Windows Central Verdict
Saints Row (2022) succeeds at returning to the roots of its predecessors by paring back the outlandish absurdity without losing an ounce of chaos, but sometimes feels as if it's holding on too tightly to a past best left forgotten. Plus, it has a distinct lack of polish.
+ In-depth customization options for practically everything
+ A fun open-world sandbox with plenty of toys and interactivity
+ A straightforward narrative that embraces the absurd without losing humanity
+ Hours upon hours of content, even after the story is complete
− Unstable performance and draw distance issues
− Janky camera controls with terrible aim assist
− A plethora of minor, yet frustrating, bugs
− An uncertain clash of old and new game design, especially in the open world
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The Saints Row franchise is synonymous with "open-world chaos," but has been dormant since 2013's Saints Row IV made players the President of the United States and introduced actual superpowers so you can fight aliens. With little room to keep building on the absurd, random chaos of its predecessor, Deep Silver Volition sought to return the open-world action-adventure series to its more modest roots.
The end result is Saints Row (2022), a love letter to the franchise and its greatest gangster sandbox yet. There are endless ways to cause mayhem in the varied and detailed environments of Santo Ileso, with a fresh arsenal of wild toys, abilities, and weapons from which to choose. The world of Saints Row (2022) is still ridiculously goofy, but it's slightly saner and relies less on shock value and crude humor to deliver a unique flavor of chaos.
Saints Row (2022) features the most in-depth customization of the franchise, a brand-new open world to explore, and a host of modern features and advancements to make the title more accessible and inclusive. Still, the overall package feels less than polished, and some aspects of the game design continue to cling to older standards best left in the past. Perfection isn't necessary for fun, though, and the Saints Row reboot delivers plenty of that.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Deep Silver Volition. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Saints Row (2022): Visuals and performance
There is a fine line between "clean" and "generic" when it comes to art design in video games, and Saints Row (2022) mostly resides on the correct side of that divide. Despite some vocal outcry surrounding the game's visuals after its announcement, I'm happy that Deep Silver Volition avoided creating another boring photorealistic open-world game, instead opting for a style that feels more at home with the spirit of Saints Row.
I enjoyed exploring the fictional setting of Santo Ileso. There are plenty of interesting locations to discover, as well as unique architecture, art, and landmarks to give this city, heavily inspired by the American Southwest, more personality. Outside of Santo Ileso, the surrounding desert and mountainous rock formations are genuinely lovely, and plenty of water runs through this crime-laden city. It pairs well with the colorful, almost cartoon-y visuals elsewhere. Character models certainly won't fool anyone into believing they're real, but they — as well as cars and weapons — benefit from suitably detailed models and ludicrously in-depth customization.
|Saints Row (2022)||Important game information|
|Developer||Deep Silver Volition|
|Publisher||Deep Silver Volition|
|Install size||~59.8 GB|
|Players||Single-player, two-player online co-op|
|Release date||Aug. 23, 2022|
|Platforms||Xbox, PlayStation, PC (Epic Games Store), Stadia|
|Xbox/PC Game Pass||No|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
Unfortunately, the positive qualities don't translate great through screenshots. For whatever reason, the new Saints Row simply looks worse in still images than it does in-game — possibly because this title's visual fidelity doesn't call for absurdly detailed textures. I felt Saints Row (2022) shined during hands-on playtime rather than zooming into screenshots.
Santo Ileso is also filled with plenty of interesting locales and dynamic events; NPCs will interact with each other and the environment in limited ways; police pull over cars; and signs of road work move around the city. However, the city as a whole doesn't always feel like an actual place. Despite the assortment of unique features, not every area feels hand-crafted or intentionally placed. It's a decidedly minor complaint but difficult to entirely dismiss when other modern open-world games continue to improve in this area.
Some may argue that Saints Row's visuals aren't up to par with other "AAA" gaming titles, but during my playthrough, I rarely expressed concerns over how Saints Row (2022) appears; I found the title's performance to be far more lackluster, a facet that's arguably more important to nail in today's highly competitive industry.
Credit where credit is due, Saints Row (2022) offers five different performance modes on Xbox Series X, letting players decide exactly how the game will look and run, although no modes offer the ultimate way to play. Some lack ray tracing or experience dropped frames, but that's to be expected, especially depending on your TV or monitor. Still, I expected more polish amongst the modes.
Ultimately, where the latest Saints Row game suffers the most is from an issue common among many older open-world titles — draw distance.
Environmental details, cars, and even an entire building once (when I was flying) pop into existence at surprisingly close distances. Multiple times, I experienced a dozen or more cars suddenly vanishing from existence directly in front of me, only to be replaced with a handful of entirely different cars. The distance in Saints Row (2022) loses detail absurdly quickly, causing the horizon to appear grainy and smudged. It all causes an immediately-noticeable effect that you aren't liable to forget even after hours of playing.
