A series born in 2006, Saints Row has tried to establish itself in a genre largely dominated by GTA. Despite everything, the series has met a certain success and has even given birth to no less than 4 canonical titles and a spin-off. If the first two opuses are relatively classic, the last 2 as well as the spin-off opted for WTF fantasy and humor at all levels. The third episode is still doing pretty well, but the fourth and the spin-off, on the other hand, take a totally uncontrolled turn and ended up putting the license in the background. Almost 7 years after Saints Row: Gat Out Hell, Volition and Deep Silver decided to dig up the series presumed dead since 2015, to make a reboot. But when you’ve done almost everything with a license, is it still possible to surprise?
Welcome back Saints
Saints Row arrives with the will to revive the saga and to refocus it at the same time. It’s the end of superpowers and other infernal entities, here, we go back to the roots, or almost.
For this reboot, we forget the big cities and we put our suitcases in Santo Ileso, a region that is a kind of mixture of small towns near the Mexican border, parts of the Vegas strip and parts of Californian cities. A mixture that works quite well since it offers quite varied environments, although mostly desert and dusty. It is in this town that you will build up a real criminal empire by literally killing people, but before that, you will create a custom character.
“The Boss Factory” is a character creator announced as overpowered by Volition. It must be said that the studio has made tons of it concerning the customization of everything and anything during the promo of its game. As for the character, the Boss, we won’t be picky. The character creator is more than enough and has a wide range of options. For the time being, we can model our avatar as we wish by playing with a set of sliders and presets numerous enough to vary the pleasures. Well, you can also have fun measuring the size of your private parts, and even put a censorship logo on them for fun, but it’s strictly useless, except if you have fun walking around completely naked.
Volition has made a lot of money for not much. If the customization is there, it remains totally accessory since it is mainly cosmetic
The customization of our hero goes even further with the possibility of customize our clothes (color, material, pattern) but also our equipment and vehicles. If the tuning part is rather successful (although very classic and not very varied from one vehicle to another) with a lot of tools and stickers to play Need For Speed of the poor, the customization of the weaponry is finally not very useful and rather poor. So, yes, it will be possible to create your own camouflages, and even to find some crazy skins here and there (pistol gloves, guitar case, etc.), but I was expecting to be able to modify their accessories (glasses, silencers, chargers…), but it’s not the case. You can improve them by going to the armory to get some stats, but that’s all. It’s a real shame for a program that has focused 90% of its communication on advanced customization.. Overall, without shouting at the scam, Volition made a lot of money for not much.. If the customization is there, it remains totally accessory since it is mainly cosmetic, and it is also true for our gang and our HQ.
Here too the studio sold us a dream, a fully customizable gang, a tailor-made crime empire and a HQ to evolve and decorate yourself. I might as well tell you that the soufflé was quickly deflated when I noticed that the evolution of our HQ was really only linked to the main quests, that its construction is done in three steps only, without any customization possibleand that the decorations must be placed on specific locations, without it being possible to change even the orientation of the objects that are installed. In the end, it’s all smoke and mirrors.
The customization of our gang unlocks itself without us having a say in the style of clothing and vehicles, we can only validate, or not, the use of this or that skin. This is not great.
The majority of the experience is based on totally incidental content and collectibles
Same thing for the famous crime empire. On paper, we are told that theyou can build illegal businesses all over the map and make them grow to earn money and bonus items. So, yes, it’s totally true, you can indeed from scratch a little less than fifteen criminal boxes (insurance fraud, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, etc.) and increase their income (which you will receive every hour) by carrying out side missions, but the fact is that it’s useless.
The “main plot” will require us to own a handful of them and improve a few, but that’s it. Finally, the companies will just be used to accumulate money until we run out of it, except that the money is not very useful either in the game. To illustrate this, I was able to see the end credits by building only 6 companies and upgrading only two of them, I went to the armory once for a few thousand dollars recovered in less than three hours of (normal) play to buy everything possible and basta.
At no point did I feel compelled to escalate the business side of my famous crime empire, the game doesn’t push us to do so and doesn’t even try to sell us a dream by offering enticing content. In concrete terms, here again, we only unlock a handful of cosmetics, a few unique vehicles and maybe one or two weapons.
On the other hand, Saints Row tries everything on the “end game” by opening a store with crazy cosmetics at exorbitant prices and by giving us a final objective to show off as the king of organized crime. In reality, it’s mainly to force us to farmer the companies and also so that we can make the game profitable that we just paid full price by aiming at 100%.. Moreover, the completionists will be delighted to learn that about 70% of the game is reserved for them.
This Saints Row doesn’t know what to do with itself and we don’t know what to do with it
Yes, because if we have so-called “main” quests, with a little staging, a dash of post-it cinematics and messy dialogues full of insultsthere is no no storyline to speak of, and anyway we don’t care, since absolutely all the missions end in massacre. For the rest, the majority of the experience is based on totally incidental content and collectibles. As for the “story”, we’ll be satisfied with making our gang climb up the ladder by chaining missions that sometimes have no link between them and that’s all. Even if there is a little twist at the end, it falls completely flat because the characters involved are secondary and totally under-exploited, and the narrative tension is absent. We certainly didn’t expect a convoluted plot or spiritual reflections on today’s culture, but a minimum to involve the player would not have been too much. Especially since it would have allowed us to feel caught up in the game with the desire to step on our opponents in order to establish our domination as a gang that cannot be ignored, but no.
