Saints Row – PS5

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Welcome to Santo Ileso, a vibrant fictional city in the heart of the American Southwest. In a world rife with crime, where lawless factions fight for power, a group of young friends embark on their own criminal venture, as they rise to the top in their bid to become Self Made. As the future Boss, with Neenah, Kevin, and Eli by your side, you’ll form The Saints – and take on Los …
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Awards

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You Might Like

  • Easy to pick up for fans of the Saints games
  • Creation Suites are detailed and fun to use
  • Multiplayer works well

Might Not Like

  • Graphics are hit and miss
  • Music selection is poor
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Description

Welcome to Santo Ileso, a vibrant fictional city in the heart of the American Southwest. In a world rife with crime, where lawless factions fight for power, a group of young friends embark on their own criminal venture, as they rise to the top in their bid to become Self Made.

As the future Boss, with Neenah, Kevin, and Eli by your side, you’ll form The Saints – and take on Los Panteros, The Idols, and Marshall as you build your empire across the streets of Santo Ileso and battle for control of the city. Ultimately Saints Row is the story of a start-up company, it’s just that the business The Saints are in happens to be crime.

Experience the biggest and best Saints Row playground ever created; the unique sprawling world of Santo Ileso is the backdrop for a wild, larger than life sandbox of thrilling side hustles, criminal ventures and blockbuster missions, as you shoot, drive, and wingsuit your way to the top.

Express yourself and unleash your inner Saint, with the most advanced suite of customization tools yet seen in an open-world game – make your character, your car and your crew your own.

Dive into epic gunfights and highspeed chases, and witness outrageous only-in-Saints-Row moments in an original story that charts the Saints’ remarkable rise to power. Enjoy the freedom of playing the entire campaign with a friend through seamless untethered co-op play, where you can both push the limits of your gang and create your own gameplay moments together.

• Witness the Birth of The Saints – Play through an action blockbuster original story full of criminality, extraordinary scenes and signature surprises laced with humor.

• Discover the Weird, Wild, West – Dive in to Santo Ileso, the biggest and best Saints Row playground ever, spread across nine unique districts surrounded by the vast, majestic beauty of the Southwest Desert.

• Build Your Criminal Empire – Take over the city block by block, wage war against enemy factions and tighten your grip on the streets with ingenious criminal ventures.

• Fire Guns. LOTS of Guns – Shoot revolvers from the hip, fire and forget with a rocket launcher, or obliterate up close using melee heavyweights, complete with brutal takedowns. A vast variety of familiar and exotic weapons, all customizable, and all deadly fun.

• Take to the Streets and the Skies – Blast through urban and desert environments in any one of the cars, bikes, planes, helicopters, VTOLs, hoverbikes, hoverboards, go-karts or equip your wingsuit to swoop around.

• Unprecedented Customization – Create the Boss of your dreams, with the most extensive character customization suite ever seen in the series, then complete the look with incredible options for weapons and vehicles.

• Seamless Co-Op – Experience everything on offer with a friend at any time, via fully untethered drop-in / drop out co-op, skipping the need to take either of you out of the outlandish action. Play nice together, or play all new pranks on your team mate. After all, who’s the Boss now.

Bursting onto the scene in 2006 on the Xbox 360, many wrote off Saints Row as little more than a Grand Theft Auto clone. In the years that followed The Row franchise carved out a niche for itself by leaning into the absurd, the wacky, and the nonsensical.

Although this worked well for Saints Row 2 and 3, it would also be responsible for the major criticism levelled at Saints Row 4.

With the 5th mainline Saints game on the horizon, it feels like the right time to look back at the franchise as a whole, and what 5 has in store!

So let’s dive in, and head back to where it all began!

The Inspiration

The year is 2003 and one of the biggest console games on the market is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a follow up to the critically successful Grand Theft Auto 3.

Up until the release of GTA 3 the series had looked quite different. An overhead view, clunky mechanics, and a distinctive but unimpressive look had been a staple of the series to that point.

