Saints Row is one of the most popular and unique video game franchises of my generation. If I were to describe the series, I would say it was like Grand Theft Auto, but with some serious quality of life changes and a story that took itself less seriously.
Not to say that the story of Saints Row isn’t touching. While the series sort of loses touch in the last two installments, where players are either fighting off an alien invasion or trying to escape from literal hell, the whacky comic-book-comedy series has always been grounded in the feeling of wanting to be somebody, making insane amounts of cash, ignoring the rules and living life to the fullest, your way.
The new Saints Row returns to this message, and is so blatantly in your face about it that the words “minimum wage” are used frequently and antagonistically. Your character is a twenty-something with three roommates and no advantages in life (besides their willingness to blow stuff up with a rocket launcher) and escaping the depths of poverty is your main motivation.
I’d go so far as to say the message in the new Saints Row is just that, new. While the early Saints Row games were about being broke and not wanting to be broke, this entry in the series came during a time of unprecedented wealth disparity and economic dissatisfaction that just wasn’t there when the franchise started.
This is the Saints Row for the modern day, a Saints Row made post COVID and during a recession, and it shows. This Saints Row feels much more bitter about the wealth disparity in the country it’s set in, and you can really feel it when you fight to escape a situation many real people who don’t have rocket launchers exist in themselves.
I’ll admit to never playing the first two Saints Row games (my introduction to the series was Saints Row 3, where the characters are already wealthy super-gangsters,) but even so I can tell that this is not a remake of the original. If anything, this is a reboot, and you can tell not only for the reasons mentioned above, but the overall shift in the culture presented in-game.
The new Saints Row is a satirical look at our modern society, but it lacks the edge the original series had. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, in Saints Row the 3rd the commentary on police brutality and overfunding is clear and present, to the point where a state-sponsored police aircraft carrier parks in the Steelport bay and implements martial law on the city. In the new Saints Row, it feels like they want to say “defund the police,” but never do. Without the unapologetic brashness the series is known for, the social commentary just sort of falls flat.
Not only does the game feel hesitant to say anything where past games would say a lot, the humor feels a little corporate at times too. Sometimes, it even has the ever dreaded “boomer humor” where it feels like a room full of out-of-touch writers made it their mission to satirize a generation they don’t understand. These are the sort of “keyword = punchline” jokes you might see on Facebook, and I shuttered each time I heard them in my beloved franchise.
That being said, the game still manages to be filled with genuine heartfelt moments. Something the Saints Row writers have always had mastery of is touching character moments, and I can’t say that this Saints Row reboot is lacking in that regard.
When it comes to gameplay, Saints Row is pretty typical of other games in the franchise and genre, with some gunplay that’s fun and easy to use without being too flashy. The radial gun selection menu is super easy to navigate, making switching guns on the fly a breeze.
My biggest disappointment in Saints Row, gameplay-wise, is the character creation. While still way more advanced than older games, they opted to tone down many of the sliders, locking players out of the whacky character creation previous titles were known for. Besides that and some ugly hairstyles, it’s pretty good.
The familiar takedown system returns from previous installments. This quick execution mechanic allows you to finish off an enemy for some invulnerability frames and some quick health restoration, and it does so with flashy style. I found myself using this mechanic a ton, and players most likely will too.
Most missions follow the usual “go here, shoot these” format, but just like other Saints Row games you will find a lot of unique side quests to hustle. If you’re not familiar with the franchise, I won’t spoil what some of these activities are, but it’s a great way to earn some cash for your character doing something you can’t do in other games.
What I have to praise Saints Row for above all else is the car mechanics. Driving and car customization has always been revolutionary in Saints Row, even compared to its main competitor Grand Theft Auto. Driving is satisfying, and collecting a fleet of your favorite cars is fun, but what the game really adds to vehicles is its unique take on car combat.
In any other game, fighting vehicle to vehicle is just shooting out the window at an ever-approaching fleet of cars, but Saints row mixes up the formula with the ability to jump out onto the roof of the car to blast your foes with extra style. Each car also has a unique ability to unlock, meaning what you choose to drive is more than just a question of style and really gives you a reason to spend time in each vehicle you buy (or, more likely, steal.)
The Final Word
While I miss the edge of the original Saints Row games, this reboot stays true enough to the tone and, if nothing else, is a fun game worth the $60 price tag. My biggest gripes with it come from comparing it to the hype of its own series, but if it wasn’t called Saints Row I probably wouldn’t have any problems with it.
Our Saints Row review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!