Saints Row Review – Oppressively Familiar Fun

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Saints Row Review

Saints Row has always existed under the shadow of Grand Theft Auto.

The more chaotic little brother to Rockstar’s crime sim, Saints Row made its name by furnishing open worlds where the parodies came cruder and easier, the thrills more abundant and wacky, and the tone decidedly lighter and sillier.

An alternative for players that liked their games not to take themselves too seriously.

The series is back with Saints Row, no numerals or extended titling – a clean reboot that aims to bring the series in line with the mores of the 2020s but with its signature mayhem and indiscriminate nihilism still mostly intact.

But, gone is the crass edginess and the hit-and-miss irony, for better or for worse, depending on where you stand.

READ MORE: Saints Row Preview – A Highly Refined Sandbox Experience

Saints Row’s Oppressive Familiarity

Saints Row Review
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This time around, there isn’t a new GTA in sight. GTA 5 is a distant previous-gen gem nearly a decade old and still pulling it the easy money of GTA Online and a release on every platform under the sun. As for GTA 6, well, all we know is that it’s coming, but not for a few years.

This puts Saints Row in a unique position, free to do its thing without vying against another big-budget competitor. Saints Row is left to coast on its merits for probably the first time in its history. While it’d be unfair to say the game squanders this opportunity – it’s a slice of familiar, chaotic, digestible fun – Saints Row doesn’t innovate its own formula in any substantial way, let alone tweak the open-world crime sim template.

It feels like a game most of us have played a dozen times before. Open world conventions are adhered to, and endless checklists keep us busy as we rampage across Santo Ileso. There are rival gangs to piss off, narcotics to deal, cars to steal, and explosive showdowns on every corner. All while you bomb it down long avenues, winding desert roads, past weary industrial blocks, and chapels to consumerist excess, bobbing your head to synth-wave bangers, occasionally smirking at radio skits.

If this sounds oppressively familiar, it’s because it is. While Saints Row has done enough to unshackle itself from the GTA-clone label over the years, Rockstar’s influence looms large in this one. It’s well-trodden ground, polished with a glitzy RTX shine, snappier loading times, and a fresh, if a little trite, story to frame and, in many ways, justify the rowdy havoc.

Off to a Good Start

Saints Row boss aiming gun at civilians
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Despite this, Saints Row gets a lot right. After what invariably leads to an hour-long session of tinkering in Saints Row’s superbly in-depth character creator, you kick off as the leader of a small ramshackle gang. A brief stint as a paid goon for Marshall – a private security company – goes awry. Fired but chomping at the bit to make your own luck, you’re let loose into Santo Ilso to establish a criminal empire under the guise of the Saints.

From there, you’ll take on side hustles to make some quick cash, plow through the local populace, and generally make a nuisance of yourself. There are sketchy helicopter rides nabbing contraband from rival gangs, impromptu shootouts after leaving a scathing review for this or that local eatery, and the classic drive from A to B while fending off armed chumps.

Building a Criminal Empire

Saints Row Helicopter flying over city at night
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Coffers filled, you’ll establish criminal ventures on vacant lots throughout the city, granting you dominion over a specific neighborhood. To up your revenue at each venture, there are missions to complete. These come in all shapes and sizes, a highlight being an insurance fraud scam that sees you fling yourself into oncoming traffic, earning combos – and more cash – for ragdolling your character between as many cars as possible. It’s a nutty little pastime that’s signature Saints Row, a reminder of why the series has such a cult following.

Tick off all venture missions, rough up the local gangs, find all the points of interest, visit every local clothing or gun outlet, and the area turns purple, the Saints’ emblematic color. While you need to do this for roughly a dozen districts across the city, the distinct layout and tone of each, along with the variety of venture missions, keep the feeling of repetition to a minimum. There’s a tangible sense of progress to all this and satisfaction in seeing the city slowly turn purple.

READ MORE: LATEST: Saints Row Release Date, Pre Order & Demo

Capping The Fun

Saints Row player looking out over Santo Ileso
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However, in what is presumably an effort to shepherd players toward Saints Row’s more interesting activities, main mission progress is contingent on completing these ventures. A kind of artificial story gatekeeping that morphs what are intended as wild and fun interludes into a chore if not taken at your own pace. You can’t simply storm through the story.

This marshaling also bleeds over into other aspects of the game. Missions are often restricted to tight areas, and venturing beyond those imaginary bounds triggers an ominous countdown and a curt request not to stray too far. It’s staid game design pulled directly from the Rockstar playbook, detracting from the sense of playing in a boundless and turbulent sandbox.

In the past, this was counterbalanced by a wild selection of weapons and cosmetics and the thrill of over-the-top murderous rampages. While Saints Row certainly abounds in cosmetic and destructive customization, the excess has been sanitized and smoothed for a more generic genre experience. You’ll have your fun with these, but they lack the meaty bite of previous Saints Row games.

Rebooting Saints Row

Canyon with city in the distance
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Rebooting a cult series always comes with the risk of eroding its essence. The task was doubly challenging for Saints Row as the world has changed drastically since Saints Row IV. Transgressions viewed as bold and steeped in a parodic irony wouldn’t land quite the same these days, and finding a way to reinvent the series while staying true to its unique brand of prodding, chaotic outlandishness was always going to be a tough task.

Saints Row isn’t light on fun, and fans of the series will find plenty to like here. If you’re looking for your next fix of open-world crime shenanigans, it hits the spot and serves as a suitably satisfying top-up while we await the GTA 6 feast. Just don’t expect to be doing anything you haven’t done before.

Saints Row Review

The Good
  • Engaging activities and side-hustles
  • Expansive open world to explore
  • Chaotic and digestible fun
The Bad
  • Staid game design
  • Little in the way of innovation
  • Missing the spark of previous Saints row games
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0 /5

The series’ signature mayhem and digestible fun remain mostly intact, despite a lack of innovation and an oppressive familiarity weighing down the experience.

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