importantly, entertainment, than this piece of hot boring trash.
I wanted to enjoy the reboot of Saints Row. The technology has changed a ton and for the better, I would say, but apparently, Volition has decided to dig themselves into a grave and not invest in a new or better engine for their reboot. They’ve decided to reuse ancient animations and update their original Saints Row 3 and 4 engine just enough so they can get away with spending as little money as possible. By introducing a whole new cast of characters, completely changing what Saints Row used to be known for, and going in a direction that very few people will be able to stomach, they’ve taken the lazy route in the hopes that gamers and their fans will eat it up.
To top it all off, outdated gameplay systems and bad shooting mechanics make this whole package even worse than it already is. Oh, and don’t get me started on the pathetic performance and visuals bugs on next-gen platforms. Honestly, if you didn’t tell me this game was called Saints Row, I would assume it is a high-quality production game made strictly for the mobile platforms because of how awful and outdated it looks and plays. Saints Row will be receiving a score of 5 out of 10.
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