GTA 3 changed the game by dropping the player into a fully 3D open world where they could do practically anything they wanted. Unless they wanted to swim, fly an aeroplane, or drive a boat that is; those features were still a little way off.

Vice City built on its predecessor very successfully. It told the story of Tommy Vercetti’s rise to power in 80’s Florida, adding new features, better graphics, and a more vibrant location to explore.

Somewhere in Illinois, developers Volition were paying attention.

New Gang on the Row

Beginning life as a PS2 game called ‘Bling Bling’, Volition’s original idea for Saints Row was a ‘Gang Simulator’.

Pitched as a first-person shooter, at some point in its 4 years of development things changed, with production jumping to the Xbox 360 in the process.

By the time Saints Row hit the shelves, it was obvious Grand Theft Auto’s manic success had played a part in shaping its direction.

Saints Row took established mechanics and features from GTA, but also introduced ideas that became mainstays of the genre.

The 3rd person view, ability to jack vehicles, licensed music, and the freedom to complete main or side missions at will were all there.

But things like the main character having a mobile phone as the hub for tracking missions and contacting NPCs came from Saints Row. Having ‘Homies’ with different traits join you and the ability to customise cars and weapons is also attributed to the Saints games.

The game starts with the protagonist, a mostly silent character known as ‘Playa’ (clever, right?) quite literally getting caught in the crossfire of a three-way gang war.

Rescued by The Saints, you become their latest initiate, setting out on a journey to take back The Row, and then take over the city of Stillwater.

It’s clear looking back now that Saints Row didn’t have its own identity at this point. Everything in the first game plays quite seriously, with next to none of the humour the series has become known for. This seemed to be the main criticism from reviewers, who were otherwise complimentary. Some even went as far as to claim it actually improved on certain aspects of the GTA games.

It’s fun, it has a great story (not so much a great ending, but I won’t spoil it) and it reviewed well. But it was undoubtedly helped by the fact it was the first game of its type on a new generation of consoles.

Identity Confirmed

By 2008’s release of Saints Row 2, Volition had paid attention to feedback and started to move away from the gritty seriousness of the first game. Instead, they went with a much more satirical take on gang lifestyle. More humour, and established characters important to the series.

The likes of Johnny Gat (the only returning member of The Saints) and Shaundi became series mainstays. As did comedy weapon types and side-missions like ‘insurance scams’ and ‘destruction’.

It feels like Volition went back to the drawing board and made the game they wished they made the first time around.

With the Saints disbanded, ‘Playa’ wakes from a 5-year coma having required extensive plastic surgery, which is a brilliant touch. It explains why he may look different (or even have changed gender – as this is the first in the series that offers the option of a female protagonist) and it gets mentioned… a lot.

Upon breaking out of prison, he or she sets out to ‘put the band back together’, and reclaim Stillwater from the new gangs that have risen to power.

The Vice Kings, Los Carnales and Westside Rollerz are now The Brotherhood, The Ronin, and the Sons of Samedi.

The concept stays the same though; a different member of the Saints ‘takes care’ of each gang, and Playa goes to them to start missions on that questline.

There is now a ‘respect’ system to give more meaning to side-missions and activities. But the most noticeable change is how much bigger Stillwater is. They explain this with another big change; Ultor.

Ultor is a corporation who have spent millions to redevelop the city. Again, another great in-game explanation for the improvements. Obviously though, being a huge corporation… they are also corrupt.

Ultor serves as another ‘gang’ for The Saints to take down, albeit with far more resources at their disposal.

Almost every element of the first game saw improvements in the sequel. More licensed music, better controls, a bigger story, larger environments and, of course, more ways to cause mayhem.

While some prefer the next entry into the series, Saints Row 2 is, in my opinion, the most well-rounded game in the franchise.

Going All Out

In 2011 Volition released Saints Row The Third. It saw the developers go from leaning into craziness to embracing it as their key selling point.

