The Saints Row reboot is out now, and it’s no surprise that it hasn’t landed with people the way developer Volition would have hoped it would. By and large reviews have been mixed on the game, and audiences aren’t too impressed with what they’ve played either. Of course, there are plenty out there that have enjoyed their time with the game- our own review here at GamingBolt, for instance, was a positive one. Everyone has differing opinions though, and personally, I haven’t enjoyed my time with Saints Row, for more than a few reasons. So let’s get right into those.
An open world game launching in a technically dubious state is almost a cliché at this point, but no matter how frequently it happens and how much games get panned because of it, no one seems to want to take any lessons onboard. Saints Row is, unfortunately, one such game. It’s kind of a mess. It’s not ridiculously broken in the way something like, say, Cyberpunk 2077 was, but it comes very close. It crashes every now and then, its audio bugs out randomly for no rhyme or reason, it’s full of pop-in and texture issues, there’s an abundance of T-posing characters- the list goes on. There’s just a surprising lack of polish pervading through the entire experience, and it really does hamper your enjoyment of the game.
Open world games have been through a period of radical growth and evolution over the last decade, and with their massive popularity, we’ve seen them make major improvements in a number of areas, including mission/quest design. The Saints Row reboot, however, doesn’t seem to know that it’s coming out in 2022. Now, I’m all for throwbacks, but Saints Row feels like it’s stuck in the past. The game’s missions aren’t a lot of fun, and more often than not, focusing entirely either on driving or on shooting. The crazy scenarios and plotlines that Saints Row used to conjure up for its missions in its heyday are almost nowhere to be found in this reboot. Is that because of the game’s efforts to be more grounded? Maybe. But it’s not like there’s no way to make grounded missions that are varied and enjoyable.
REPETITIVE OPEN WORLD ACTIVITES
It’s not just Saints Row’s main missions that aren’t up to scratch- its side missions and optional open world activities don’t do much to impress either. Take the criminal ventures, for instance, which are optional quest lines scattered throughout the open world. On paper, they do offer quite a bit of variety, from stealing cars and disposing corpses to delivering cargo, and more. The problem, once again, is that pretty much every single activities boil down to two things- either drive to a certain point, or kill a bunch of people. Or drive to a certain point, and then kill a bunch of people. You get the idea. It’s all very rote and uninspired, and it doesn’t take long for it all to start feeling stale and repetitive.
Saints Row’s over-reliance on firefights and combat would be a little bit more forgivable if the actual combat mechanics were tight and enjoyable, but sadly, I haven’t found that to be the case. Credit where credit is due, vehicular combat can be fun, and slamming into cars to send them careening off the road has its charms, but the vast majority of the game boils down to aiming and shooting, and that’s the part that doesn’t work as well as it should. Weapons lack oomph and feedback, enemies don’t move and animate in a believable manner, the level of challenge is wildly inconsistent, and combat arenas don’t often do much that is visually interesting. There are also some weird design choices where melee is concerned, while the aforementioned glitches also often throw a wrench into the works. A massive portion of the experience in Saints Row is dedicated to combat, so it is, of course, a disappointment that the combat feels so rough around the edges.
Given how much time you spend driving around the city in Saints Row, you’d want it to have tight, enjoyable driving mechanics. I haven’t found that to be the case, sadly. Driving in the game isn’t terrible, no, but it could have been much better. From floaty handling to a disappointing sense of speed to inconsistent impacts to, again, glitches, Saints Row has several issues that make its driving mechanics seem a little unpolished. Again, it’s worth mentioning that I did enjoy car combat for the most part, but the actual moment to moment driving gameplay is less impressive.
STALE OPEN WORLD
Similar to its mission design, this is another area where Saints Row feels like it’s stuck in the past. It’s weird for a game that just came out to feel so aged, but going through the admittedly sizeable world of Santo Ileso, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an open world game that launched in the early years of the PS4/Xbox One generation, if that. There’s little to no density, no dynamic events to keep things fresh and unpredictable, almost no systemic depth to engage players on a mechanical level, and the activities within the open world itself, as I mentioned earlier, are entirely too repetitive.
If there’s one thing Saints Row has always been good at, it’s being entertaining on a narrative front. The series’ over the top stories have gone to some ridiculous and unexpected places frequently in the past, and going along for the ride has always been a fun experience. That just doesn’t happen in this reboot. This is, of course, a much more grounded game than its more recent predecessors, but it mistakes bring grounded for lacking personality. It feels extremely vanilla, and that is something that you never want to say about a Saints Row game.
This is another one of Saints Row’s biggest issues from a story perspective- the characters at the heart of the story just aren’t interesting. The game tries very hard to try and make its character seem like relatable, young people, but honestly, it fails on almost all fronts. On a superficial level, they all have their schticks, but the game never manages to get any of its four main characters to any point where you actually care even a tiny bit about what happens to them. Past Saints Row games have featured some pretty memorable characters – the Boss especially remains a fan-favourite – but from the new Boss to the Boss’ allies to the laughably forgettable antagonists, the reboot’s cast is full of people who make no impression whatsoever.
Ultimately, this is what most of Saints Row’s storytelling and narrative issues boil down to- it’s just a poorly written game. The dialogue is frequently cringe-inducing and unfunny, the characters are shallow and one-dimensional, and the game’s attempts to bring nuance and depth feel painfully clumsy and awkward, to the extent that they only seem to make things worse. Of course, to top it all off, the reboot doesn’t have the zaniness and over the top charms of Saints Row 3 and 4 either, which means that from a storytelling perspective, there’s very little going on here worth paying attention to.