Saints Row (2022) First Impressions

For me and the new Saints Row game, playing it was never a matter of if but when. Yes, it released to a flurry of mediocre reviews last fall; and yes, I put off purchasing it then because of them. But the one positive notion that I took away from that mountain of middling was if you liked the previous Saints Row games, then you’d probably like this one, too (probably), just don’t expect too much. So, while waiting for my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to arrive and needing a break from so much Persona-ing, I caught Saints Row decently on sale in the Xbox shop. Eh, what the hay, right? I made the call to buy and dove into what I hoped would be plenty of mindless mayhem.

The rebooted Saints Row re-tells the origins of the 3rd Street Saints, a gang that fought against rivals to take over the cities of Stilwater and Steelport (and save the latter from aliens) previously in the series. Although, in this new game, the “3rd Street” angle is far less in play as the game takes place in a new, American Southwestern-ish city called Santo Illeso. Oh, it has streets, and maybe it has a 3rd Street, too. I don’t know, as I’ve not paid much attention to street signs in and among all the gunfights. Go figure. Anyway. The story picks up with the very established Saints celebrating a big something or other in some swanky digs. After working through a character creator that has some amazing highs (astounding is the sheer volume of body and facial mods) and weird lows (the lack of range of voices, for one), the boss introduces herself in the way only a Saint could, and then proceeds to get knocked out and kidnapped by a certain party goer/crasher. Fitting.

Oh, a kitty! That MAKES this a party!

We then flashback to a few years earlier when the Saints are not even a thought and the game begins. Our unnamed protagonist is a new recruit of Marshall Defense Industries, a private military corporation that’s tasked with keeping Santo Illeso safe from its two warring gangs, Los Panteros and The Idols. The Marshall gig is a good one that pays well enough to help keep a roof over the player’s head and their three friends: the tech savvy Eli, the hunky foodie and Idol-affiliated Kevin, and the car modder/Los Panteros associate Neenah. After helping Marshal successfully capture the crime lord “The Nahualli,” thing go south for the player during the next job, which involves a maintaining the safety of a Mayan artifact called the “Hummingbird Codex.”  Within just a couple missions, the protagonist is out of work and in need of something to do. Turns out that forming a street-savvy, enterprising gang with friends Eli, Kev, and Neenah is that something.

Did I mention there’s a cat! Her name is Snickerdoodle, and poor Kev is allergic.

After spending about a dozen hours with the game, here’s my two word review: it’s fun! It’s not perfect, it’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not thought provoking, but it is an awful lot of dumb fun. For better and worse, the new Saints Row does not break the formula of the previous games. It has similar mechanics to the second and third Saints Row games, with some of the goofier (and recycled) aspects of Saints Row IV mixed in. The main story is mission-based. These main missions are available one or two at a time, and occasional side missions involving the player’s friends pop up, as well. The main story (for now) follows the establishment of the Saints – finding a home base, locating new recruits, making a network of questionable choices, and, of course, raking in loads of cash in the process.

On the way to stardom…eventually.

The gameplay, as I said, is quite similar to what the original series offered. The player can form a veritable armory, and their weapon wheel grows with more choices as they are found or purchased. It appears that each item, melee or ranged, can be upgraded at a cost at least three times, making them more powerful and accurate. A couple nice additions to the regular combat formula are perks and skills, which are doled out as the player levels up. Skills are mapped to gamepad buttons; perks are applied per a slotting system, and both can be swapped in and out at any time. On the downside, there’s still no cover system (the series never had one, to my knowledge), so crouching behind obstacles and rolling to dodge remain the only things to do during battles other than, well…battling. Skill attacks are also tied to a new “flow” system — no flow means no skills. As a low level, my flow is limited, and it’s a tad annoying. I mean, the game still maintains an over-the-top vibe, so why can’t I complete a battle by just lobbing grenades over and over? That can’t be the silliest combat strategy, but what do I know? I’ll wrap up this little spiel on a positive note – I do like addition of a special move that allows for healing. It’s mapped to single button and regenerates over time, allowing the player to complete multiple moves in a single battle. The special move can take different forms, and each provides an entertaining takedown animation.

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned explosion to brighten one’s day.

Honestly though, even with the addition of skills and healing, combat is very routine generally. Worse is that the game’s AI is rather dumb and heavily familiar. You’ve got your light, heavy, and shielded enemies, and their movements are ripped straight out of SRIV. It’s both nostalgic (I really did enjoy SRIV) and irritating (why not try something different?). Maybe some new combat mechanic will be introduced later in the game, but for the moment, there aren’t any surprises in dealing with wave after wave of dumb-dumbs. Just shoot, keep shooting, use a skill here and there, heal, maybe swap to melee, and everything turns out fine, mostly. If there’s any departure from what came before, it’s that combat in this reboot can be glitchy. I’ve not yet experienced anything game-breaking, but glitchy moments have popped up here and there.

I’ll end with a few words about Santo Illeso itself, which has so far been fun to explore, even though I’ve just been traveling within a very small portion of it. I recall that some initial reviews of the game called its open world “uninspired.” I mean, maybe it is as far as takes on the American Southwest go, and it’s not exactly teeming with wildly interesting NPCs, but it’s not completely devoid of personality either. The overblown satirical atmosphere of the third and fourth Saints Row games has been toned down, but nods to that universe pepper the Santo Illeso landscape, which help make it feel at least a little connected to what came before (er, after?). There are discoveries to make and tasks to complete within each of Santo Illeso’s neighborhoods that help make exploring feel worthwhile. Personal mileage will vary on these mini, and repetitive, to-do lists, but since I enjoy hunting for collectibles, taking touristy photos, and checking off lists in real life, I’m okay with them.

Beware the Grisly Bear, haha!

Even though I’m still early in my quest for Saint-hood, it’s been an enjoyable ride so far. The quibbles of familiarity, glitches, and a glass-half-empty open world are just that – minor things that haven’t (yet) detracted from the fun I’ve been having with the new Saints Row game. Granted, maybe I’m just here with lowered expectations after how poorly the game reviewed initially, so that fact that the game runs fine, has really good voice acting, and that the developers at least didn’t make the driving system any worse than it was in the third and fourth SR games, is enough to keep me invested. Guess we’ll see how any of this holds out long-term (this is a live-service game, after all), but for now, Saints Row is nicely scratching that in-game itch I get for wreaking havoc in dumb, silly ways.

All images, including lede, were taking by author during Xbox Series S gameplay of Saints RowDeep Silver Volition).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    The Saints Row reboot may not be an award-winner, but it sure is a whole lotta ridiculous fun! See here on Virtual Bastion for my first impressions of this mild-to-wild game.


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