In the 5 years that have passed since Saints Row 2, The Saints and Ultor have merged together to become one of the hottest media properties on the planet. Famous around the world, The Saints are treated like celebrities everywhere they go.

Given The Saints start out on top, I’d forgive you for thinking that Volition had gone in a different direction… but you’d be wrong.

While attempting to rob a bank in neighbouring Steelport as part of a publicity stunt, ‘Playa’, Shaundi and Gat get captured by ‘The Syndicate’. They escape in dramatic fashion and decide to take over Steelport as well by – you guessed it – taking down the three main gangs in the area.

Sure, it’s formulaic, but working to the philosophy ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ allowed the developers to go all-in with the other aspects of the game.

The Dubstep Gun and the Mollusc Launcher are two prime examples of the surreal vibe Saints Row The Third was going for. Being offered as pre-order incentives put them in the limelight, with some equally outlandish content in the full game.

“The Penetrator” made its debut in Saints Row The Third, and made quite a stir in doing so (please don’t google it.) It became a symbol of how wild the developers went with this instalment, but there were definitely stranger things included in there.

The Apoco-Fists for example. Giant fists that explode anything they hit. Be it humans, cars, or even tanks.

There was even a vehicle-mounted cannon that could suck up pedestrians and use them as ammo. It’s this level of absurdity that set the series apart from the gritty realism GTA 4 had come up with.

Many missions and side-quests were way over the top too. None more so than Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, which puts the player in a death-maze of traps and enemies. It was then down to them to wipe everyone out and escape, all for the entertainment of the masses watching on.

Saints Row The Third received criticism for trying to do TOO much all at once, but overall it reviewed well.

It also received a remaster in 2020 that you can upgrade for free on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.

The final mission deserves a mention too. A 10/10 on the epic scale. It presents the player with a moral dilemma, backed by Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I need a Hero’ on loop to really ramp up the intensity.

A Step Too Far

With control of multiple cities and worldwide acclaim, it was hard to see where things could go with 2013’s Saints Row 4. The easiest way to describe it is off the rails.

The fourth instalment sees ‘Playa’ save the world from nuclear annihilation in the first few minutes. As a result, they find themselves elected President of the United States.

That clearly wasn’t crazy enough though. During the president’s first press conference aliens invade and kidnap The Saints, putting them in a simulation of Steelport.

Think that’s crazy enough? Think again.

The simulation is then hacked to give the player superpowers. Run up tall buildings, leap them in a single bound, perform telekinesis and employ mind control. All possible in Saints Row 4.

In spite of this level of lunacy, Saints Row 4 still reviewed well.

However, the introduction of superpowers removed a lot of the challenge from the game, likened to a ‘God Mode’. Players also felt the environments weren’t as vibrant and the missions felt more linear.

As for the storyline, while creative, it wasn’t as immersive as previous entries to the series. It seemed a realistic setting with some outlandish weapons and vehicles felt more relatable to players than a jaunt into space.

A ‘Standalone Expansion’ (figure that one out) called Gat out of Hell followed, which saw The Saints continue their capers – this time in hell.

It didn’t review anywhere near as well as previous entries. Critics complained about the repetitive missions, poor graphics, and an abundance of glitches.

It seemed that this would be the sour note the Saints Row franchise bowed out on, until…

The Rebirth of Saints Row

In 2019 THQ Nordic revealed that a new main entry to the franchise was in development for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

In 2021 they confirmed that it would be a reboot that will take its inspiration more from Saints Row 2 in terms of a balance between humour and realism. Reeling it back in and starting afresh with a reboot certainly makes sense.

It would have been nice to see some of the more beloved characters like Gat make a comeback, but a clean slate is a clean slate.

Volition has thus far played their cards close to their chest, but here’s a brief rundown of the things we’ve seen so far:

The formula of the first three games makes a return. Take down rival gangs, take part in some side missions, or explore the sprawling landscape of Santo Ileso.

The three gangs this time around are Los Panteros, The Idols, and Marhall, the latter kitted out with military-grade hardware.

