I was cautiously optimistic when the Saints Row reboot was unveiled at Gamescom in August 2021. On the one hand, it was obvious that the overall tone of the game would deviate from previous titles in the series when the band- ad did not display the same level of secular humor and explosive gang-related antics as its predecessors. On the other hand, the franchise arguably got too ridiculous with Saints Row IV in 2013 and Saints Row: Gat out of Hell in 2015.
Agents of Mayhem followed in 2017, which sold poorly and led to layoffs at developer Volition. Suffice to say, most people would agree that Saints Row needed to be reinvented. Where Volition started to lose people was when studio development director Jim Boone said that the old Saints Row titles were “of an era – they made sense in that era, and we We were able to do things that felt good at the time, but that tone is not something we feel like doing today.
This of course led to an outcry that Saints Row was “getting politically correct”, and while the final product proves these accusations were overblown, Volition absolutely cut the absurdity and offense down. It’s a questionable choice as the 2020 remaster of Saints Row: The Third was a commercial success, and in a world where the South Park TV series continues to thrive.
Many fans hoped the Saints Row reboot would be more like the first two entries in the series, which were far less absurd than the games that followed. But Volition didn’t do that either. It’s like they tried to appease both sides of the fanbase, but ultimately managed to please almost no one. The game’s reviews are mixed: its Metacritic score is between 64 and 70/100 depending on the platform. Reviews above 70/100 are rare, but no one is willing to rate it below 40/100.
While there are a significant number of glitches in Saints Row, few of them are groundbreaking. There are issues with pop-ins, erroneous AI behavior and plenty of physics issues, but nothing too glaring – Bethesda’s most well-known franchises, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, are notorious for the same issues. , but these games are nonetheless considered timeless masterpieces.
Saints Row isn’t held back by bugs, but rather by the core of the game itself. There’s plenty to be fun about – who doesn’t like the idea of bombing a business on Yelp, leading to a shootout in the parking lot? – but such moments are rare, as the game is filled with repetitive missions punctuated by cringe-inducing beats and jokes that almost never land.
This reboot takes the franchise in a confusing direction, as Saints Row has always thrived more on its identity than the gameplay itself. It has always existed in the shadow of Grand Theft Auto, because mechanically GTA has always been superior – more vehicles, more activities, tighter driving mechanics, better physics, etc.
But Saints Row still managed to make a name for itself with its clunky antics, memorable cast of characters, and solid gameplay loop. Volition has embraced the absurdity of being a crime lord in a video game and pushed it all the way to 11. This new Saints Row chooses to ignore this strength of the series and fires shots at every turn – for whatever public, exactly?
All of this might have been acceptable had the game introduced enough new gameplay elements to significantly innovate the open-world genre. This way, the game could have grabbed people’s attention instead of the iconic Saints Row absurdity. But Volition hasn’t quite accomplished that either – there’s a wingsuit and some neat finishing moves in combat, but that’s about it in terms of new concepts.
Saints Row is decent – it’s skillfully put together, but it’s too comfortable to walk on when it should be running. If I feel like playing an enterprising gang leader terrorizing the city streets with bazookas, attack helicopters, and nudity, I’d much rather cast the timeless Saints Row: The Third.