Saints Row Review (PS5)

Saints Row Review: When the Saints come murderin’ in

Saints Row review PS5

I think there’s a misconception about what defines the Saints Row franchise.

Plenty of people remember the earliest titles and recall them being something closer to a GTA clone, while those who jumped in at the third installment recognize it as something far stranger. Then, of course, it completely goes off the rails in Saints Row IV to the point where it’s nigh indistinguishable from the first game. That’s saying nothing of the spinoffs of course — both more prominently featuring the infamous Johnny Gat instead of a customized main character.

With all of these releases comes the inevitable discussion about what makes any given iteration a “quintessential Saints Row.” Perhaps using the first game as a baseline, some players may gripe about the literal astronomical gap between settings and style in games I vs. IV, while others embrace the ever-scaling adventures of the Saints, lamenting the loss of a teased time-travelling Saints Row V. Some enjoy the darker tones and storytelling Saints Row II had to offer, while Saints Row III offered less in story but a more refined gangland gameplay. With each new title in the series careening seemingly out of control, a “return to normalcy” seems almost out of character for the wacky franchise.

But… is it really?

Saints Row review 2022

Where the previous titles put the pedal to the metal, Saints Row occasionally stops to smell the roses, exploring the nuances of its intense universe that it previously missed as it sped along at a breakneck pace. Closing the chapter on Third Street allows us to become acquainted with Santo Ileso’s own Saints, a new underdog group with big debt, bigger dreams, and a staggering body count. A new generation of Saints means new origins, new problems, and, of course, new friends; and while I’m sad to see the likes of Johnny Gat go, the new guys in town (and their town!) have certainly won me over.

As I’ve said in previous articles, Saints Row focuses on a group of four friends struggling to make rent. First up is Eli, the bookish wannabe self-made boss whose hobbies include listening to motivational speakers and things that don’t require a gun. Then there’s Kevin, an easy-going Idols DJ who is definitely allergic to cats and possibly allergic to shirts. Of course, there’s Neenah, the best getaway driver in the business working under the infamous Los Panteros. Finally, there’s you — the walking murder machine who just got a job as a merc for hire at Marshall. On the one hand, yay, rent money! On the other hand, your dayjob regularly requires you to suit up and shoot up the Idols and Panteros, who are also at each other’s throats. How can the four of you live under one roof when your respective peoples are sworn enemies?

Saints Row

These relationships are carefully navigated as the player traverses around Santo Ileso, an absolute jewel of a city based off various places in the Southwestern states in the US. Oh sure, there are more criminal goings on than one can shake a Freckle Bitches Brats Meal at, but that’s not what’s important here. If you’re like me and are familiar with the Southwestern corner of the US of A, you’re in for a real treat, as Santo Ileso feels comfortably familiar. Iconic fixtures big and small make an appearance, from the Vegas Strip and the LA River to the Seven Magic Mountains and Cabazon’s Dinosaurs. It’s not all city driving, either — again, those familiar will recognize open freeways and plenty of off-roading opportunities in the dry and dusty desert the Saints call home. And who could forget the gorgeously immersive environments, from the pink and purple hues of an early sunrise to the coyotes yipping and howling after sunset. When it comes to all the cities the Saints have stomped around in, Santo Ileso is by far the most interesting and alive of the bunch.

Inside this arid metropolis are dozens of quests to undertake, from providing cover fire during a robbery to picking up errant pallets of money and drugs. An interesting new feature, called “crimes of opportunity,” sees players destroying things like armored vehicles while dodging bullets in an effort to get to that cold, hard cash inside. One app I particularly liked was the “wanted” app, which allows me to become a contracted hitman in my spare time (beats rideshare driving I guess?). I’m also a huge fan of the dumpster diving, a mechanic I was practically addicted to in No More Heroes. But my favorite quests were always the hidden histories scattered throughout the city — informational tourist placards that detailed the rich history of Santo Ileso. Did you know that there was a vampire uprising at Fort Cullen (oh I just got it)? How about the alien abductions at a nearby pavilion? And apparently Ultor owned one of the breweries in this town? Listening to the narrator regale players with the rich and ridiculous history of the city satisfies that wacky craving I’ve come to know and love from the series.