Based on Reno, Nevada, large parts of the map are wide-open deserts, with densely-populated towns dotted around to explore at will.

Both vehicles and weapons are highly customisable, and the majority appear to have a whole host of upgrade options. Add to the firepower of a gun with different types of ammo, or equip a scope to improve accuracy. Or do both, if the price is right.

Speaking of customisation, the customisation suite in Saints Row 5 looks to be bigger than ever.

The ability to change up the look of the player character has always been a staple of the Saints Row series, and that’s no different here. Fans of Channel 4’s Grand Designs are also in for a treat – bases are customisable too, with both functional and stylistic changes.

The Bottom Line…

For those worrying that Volition may have toned things down TOO much and lost the spirit of what Saints Row is all about, never fear!

Although there have been casualties like The Penetrator, there ARE still a bunch of crazy things to do in Saints Row 5.

Want to shoot someone with a Foam Finger? Hit someone with a football that shoots them into the sky and blows them up? Shove a grenade into someone’s mouth and throw them at another enemy? You can do all of that and more, and that’s sure to be the tip of the iceberg.

I’m excited to get my hands on the new game. If you’re a fan of the franchise, particularly the second and third games, I think you should be too!

Saints Row started life as a pretender to the Grand Theft Auto throne, with most agreeing it was a shameless copy. Shameless as it may have been, it was a GOOD copy, and it earned high praise.

In the years that followed Volition carved out a niche for their series. They did this by distancing themselves from GTA’s gritty realism, instead opting for abject craziness.

Saints Row looked to reboot the series and reel things in, but many are accusing Volition of copying GTA again… but this time for all the wrong reasons.

Why? Let’s take a look!

Lead Balloon

Before I get to my own thoughts on the game, it would be remiss of me not to address the elephant in the room; Saints Row (2022) has been received poorly.

Everything from the graphics, to the writing, and the gameplay in general have been torn to shreds. Some have even compared it to Rockstar’s GTA: Definitive Edition, which was a bug-riddled mess upon release.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Saints Row has issues, but in my personal experience I haven’t found it to be too bad.

Looking Fly…ish

Saints Row is a real mixed bag when it comes to graphics.

When it looks good, it looks fantastic, but for the most part playing on a PS5 with HDR enabled, things look passable, but not outstanding.

During sunrise and sunset landscapes look beautiful, a lot of the vehicles are shiny and alluring, and it’s clear the main cast of characters have had a lot of work put in to them too.

However, when things are bad, they are REALLY bad.

Cut scenes can often feel jerky, kind of like trying to stream a movie on dial-up internet. A lot of the NPCs wouldn’t look out of place in an XBox 360 game, and there is the occasional slow down when things get crowded.

For most players these issues wouldn’t be enough to snap them out of the immersion of the game, but if you’re big on crisp, silky smooth graphics you’re definitely going to notice.

Play On Playa

The original Saints Row series had refined its control scheme from iteration to iteration, resulting in a smooth, natural way to play.

Picking up the controller to play Saints Row I immediately fell back into that groove. There are a few big exceptions, but that’s more down to a couple of the game’s mechanics being switched up.

Thrown weapons such as grenades and Molotov cocktails no longer exist, and instead have been replaced by unlockable moves.

These moves have to be charged up by initiating a close-combat one-hit-kill, and only then can you use one.

They vary in what they can do, from dropping a smoke bomb to evade an oncoming attack, to turning an enemy into a human explosive by shoving a grenade up their… well I’m sure you can figure out where.

It’s not a bad change, but it feels like an unnecessary one as both things could have been implemented without one having to replace the other.

A lot of the other Saints staples are here too; buying and customising clothes, pimping out cars, recruiting crew to help out in battle and so on.

Players can now also unlock and attribute ‘Perks’ to their Boss, boosting stats or giving extra abilities. It’s a nice touch and allows you to play your way by piecing together different combos to see what works.

Once the tutorial mission has been completed players are also free to open up their world to co-op, allowing a friend to drop in and help out with just about any aspect of the game.

