Saints Row Review (PS5): ‘Ah S***, Here We Go Again’

After seven years of absence, the Saints are back and ready to blow shit up. But after so long away, can this franchise be relevant in a world saturated with open-world games, especially against the likes of Grand Theft Auto? Time to find out in our Saints Row PS5 review.

Be your own Boss

In this franchise reboot, you play as The Boss, a character who is supposedly trying to eke out an above-board life by working for a private military corporation (PMC). Naturally, things don’t work out so well, and before you know it you and your three best friends are building a criminal empire.

There is some decent character development that takes place in Saints Row; at least about as much as can be expected when dealing with a group of degenerate murderers. The gang’s founders have among them an orphan, a LARPer, a family-focused immigrant, and whatever history the player character has. Each of them has their own motivations for why they do what they do, and as their best friend, you are obliged to help out. There are a few touching moments between the player and this gang of dysfunctional members of society, inevitably followed up by shooting someone in the groin. Things don’t often get too real, because after all, we’re here to make a statement, not consider the philosophical implications of a private military company owning whole chunks of a town.

Gang warfare

There are three main rival gangs to worry about in Saints Row. While they generally leave you alone when you’re out and about roaming the city, if you crash into their vehicles or otherwise cause harm to one of their members, you’ll immediately be tagged with a Notoriety level, which ramps up to three levels of intensity and a corresponding response from the offended gang. Then there is also the local police force to contend with, who often fight your rivals but will just as quickly shoot you. Having four different wanted levels against you reminds me of the original, 2D Grand Theft Auto games where there were essentially four different threats in each of the game’s districts, though in Saints Row once you’re clear of enemies for a long enough time, your notoriety is wiped.

The overarching goal of Saints Row is to expand the Saints into every corner of the fictional city of Santo Ileso. This city is a desert metropolitan area, much like Reno, Nevada with chunks of inspiration from other Western cities. There’s plenty of diversity when it comes to the environment, with a lake, the ocean and accompanying beach, rugged, mountainous terrain, rolling desert hills, yet also a sprawling city center and even some suburban areas. It’s really a slice of life in the West, and is a fun city to explore. There are even some spots which feature museum-like displays that tell the history of the city, delivered by a perfectly monotonous man whom you’d expect to hear at a museum exhibit. Volition took care to give Santo Ileso a past, perhaps indicating that they plan to stay there for a long while.

As is usual for Saints Row, the main story can be completed in perhaps 8-16 hours depending on difficulty level (there are five), play style, and other factors. There are a lot of side missions to conquer outside of this, however, because the player eventually unlocks the ability to purchase businesses, each of which have their own list of missions to complete. These are known as Criminal Ventures, and vary from hauling toxic waste to committing insurance fraud (throwing yourself into high-speed traffic in a minigame the series is known for). If you’re not a fan of busy work, then Saints Row mostly lets you continue on with the main story, outside of a few instances where you are required to advance the Saints’ control of the territory.

Tons of options

As the Saints expand, more options open up to the player. Not just in regards to the illegitimate business opportunities, but also in customization options. We’ve seen the Boss Factory before, and that features a robust set of tools to craft a character who looks, sounds, and acts exactly as you’d like.

But there are also many options for vehicles and weapons. Some are practical, like coloring various parts of a gun or vehicle. Other options are merely for the lulz, like assigning a motorcycle sound to the engine of a luxury car, or turning an assault rifle into an umbrella. While there are no dildo baseball bats anymore, there are still some funny options to be found and earned. Most of these customizations are free, and others only cost a little bit of in-game cash. There is no premium currency to purchase, and not a microtransaction to be found.

Every single weapon and vehicle the player can control has various levels of unlockable upgrades, alongside signature abilities that can be earned. For instance, the sawed-off shotgun has incendiary rounds that ignite enemies, but that can only be unlocked once the player kills 20 Idols (a rival gang). Meanwhile, the car belonging to the Panteros gang can have its ejector seat unlocked by simply wingsuiting off its roof. Oh yeah, you also earn a wingsuit early on that is always equipped, should you find yourself suddenly shot into the air or leaping off a cliff. Unlocking every ability for every weapon and car represents a fun challenge that is sure to extend playtime.

Perks @tcha call

The player can unlock various perks and skills as their character levels up. Perks are passive abilities, such as causing less notoriety, moving faster while crouched, and other things that occur automatically. There are minor and major perks, and in order to equip more major perks their slots must be unlocked. Skills, on the other hand, are unlocked to be equipped based solely on the player’s level.

While some grant permanent health increases, others must be assigned to a face button and consume Flow. Flow is earned by killing enemies and staying in combat. It can be removed by getting hurt, though a perk can negate this effect entirely. Some skills cost one unit of Flow, while others cost two. As an example, the skill called Pineapple Express unlocks at level two, and makes the player grab a nearby enemy, drop a grenade down their pants and then throw them straight ahead, causing mayhem in the process. Other skills temporarily make your character harder to kill, or gives them a flaming punch. With only four face buttons available to assign skills to, mixing and matching combinations can be a fun way to experiment to discover the most effective way to induce carnage.

Graphically, Saints Row is somewhere between caricature and realistic. Character models especially look more on the cartoonish side of things, while cars and weapons are well-detailed and easy to customize. If playing on a 4K television or monitor, a surprising number of resolution options become available, with 1080p Ultra being a starting point. 1440p and 2160p (4K) are also options, with 1440p and lower offering higher quality or higher framerate modes with raytracing as a toggleable setting. Turning this on results in some nice lighting effects, especially as the game’s sun dips into or rises from the horizon. Generally, these lower resolution modes run at a high framerate, though things can dip when there’s a lot of onscreen action. The 4K mode doesn’t offer enough added fidelity to make it worth it to run, given the inferior lighting models and lower frame rate. Still, for those who love pushing pixels it remains an option.

Co-Op and some glitches

Drop-in/drop-out co-op is a much-welcome option in Saints Row. Though we weren’t able to test it during our time with the review copy of the game, we did get a good chunk of time in with it during last month’s preview event, and confirmed then that it works pretty well, even if it feels a little tacked-on. There are no other multiplayer options to speak of, and perhaps that will change after launch. But for the time being, your only option for playing online is co-op.

Unfortunately, some bits of Saints Row point to a game that still has a few rough edges that need to be ironed out. Getting out of a vehicle will sometimes damage you or any NPCs accompanying you, though it doesn’t cause a whole lot of damage. Character models occasionally flash a T-Pose randomly, while others simply teleport to their assigned spot. The Saints’ headquarters is a place for your followers to gather, and a group of them can be seen dancing to… nothing. A jukebox in the room is presumably supposed to be playing music, but nothing can be heard.

Aiming weapons feels sluggish and imprecise, but thankfully aiming down the sights while looking at an enemy will snap to them. Thus, shootouts mostly involve quickly holding L2 and then firing off a shot right away. During our time with Saints Row, we also had to reboot the game when the UI only displayed the progress of a side mission we had previously completed, no matter which mission we were on, and the map stopped displaying where the character was. The PS5 allows for quick load times, though, and the problems went away once the savegame was reloaded.

Saints Row is the game to play when you want to turn your brain off and enjoy some mayhem. With many criminal ventures to run through, there is always something to do, some other bar to progress as you help the Saints reach their true potential. It’s a shame a few technical issues show up, but thankfully most of these can be overcome by restarting the game. This may not be as over-the-top as previous Saints Row games, but it could be the start of something great.

  • Good, fun mayhem, co-op campaign
  • Tons of customization options
  • No microtransactions
  • Glitchy UI
  • No PvP multiplayer (yet)
  • Shooting can be a pain