Saints Row

Joining the newer solo features are co-op ones, where a friend can drop in on the action with you as desired. I was joined by my editor-in-chief Francis DiPersio as our two bosses got a piece of the action, playing out the previously single-player missions adapted nicely for two players. The PS5’s controller allowed us to mic up without any additional hardware, which might be a no-brainer for the many fans of multiplayer but this solo-only girl was definitely impressed. And speaking of controller — it lights up purple as you play! Definitely loved that little touch.

But back to multiplayer — as you paint the town red with your boss buddy in tow, you’ll be able to prank each other along the way. Each player is given a task to fulfill, such as get two long distance kills or drift ten times, before they’re able to pull the actual prank. In my case, I got the latter, which was extremely easy to fulfill in one short trip, meaning I was able to prank Francis’ boss with a look that would have made the King of All Cosmos proud. Kiss marks and rose petals followed him wherever he went, a randomized effect that neither of us saw coming. It wasn’t a huge feature, but it’s absolutely one I can see players utilizing against comrades-in-arms in an effort to up the ante in a friendly way.

saints row

Of course, there are plenty of familiar mechanics returning to the reboot as well. RimJobs JimRob’s garage will provide the caravan for the Saints, with what feels like a thousand customization options at your disposal (ProTip: choose “voice” for the horn sound. You’re welcome.). Gameplay in general is largely familiar as a whole, with missions like “survive wave of enemies” or “kill all enemies” major players right up front. What makes these missions the most interesting is that — at least in the beginning — these people are the gangs your roommates belong to, so they’ll do their best to warn you in time that you’re on their hitlist. These last minute warnings are often the reason why you’re able to go home after a hard day’s work.

It’s this dynamic that I really hope players pay attention to, especially within the first 1/5th of the game. As I put on my Marshall uniform every day, knowing I was going to kill plenty of Neenah’s kin or blow away Kevin’s posse, I couldn’t help but wonder how long we could possibly keep this up. One of these days, one of us will end up dead or thrown out of our gang/job. And then how will we make rent? The struggle is indeed real, and it really do be like that sometimes.

Saints Row

I keep circling back to this game being a point of contention amongst Saints Row fans, and I think this was one of the reasons why; after ripping out the spinal cord of Zinyak a la Mortal Kombat, it’s hard to think about putting your feet back on the ground, let alone with an entirely new cast whose unusual solidarity is largely based on raging student debt. But at its core, Saints Row isn’t aliens or Morningstar or Ultor or Vice Kings. It isn’t Freckle Bitches, Rusty Needle, or *gasp* even Johnny Gat.

It’s sincerity.

No matter how silly, no matter how severe, no matter how shooty, stabby, or student loan-laden, Saints Row does everything with absolute sincerity, ensuring any mission they undertake makes sense in their world. Fans may say they prefer one title over another, but not one can say that none of them belong to the franchise. Each one brings something unique to the table with that fun and familiar gameplay we’ve come to expect from the series, and each one is an authentic Saints Row iteration. So, thanks for the memories, Third Street Saints — but I think I’m gonna like it here in Santo Ileso.

Over the years, Saints Row has been a lot of things. It’s been a ragtag group turned “playas” fighting over turf on Stilwater’s Third Street. It’s been a rebuilt criminal organization that buried a corrupt corporation. It’s been a crime syndicate that took Steelport from mob boss after mob boss. It’s even been the last remaining hope the human race had against an invading alien force. And after going to hell and back, it’s been a testament to its roots in the 2022 reboot: Saints Row is, first and foremost, authentically outrageous. Everything they do, they do it with sincerity — snark required, shirts optional.

But what the Saints Row reboot truly reminds us is that — whatever situation they may find themselves in — the Saints do it for each other. 2022’s Saints Row is less about reeling it in and more about coming home. And in the house that Santo Ileso’s Saints built, “damn, it feels good to be a gangster.”

Final Verdict: 4/5

Available on: PC, XBox One, XBox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 (reviewed); Publisher: Deep Silver Volition; Developer: Deep Silver; Players: 1 – 2; Released: August 22, 2022; MSRP: $59.99

Editor’s note: This review is based on a digital copy of Saints Row provided by the publisher.

Heather Johnson Yu
Born at a very young age; self-made thousandaire. Recommended by 4 out of 5 people that recommend things. Covered in cat hair. Probably the best sleeper in the world. Still haven't completed the civil war quest in Skyrim but I'm kind of okay with that. Too rad to be sad.

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