OG Features

Aside from the wacky, off the wall style Saints Row became known for, two of the things the series has always done well are the creation suites, and the music.

So how do they hold up in this new incarnation of Saints Row? Let’s start with the positives.

The create-a-boss options are plentiful and allow for all manner of interesting characters to be churned out.

You only have to look at the ‘Sharing’ app built into the game to see just how creative people can get. Want to play as The Rock, Johnny Bravo, She-Hulk or The Joker? Other players have already got you covered.

How about Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Buff Squidward or Macho Man Randy Savage?

In my brief time scrolling I also saw Tommy Shelby, Walter White and even Nigel Thornberry make an appearance. If you’ve got the time, Saints Row (2022) has got the parts to make just about anyone.

What’s more, you can save a gallery of bosses to switch to, giving the player complete freedom to change who they are at any given point of the game.

Now onto the not so positives… the music.

Aside from the original Saints Row game, which didn’t have the licensing power of the later entries, the in-game radio stations have always been littered with big names and great, recognisable tracks.

As a side note, this was negated somewhat in the first game due to the ability to use the music on your Xbox 360 to create a personalised station. A feature that is sorely missed in a lot of games, but seems to be a casualty of how easy it is to create and share gameplay videos these days.

It’s a feature that would be VERY welcome with regards to Saints Row (2022) as well, because the music here is a bit of a disappointment.

The odd recognisable name is present (DMX, Busta Rhymes, The 1975, Slayer) but I’d wager unless you’re a big fan of the genre(s) the stations represent, you won’t find much familiarity here.

It’s a shame too, as you’re going to spend a lot of time listening to these stations while you drive around. I guess it’s a good chance to discover some new music, but some more bona-fide universal hits would have been nice.

A Modern Take

Without giving too much away, the storyline is essentially a fresh take on the same tried and tested Saints formula.

There are 3 other gangs in the area, and the game documents The Saints rise to power. There is some nuance here though, as you start the game working for one of the 3 factions, while your flatmates are members of the other groups.

I liked this aspect as it freshened things up a bit, but the bigger criticism is the way these characters are portrayed. It’s obvious the writers wanted Saints Row (2022) to be ‘with the times’ and ‘relevant’ in today’s world. So, the crew you live with are all 20-something student types who are big into their socials and the like.

That’s not inherently a problem, until you realise that it isn’t actually being written by 20-something student types. As a result, some of the jokes and references feel forced and a bit hammy.

Personally that just adds to the charm of the game for me, it feels like that’s what Saints Row has always been about, but for some it might be a bit much.

The other problem is it’s hard to take these guys seriously as top-level gang leaders, as they lack the grit that came from the likes of Gat and Shaundi in previous games.

The Final Shot

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time with Saints Row (2022) and I have every intention of completing it, as I have with all the previous games in the series.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about glitches, but so far I’ve not seen anything outside of the odd occurrence of wild physics. Yes a corpse might have randomly catapulted itself into the stratosphere, but I’ve seen nothing that could be described as game-breaking, or even impeding.

Could the game have done with a bit more polish before it released? Absolutely. But these days developers are aware they can get away with releasing an unfinished game and then patch it later, which feels like the plan here.

The way this game has been received I’d suspect this may be the last hurrah for the Saints Row franchise, and that’s disappointing.

It’s disappointing because there IS a fun game here, but ultimately it doesn’t feel like a step forward. Some aspects are as good as they always were, some are worse, and after 7 years that’s just not good enough.

If you’re able to put the original games out of your mind and play Saints Row for what it is, namely a fun, chaotic romp around a sprawling city, you’ll have fun with it.

Otherwise you might be better off picking up Saints Row the Third Remastered, sitting tight and waiting to see if this gets patched.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You might like

  • Easy to pick up for fans of the Saints games
  • Creation Suites are detailed and fun to use
  • Multiplayer works well

Might not like

  • Graphics are hit and miss
  • Music selection is poor