This issue is joined by flickering shadows and reflections (which I was able to partially relieve by choosing one of the "quality" modes with ray tracing), as well as sudden shifts in nearby lighting. I also experienced dropped frames, lag, and movement stutters during action-packed scenes, especially those filled with multiple explosions. Both the visual and technical performance in Saints Row (2022) leave much to be desired, especially considering the powerful platform on which it's running.
Finally, I encountered a plethora of bugs, many of which required a full game restart to resolve. This included all combat controls suddenly failing to work, the view while piloting helicopters appearing comically zoomed into the distance, inconsistent timing for subtitles, subtitles not appearing at all, and more. Deep Silver Volition is releasing a day one patch that will hopefully resolve many of these problems, but I don't have faith that all the bugs and performance flaws I observed in the Saints Row reboot will be wiped away in time for launch.
Saints Row (2022): Open-world gameplay and sandbox
Although it suffers in terms of performance, anyone who is familiar with past Saints Row titles will feel at home with this reboot's gameplay, which still boasts the chaotic open-world gameplay pioneered by its predecessors. Combat is fundamentally the same, and that's... okay.
There are dozens of weapons to collect in the new Saints Row, with many unique and silly variants and special tools to add to the armory. You can throw explosive footballs attached to powerful thrusters or launch rockets out of a guitar case just as easily as you can use a trusty pistol or assault rifle. You can customize your character's abilities through unique Skills, which are acquired through leveling up. There are also Perks, gained through completing challenges that grant passive bonuses to your player.
You and your allies (who can be upgraded through the completion of Loyalty Missions to gain boosts to health and combat abilities) can use this arsenal to war against four unique factions: Los Panteros, Idols, Marshall Defense, and the police. Each faction possesses different abilities and fighting styles, requiring that you approach confrontations differently. Even random NPCs can become a nuisance and will pick a fight if you damage their property (even with an expert gangster like yourself).
Players can look forward to plenty of explosive action and mayhem here. Many of the environmental details in Saints Row (2022) are happy to be destroyed, including fences, light posts and traffic lights, benches and sculptures, trees and foliage, and more. Oddly enough, this decent level of destruction doesn't extend to the highway dividers (but why?).
Settling behind the wheel of one of the many vehicles will reveal expected arcade-like driving, which is a perfect fit for Saints Row. Cars feel light and floaty, with exaggerated physics and collisions. They're now accompanied by an improved and much more fun drifting mechanic, as well as a new "sidestep" that lets you lurch your car from side to side with the hopes of damaging nearby vehicles. Cars can equip tools like deployable wrecking balls, towing cables (that can be attached to practically any vehicle or sizeable physics-based object), jump boosts, and more. Every car even has a "Signature Skill" that can be unlocked by completing a specific challenge with that car.
There's a solid foundation of gameplay mechanics here, but there are plenty of ways to play Saints Row (2022) outside of the sandbox.
Missions, split between various sidequests, Loyalty Missions, and main story missions, offer narrative adventures, different scenarios, and plenty of rewards. Ventures, which are businesses that are a huge part of increasing your passive income and expanding your criminal empire, offer multiple, unique quests for more rewards and cash (many of which can be repeated at any time).
There are also Side Hustles, which are mini-games that see players take on hordes of enemies, throw themselves into traffic, and more in exchange for cash and XP. Then there are Discoveries, challenges, the Wanted app, and more. There is a ridiculous amount of content in Saints Row (2022), to the point where fully completing the game's story and tackling a not-insignificant amount of the side content has resulted in a game completion percentage of merely 47% on my save file. It doesn't feel like you have to do it all, either. Saints Row (2022) simply wants to ensure that players always have something to do, regardless of the time spent playing.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from two major setbacks: Controlling your character is often a frustrating endeavor, and a lot of the open-world content feels like tedious injections rather than meaningful additions.
The best open worlds are those that feel alive and draw players from location to location dynamically, such as Elden Ring. While I enjoyed a lot of the quests, I have little interest in tracking down 125 individual pallets of drugs or rummaging through one of the dozens of dumpsters just to make a number go up. In this aspect, Deep Silver Volition clung too tightly to the archaic game design that built previous Saints Row titles, preventing the latest installment from feeling like a truly modern reboot with a quantity-over-quality mindset.
A known pre-release issue with Saints Row (2022) made the camera sensitivity much higher than it should be, but no amount of changing or tweaking settings made it as smooth and reliable as I wanted. More egregious, however, was the awful aim assist. It's highly customizable, but none of the settings helped me find a sweet spot. It either felt too aggressive or too slow. I eventually decided to disable it, but even that was denied to me thanks to a bug that ensured aim assist was activated.
I eventually adapted to these issues, but the player shouldn't be forced to adapt to the game's controls, which should feel natural from the start. It remained a frustration that drained some of the fun out of combat, which is a vital part of the Saints Row sandbox. Suddenly finding myself aiming at a car in the background or a random enemy in the distance behind me rather than the actual target never ceased to elicit a sigh.
