A fun yet limited romp.
Saints Row tells a rags-to-riches story within familiar framing–play a boss who, with the help of allies, tackles missions spread throughout a city (Santo Ileso). This third-person action-adventure game will have you shoot up bad guys, complete a decent selection of missions, and even larp (these were among my favorite sequences in the game). Various villains block the protagonist’s path to success, including gang leaders and Marshall Defense Industries. Similar to other open world games, Saints Row is at its best when delving into chaos and absurdity.
The game presents a mix of drama and comedy with a wink and a nod. I know some people were critical of the writing and its commentary on Gen Z, but I often thought that the writing was intentionally rough and cringe at times to make its point. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed this aspect of the game, but I didn’t find it as intolerable as some. And there were moments where I chuckled, either at the absurdity of some circumstance or at a pithy line of dialogue spoken by some random NPC.
Some of the more enjoyable aspects of Saints Row include traversal and combat. Once I got accustomed to the driving mechanics, I enjoyed zipping around Santo Ileso, running into rival gang members, snapping pictures of landmarks, and seeking out side quests. Combat includes melee weapons and a variety of firearms. The gunplay felt decent enough, though enemies could certainly be bullet sponges. I can’t speak to how this title stacks up to the rest of the franchise, but I do know that the “Flow” system is one addition. With the press of a few buttons, you can toss grenades, procure a health boost, and so on. This system pairs nicely with passive bonuses like health upgrades.
Overall, my time with Saints Row was similar to my experience with Mafia 3. Both games have potential but lose themselves to uninspiring gameplay and mechanics. They become predictable and their worlds fall into the familiar disappointment of open-world emptiness. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the intricate workings of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s world, but I wish more developers would consider compact worlds built on environmental richness and narrative detail. While it was fun driving the streets of Santo Ileso with the radio blasting, I grew tired of the barely populated streets and roads cutting through the desert. My playthroughs of both games left me wanting more.
I’ve been asked if I recommend Saints Row. My answer is, “it depends.” Are you looking for an open world game featuring absurdity, humor, and chaos? If so, go ahead and pick up Saints Row! I might suggest waiting for it to go on sale though. More hours can certainly be dumped into the game, but I finished up the main missions and did a fair bit of side content in 22 hours. By the time the credits rolled, that was enough for me. Saints Row is an okay game with plenty of collectibles to grab and baddies to put in their place but don’t expect too much pay-off from traversing its world.