Volition’s reboot of Saints Row is finally here after a delay, but is it the AAA release that kicks off the post-summer season in style? We checked out the Deep Silver-published reintroduction to the franchise on a PlayStation 5, while the game is also available on PC, Xbox and PS4.
We vividly remember being there for last year’s introduction to Saints Row, which happened mid-pandemic right before Gamescom. Digitally, of course – which meant the team had even quarantined to make it all possible. With masses of people heading to Gamescom again this year, it seems like a lifetime ago, but we do recall that gamers weren’t all jumping for joy at the creative direction the team had taken for it. With that in mind, Volition had something to prove here, so it made sense when they delayed the game past its original launch window.
The developer’s reasons for going for a reboot were clear to us though – Saints Row IV felt like the culmination of what they could do with it, going ever more outrageous and bizarre with the setting, gameplay and scenarios. A return to a scene where you focus on being part of a street gang and building a criminal empire was a welcome one, even though it meant that we’d be seeing less of what set the series apart from the likes of Grand Theft Auto.
The new Saints Row takes place in the location of Santo Ileso, which was inspired by the American southwest – resulting in desert scenes and images that will remind you of Las Vegas and the surrounding area. It’s a stark difference with the older games, and Volition does the same with its cast of all-new characters. We get to know a group of young protagonists who are running various jobs for rival factions, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize they’d be better off banding together and seeing if they can grow as a crew, all the way to being the dominant players in a crime-filled world.
This means going up against rival factions through heists, and slowly gaining territory. Missions are structured so that you regularly encounter set pieces, and these also let the cast showcase their personality. You can also add your own flavor to this through customization, which extends to vehicles, weapons and your headquarters as well – not just to your main character. And if you don’t feel overly creative, you can download what others have shared as well.
Combat missions feel well designed, with a good mix of driving and third person shooting. To keep things from getting repetitive, you also unlock new skills along the way, changing up your gameplay style over the course of the campaign. What’s too bad is that the same doesn’t see to apply to the enemies that you face – rather than try to fight you in different ways, they tend to just be of the “larger health bar” variety as you progress further into the game, which is a wasted opportunity.
Vehicles can be upgraded as well, adding new features like a towing cable into the mix – though it’s also fun to just leave the car and rely on your wingsuit for traversal. The fact that Santo Ileso is a large sandbox environment with plenty of opportunities helps here, and the size of the map makes it feel impactful when you start claiming territories for your crew. The downside is that it can take a while before you start to gain some momentum though, and Saints Row is a game that you might need to warm up to – also because its cast is completely new and needs time to establish itself.
In terms of reinventing the franchise Saints Row feels like a safe bet on Volition’s part, doing away with some of the over-the-top elements of the previous games. As a result this isn’t the kind of revolutionary reboot that some were hoping for, but it’s a solid take on the formula with plenty of personality that we had a lot of fun playing, despite the need for a bit more polish in places.