Developer Volition has always given players a good reason to check out new Saints Row entries. The original was a technological improvement that built off (and largely copied) the formula of Grand Theft Auto; its sequel’s wackiness gave the series a personality and cemented it as a true alternative for those who wanted a less-serious alternative to GTAIV; Saints Row: The Third was its first truly exceptional offering that had great writing and stellar mission design; while Saints Row IV went wild with superpowers.
The series certainly ratcheted up the intensity at a pace where it couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous (and the diminishing returns were seen in the stand-alone expansion Gat out of Hell), so it made sense to take things back to basics with a reboot. However, Volition has done more than just reset the series’ history as it has stripped Saints Row of all of its charm and ambitiousness in delivering a vapid reboot that doesn’t even give the most ardent of fans a reason to play.
After a messy first act that introduces the unlikable main character — a career lowlife that takes up working for a mercenary company as a paid murderer — and their three boring friends, a new iteration of the Saints is formed and players are thrown into the open world with five-or-so missions they can choose from along with a litany of side content. Most of the game’s story quests serve as introductions to side objectives, which are usually so simple that they don’t actually need an introduction and almost always devolve into shooting a lot of enemies. Sometimes the killing is a bit more interesting — like leaving a bad Yelp review for companies owned by a rival gang or burning down wooden effigies of live-action role-playing groups — but eventually, the game funnels you into same repetitive combat that you’ve been doing since the tutorial. There are some perks and skills (such as throwing proximity grenades or fire punches) that add some additional depth but it’s never enough to actually be interesting because the loop itself is so simplistic and overdone.
The game’s tagline of “Self Made” alludes to the wide array of optional tasks and the act of building up a gang from just three members into a powerhouse, but it also serves as an excuse to offer up a less structured narrative experience. This isn’t a horrible idea, and it would actually make sense if this was a sequel since Saints Row had a wide array of characters that didn’t need to be established. By rebooting the series with a new slate of underbaked protagonists, most notably the unlikable Boss that is more than happy to do anything to make a buck, there is even more of a need for a solid narrative that establishes their motivations and a reason to care about them. Instead, the game just spouts off plenty of weak wisecracks during forgettable side missions in place of a campaign with actual characterization or growth. If the series was going to mute its more over-the-top elements, it needed more emotional depth from its story to make up for it, which it sorely lacks, meaning it has the worst of both approaches.
While the missions aren’t all that exciting to begin with, they become all the more cumbersome due to them having a habit of glitching out in ways that cause them to become impossible to complete. From enemies spawning in the wrong location and the game punishing the player for “leaving the mission area” if they try to pursue them to quest characters not appearing where they’re supposed to be, it’s shockingly common for missions to fail. Sometimes reloading from the last checkpoint will solve the issue, but other times you’ll have to do the entire mission over again.
That isn’t bad most of the time, as many are a handful of simple combat encounters, but it is quite annoying and disrespectful of the player’s time to ship a game in this state. Much like Cyberpunk 2077, the core game isn’t good, ambitious, or interesting enough to excuse these issues in the way that Bethesda titles have been given a pass in the past for their bugginess. All it does is hasten what every player is eventually going to do: uninstall it from their hard drives feeling unfulfilled.
The most damning aspect about Saints Row is that the glitches just act as a convenient excuse and talking point that distract from the larger issue: even once Volition has patched the game to hell and back, it still won’t be fun or interesting to play. Due to dull gameplay that’s never mechanically interesting to interact with, even the best-designed set pieces in the campaign fail to actually feel cool because there’s so little investment in what is going on. Much like the rest of the game, the end product is a shallow imitation of the idea on paper.
It’s all quite a shame since the idea of a more open-ended Saints Row game sounds solid, but due to its lack of personality and will to go beyond just adding past features to check them off a list, it’s a boring, designed-by-numbers game in a series that used to be refreshing within the open-world space. Due to a disturbing lack of vision, Saints Row is no longer an alternative and only offers up more of the same old that you’ve experienced plenty of times before.
It’s sad to admit, but Saints Row has become exactly what it used to mock within the genre and there’s not a single reason to check out this underwhelming reboot. With dull characters and a meandering story, the series once known for great humor has lost its bite. The gameplay hasn’t evolved any and is actually less mechanically interesting than its predecessors due to its tame grounded approach and repetitive mission design that ticks the same old boxes. You can still have a few laughs with friends if you choose to play in co-op, but that isn’t a saving grace as you’d have even more fun replaying Saints Row: The Third together; a comparison that demonstrates how this once-great series has completely lost its way and become a total shell of itself.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 4.5 equates to “Poor.” The negatives outweigh the positive aspects making it a struggle to get through.