Saints Row Review (PS5): Still Playing Catch Up

When it comes to creating open world games, few studios have the proven track record that Rockstar does, especially when it comes to the most recent Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption releases.

That may not be the first thing you’d want to read on a review for the latest Saints Row title, but it is important to highlight what the new offering from developer Volition and publisher THQ will be measured against.

Back in the Xbox 360 heyday, Saints Row games were very much viewed as the poor man’s GTA, but were able to find success thanks to the lunacy of the gameplay they served up. More recent attempts have failed to stick, so how does this latest iteration perform?

This is what we spent the past few days trying to find out, playing Saints Row on the PlayStation 5.

Below we detail what we did liked, did not like and how close Saints Row is to matching those aforementioned Rockstar titles.

Building a crew

Let’s start at the beginning, which actually takes place a few months into the actual story of the game. Here your gang, the Saints, are already in operation and seemingly have a thriving illicit business up and running.

You are also thrown into the midst of a party that is unceremoniously interrupted and a few moments later you find yourself buried alive. You then snap back to a few months earlier, where its your first day working for a private military outfit called Marshall.

We’ll leave it at there for the sake of spoilers, but all things being equal, it is a rather interesting way to kick off an open world game.

This prologue also features your initial character creation, or Boss as the game terms it, which is one of the areas that Saints Row really shines. You start with eight different preset models, but from there the level of customisation is rich and extensive.

While we would have appreciated more options in terms of hairstyles, the choices for face shapes, skin tones, make up, body proportions and build, make this one of the better character customisation experiences we have encountered.

It certainly puts something like Cyberpunk 2077 to shame, which was more obsessed with the size of your junk than anything else.

Speaking of genitalia, Saints Row features a modesty system that allows you to toggle on/off whether your character appears naked or in their underwear, along with with whether their nipples are viewable. The same does not apply downstairs, with a set of goofy stickers being used as placeholders to obscure any view.

It is one of several quirky touches that Saints Row features throughout.

Once you are happy with the look of your character, you are then introduced to your crew of sorts (Neenah, Eli and Kevin), three roommates who are all quite distinct in their look and interests.

If we are honest here, it seems like Volition tried to make things as diverse as possible in order to hit certain marks or demographics. While this is fine, it can feel a little pandering at times and to be honest, we would much rather have preferred some crew characters that did not feel like they were picked out of a cliche hipster handbook.

We did, however, enjoy the dialogue and rapport between all the characters in cut scenes.

Where this crew struggles though, is in making you care about its characters. At no real point during the game did it feel like the stakes were high, nor was there any real desire to see the crew succeed outside of needing to complete mission objectives.

This is an aspect that another open-world game, RDR2 excelled at, and when Arthur Morgan dies, you felt something. In Saints Row, there is none of that.

World building

Now we shift to the world of Santo Ileso, the fictional city with several boroughs, which Volition says it is modelled on the American SouthWest. We will take there word for it, but there is a distinct lack of identity to many of the areas of the map, with most of the outer territories looking and feeling much the same.

For all its faults, that is one thing that Cyberpunk 2077 did expertly, as each district had a truly unique aesthetic from the other. In Saints Row, the only real difference is between the industrial outskirts and metropolitan city centre.

To try to keep things engaging, Saints Row litters the map with collectibles and areas to explore, many of which are easy ways to line your crew’s coffers. In terms of getting your bank balance up, Santo Ileso is not short of side jobs, bounties, drug stashes or dumpsters, if all you are interested in is exploring and earning cash.

There a few oddities to the mechanics though. Although being sound for the most part, climbing up buildings can prove difficult and looks quite janky at times.

Added to this are a few bugs we encountered while driving, as pressing triangle on the controller is suppose to prompt you to exit the vehicle, but instead of doing so in a calm manner, our Boss chose to smash the window and climb onto the roof. We also found it quite odd that we could not ride a regular bike in-game, no matter how many times we attempted to.

Some of the fighting mechanics were off too, such as switching to a fist melee option and pressing the L1 bumper then prompting our boss to hit a non-active NPC, regardless of how close or far away they are.

Hopefully this is simply a case of some bugs that will be ironed out following a day one patch.

Looking at other mechanics, driving is quite straightforward, with the controls and responsiveness served up as desired. It is indeed far, far, better than what we encountered in Cyberpunk 2077. Our only issue was the stability when riding a motorbike, as short of careening straight into a wall, your Boss will not fall off, which struck us as odd.

Focusing on weapon gameplay and things are also fairly straightforward here too, with the L2 trigger focusing your sight and locking onto a target provided they are relatively still. Should their movement be erratic, you’ll have to rely on your right stick to keep them in your sights.

As for the enemies themselves, most are easy enough to deal with, with a handful of tanks deployed depending on the level of rival gang/faction (Los Panteros, The Idols and Marshall) you are dealing with.

These kinds of enemies can withstand quite a bit of damage, but if you avoid melee attacks or exploding projectiles, you can wear them down eventually. It is really Marshall that presents the biggest challenge, given the military-grade firepower and futuristic weapons they have access to.

Final verdict

In terms of gameplay and mechanics, Saints Row serves up a solid experience that makes the game quite easy to pick and start playing. The problem it faces, is making the experience engaging enough to stop you from putting down the controller again.

With the bar set high in terms of open-world gaming options at the moment, there is not enough lunacy, nor storyline, to keep you wanting more of the world of Santo Ileso.

Saints Row is by no means a bad game, it simply does not prove compelling enough to keep playing, with only the prospect of messing around with friends in the co-op mode potentially drawing others in.

Right now though at R1 249 on the PS5/PS4, it feels like a game that you can wait to pick up for a bit less, later in the year.


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