We do have rivals, but they are just cannon fodder to be slaughtered in packs of 20 on each trip to town. The leaders of the opposing gangs are insipid, with little representation on the screen, and we don’t even have the joy of having to take over their territories little by little, since all we have to do is set up a company on a viable piece of land to take over the area without even moving our asses from HQ. It’s a far cry from the gang war feeling of the first opusand we are not at all attached to this “family” that they try to sell us in every movie. We have strictly no rise in power, no risk-taking (no attack or recapture of territory), no tension, nothing, nada.
Having lots of money and a gang is good, knowing what to do with it is better
Wander around the city killing mobs
Saints Row is finally similar to a kind of sandbox where it is possible to make about twenty different activities that only serve to pass the time and to collect odds and ends. To come back to what I said before, you should know thatin a straight line, you will see the credits in about ten hoursbut that’s only 35% of the game, the remaining 65% are left to the collectibles that abound on the map (decorative objects to be recovered, photos to be taken, packages of drugs that are lying around…), to activities to make money (buggy race, wingsuit flight…) and to the missions of our companies. These are fortunately sometimes amusing, and known from the licensesuch as the insurance fraud that will ask us to break our bones on cars to accumulate a maximum of money, or the chaos which proposes to us to make a maximum of breakage by destroying absolutely everything that comes within range. However, and I’m stirring the pot, it doesn’t help at all, except to accumulate trinkets and money that won’t be of much use after the first 5 hours.
But Saints Row had a lot of it. With all its activities, and even its collectibles, we could have had something very interesting if there was a real use. We’re not going to redo the game, but it would have been enough for example to put a lot more steps in the creation of our HQ by forcing us to buy parts of the building, or improvements. Make us unlock useful things, like to improve our equipment or our vehicles, but no, instead of that we are served everything on a plate, relegating the rest to the rank of nice snacks to eat, except that there is nothing exciting in it. and that the game has very big problems, making its gameplay anything but fun.
Saints Row is finally a kind of sandbox where it is possible to do about twenty different activities
The famous new features
Yet here again, Volition has sold us a revamped hand-to-hand combat system, chases and reinvented driving, as well as several special abilities to give yourself some style while fighting. Except that once you hold the pad in your hand, you realize that only the last point is partially successful;
At first, the hand-to-hand combat system is not at all crazy. You can fight with your fists, giving heavy or light blows, or even a kick, but thewe spam the same sequence all the timeeven if you have a knife in your hand. The executionswhich are only available by increasing a gauge by killing a dozen enemies beforehand, are repeated and are identical, no matter what weapon you carry, and don’t give a damn about the environment. This means that the animation (which sometimes lasts a long time) does not take into account what surrounds you, which sometimes gives nice collision bugs. So it happens very often that you see yourself typing in the void while your enemy is waddling 1 meter above the ground because we are in a staircase, or that our avatar crosses a wall because his animation forces him to take momentum. In short, it’s not very interesting even if some of them are quite funny to see. Fortunately, these finish moves are used to recover life pointsWithout that, they are useless and would certainly never be used.
The famous special abilities are used with “flow” tokens (which are accumulated by killing a lot of people). Here, we will have the right to a whole bunch of little crazy things reminding sometimes that Saints Row 3 and 4 are not so far away. We can, for example, make a powerful fiery punch to throw his opponents, use gravitational bombs, of the mines or waltz in the air and shoot anything that moves and even throw an enemy on his buddies after having put a grenade in his pants (my favorite).
A lot of little crazy things reminding sometimes that Saints Row 3 and 4 are not so far away
Although very effective, thishese techniques remain however dispensable, as the game is not very difficult (you can still change the difficulty) since the confrontations can be settled with pistol shots without any problem. And I’m talking about the basic 9mm pistol, because in Saints Row, even if you have shotguns, rocket launchers or assault rifles at your disposal, your starting weapon will be enough to solve all problems, and even destroy armored vehicles without batting an eyelid! That’s right, because in the game it’s all about the health bar. Whether it’s a car, a helicopter or an ordinary person, his life bar will drop (more or less quickly) no matter what weapon you use.
And sometimes, considering the number of enemies you get in your face, it’s faster to kill cars and helicopters with a pistol or an AK, than to go through the weapons wheel to take out a rocket launcher that will require 2 shots and a long reload. In the gunfights then, we are well in the arcade pure juice. Moreover, you will also meet special enemies able to do surreal things like sending bullets back by stirring the air with a fluorescent pink baton, splitting themselves thanks to a technology that we are not even introduced to, tanking missiles by running at us with claws stolen from Wolverine or blinding us by flashing our face with a Daft Punk helmet. