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Saints Row (PC)

By Paul Broussard 21st Sep 2022 | 3,630 views 

Repent, for the end is nigh.
Spare a thought for the unfortunate game designers of the world forced to work on reboots. While the prospect of getting to rebuild a well-established franchise from the ground up might sound appealing, in practice it seems to have consistently meant that you’ll upset long-time fans who feel like things are too different and then flip a coin for whether newcomers will enjoy the new base mechanics you do create enough to balance it out. And while coin flip odds might sound not that bad, you have to remember the coin could always come up heads, tails, or just land on its side and roll underneath the couch never to be discovered again.
Such is the case with Saints Row… 2022. In my now Pulitzer prize winning preview of Saints Row back in May, I expressed my displeasure over the usual industry practice of creating reboots with the same name as a previous installment by dubbing this game as “Saints Row Jambalaya”, but I’m forced to reconsider that naming scheme here. Jambalaya is exciting, after all, with a lovely blend of spices, meats, and Cajun flavors. A better name for this particular reboot might be Saints Row Tofu, because it’s about as bland and tasteless as anything can possibly be.
But we get ahead of ourselves. In the fictional city of Santo Ileso, four rejects from the failed script of Watch Dogs 3 are all living together in an apartment, taking odd jobs for the various gang and military factions that rule the city in order to scrape by. Events conspire to force each from their respective groups, and rather than wait 20 years for Ubisoft to take another chance on a new gritty open-world IP, they decide to form their own crime syndicate, taking shelter in an abandoned church and expanding their territory from there.
Positives first: aesthetically it looks better than any Saints Row has looked so far. San Ileso is very pretty, and there’s a wide variety of creative environments to engage with. Even if it is mostly a desert town, there’s a good deal of care put into the architecture of buildings and the design of character models, so it’s certainly enjoyable to look around.
And, thankfully, Deep Silver has taken some of the initial criticisms of the debut trailer to heart. In my preview of Tofu, I noted that the developers seemed to be shying away from some of the… kookier dialogue that was included in the original premiere trailer, with a greater emphasis instead on trying to flesh characters out. Thankfully that has carried over; the characters are fortunately much more tolerable to hang around with over the course of a 30 hour game.
The bad news is that apparently the entire creativity budget went into that dialogue, because with it toned down there is next to nothing left. Saints Row is, at heart, a comedy series, and none of the elements that made it particularly entertaining in prior installments have survived the transition. No more action set pieces where you crash through a plane’s cockpit and fly out the back, no more energy drink commercials where you shoot fireballs, no more robbing banks with ridiculously oversized masks. Even the dialogue is pretty noticeably toned back.
Humor is, admittedly, incredibly subjective. A joke that resonates well with one person may entirely flop with another, so if you didn’t like the comedic elements in prior games, then maybe this will land for you. As a fan of prior games, however, it feels like all of the cleverness and wit of the parody from the original Saints titles has been sucked out. Clever references to pop culture and elaborate mission set-ups so over the top you can’t help but laugh are replaced by a predictable story that plays it very straight and four characters so shallow they could easily be mistaken for a kiddie pool. Boring is a word I never thought I would use to describe Saints Row; even during the very early days of its existence, it at least held humor as a (comically bad) GTA knockoff. I’d almost rather that than this.
If you can separate yourself from the gray noise that is the atmosphere and story, the gameplay is… fine, I suppose. Guns are functional and generally feel decent to shoot, and character movement is pretty good. Missions do tend to boil down a little too much to variations of the same three or four action set pieces for my liking. While there are a few standouts (including one where you have to rescue a member of your crew from a hostile gang, as well as a couple of later ones where you get to drive monster trucks around), the overall core gameplay just seems rather tepid.
Side missions are probably the most disappointing element. In the preview this spring, Deep Silver showed off a lot of new concepts, including the War Table, where you buy criminal empires and use them to expand your cash supply. We weren’t shown much of how this worked besides the initial concept during that preview session, and in hindsight the reason for that is likely because there wasn’t much to show at all. You buy a business (or business front for a crime operation), and you can increase the cash flow of said business by doing some fetch quests. They’re all very simplistic and usually just amount to driving to point A to shoot up faction B who is hampering your business’ expansion or operations somehow.
That said, money itself doesn’t serve much purpose, especially now that the variety of wacky cosmetics and weapons available to you is diminished, so there isn’t as much reason to engage with this part of the game as in prior installments. I’m pretty sure the developers were aware of this too, because their solution to get you to do this stuff is to slam a barrier right before the last couple of missions and require you to complete a percentage of these quests before you can beat the game. There’s some kind of poetic awfulness to the most interesting of these criminal venture quests - which allow you to interact with a bunch of fun and engaging tools (like you might encounter in prior games) - being only three missions long, while the quests where you have to drive a bunch of waste barrels across town in a slow truck have like ten variations.
The most entertaining thing about Tofu might be the bugs, which are thankfully the entertaining type more so than the game breaking type. One time I finished a gunfight to find that two of my AI partners were standing there waving their hands up and down like they were trying to pour something into a non-existent cup. Another time my car spontaneously flew 30 feet into the air as if it had just hit a landmine. Less funny though are the bugs that sometimes cause mission prompts to not appear or cut scenes to fail to load properly, which can force you to restart entire story missions.
I'll close with an anecdote of sorts. I designed my custom character’s appearance in Tofu to look like “el Donte” from the DmC reboot, due to the availability of a certain mustache. This wound up being unintentionally appropriate, as both games were reboots that nearly no one asked for and largely wound up being reviled by their respective communities for how much of a tonal departure they were from their original series. Like its Capcom reboot brethren before it, this probably isn’t a bad game if you approach it as its own thing, independent of any of the expectations created by previous entries. But as a Saints Row title - and presumably the thing that is designed to replace the previous installments going forwards - it leaves a very bitter taste.
Or maybe that’s just my taste buds being confused by all this tofu.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Saints Row for the PC

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