Saints Row (2022): Story and characters
Saints Row (2022) follows the founding and rise of The Saints, a growing criminal empire that shares a logo, color scheme, and theme with the infamous 3rd Street Saints of previous titles. Deep Silver Volition sought to return Saints Row to its roots in the narrative, and I found that the studio largely succeeded — the story of Saints Row (2022) shares more with the first two Saints Row titles than the latter two.
The Saints are not immortal war gods that use a city as their personal playthings while they rake in power. Instead, The Saints form from the bond between four young humans attempting to make it through a world that doesn't care much for them. Your Boss character is joined by Neenah, Eli, and Kevin, your lifelong friends and constant companions throughout the story.
To escape irrelevancy and a soul-sucking existence, you expand across the city with new ventures and businesses, growing your brand's reputation and combatting the opposing efforts of rival organizations that don't want you moving in on their turf (or have old grievances to air). The accompanying story missions are packed with action, humor, drama, and just a little bit of betrayal.
The plot of Saints Row (2022) is still rife with absurdity and surrealism, but at its core are characters that actually feel fairly fleshed out, and the interactions between these characters add a lot to the story. You and your friends go on an explosive murder spree around Santo Ileso, but it feels more like the absurdity is simply the reality in which Saints Row (2022) is set rather than out-of-context shock.
It may not seem likely that a game could successfully discuss crippling student loan payments and the reality of living off frozen waffles and then pivot to straddling a multi-billion-dollar high-end aircraft in pursual of a legendary knife-wielding criminal on your first day with an international military defense corporation, but the game manages it.
Saints Row (2022) is hesitant to actually say something meaningful about the themes it's portraying beyond satirical jokes and quick lines, but that fits with the chaotic freedom of the open-world sandbox. Granted, many of us don't play a Saints Row game for the riveting story. Will this go down as one of the greatest video game campaigns? Absolutely not, but I did prefer the narrative of this Saints Row title to that of previous entries like Saints Row: The Third, and it'll take you around 15 hours to complete.
Saints Row (2022): Accessibility and customization
Character customization has always been a part of the Saints Row franchise, and Deep Silver Volition went all out to deliver the most in-depth options of any Saints Row game yet. Saints Row (2022) lets you customize every aspect of your character, vehicles, and weapons, and even features some customization options for your companions, your gang members, and The Saints HQ.
We previewed the customization in Saints Row (2022) months before release, and the final product fully delivers on the promises made back then. Players have complete control over the appearance and style of their Boss, and it's incredibly easy to update your character or switch between saved versions at any point using the Style app in your phone. There's a wealth of customization options available for every element of your character, and dozens more can be unlocked through gameplay.
Even the color and materials of individual parts of clothing, weapons, and vehicles can be customized, alongside a plethora of upgrades, mods, unique additions and options, and much more. There's truly no end to the possibilities, and I was constantly impressed by how much freedom was afforded me. Players can also share their Boss creations with the community, inevitably resulting in many pop culture characters like Shrek being available to download.
I encountered some minor issues with the customization menus, but customizing all of these various elements was relatively seamless.
When I revisited Saints Row: The Third Remastered earlier this year in preparation for the reboot, one of my biggest complaints was the lack of accessibility features and options — a typical experience for many older games. Accessibility in video games is crucial to ensuring anyone can play, and it's becoming increasingly important for developers to deliver that experience.
Thankfully, Deep Silver Volition put in the effort. Saints Row (2022) has a separate "Accessibility" menu in addition to the thorough game settings, and there are plenty of options, from custom game difficulty settings with sliders for specific parts of the game to individual key binding for the controls, color-blind filters, and various subtitle options. I won't pretend to be an expert on accessibility in video games, but I did take advantage of options to help compensate for my hearing and audio processing issues.
There are always ways to improve, and developers should never stop striving to advance accessibility in gaming, but it's good to see that Saints Row (2022) didn't linger in the past on this.
Saints Row (2022): Should you play?
Ending the Saints Row hiatus and returning the historic open-world series to relevancy made a reboot of the entire franchise necessary. Older Saints Row games were amazing for their times but fell out of favor in a rapidly evolving industry when they ran out of room to expand.
The narrative of Saints Row (2022) is undoubtedly a full reboot, attempting to tell a story of a brand-new cast of characters — of young adults struggling to survive in a world that's just as ridiculous as in past Saints Row games. Unfortunately, the open-world gameplay feels as if it could benefit from a little more "reboot" and a little less "return to roots." This is the best sandbox Saints Row has ever employed and there's a lot to do, but the quality of the content is inconsistent. Plus, frequent performance issues, poor camera controls and aim assist, and egregious draw distance flaws were constant reminders that Saints Row (2022) lacks the polish of the best Xbox games. The day one patch will likely resolve some of my complaints, but I posit that it may take several months for Saints Row (2022) to reach a point at which it will feel "finished."
Saints Row (2022) is a solid return to form for the franchise that I can happily and without much reservation recommend to fans of past entries and those looking for a less-serious open-world romp, as long as you can look past its numerous imperfections. The Saints are worthy of a criminal empire, and there's a lot of fun to be had making that dream a reality.
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.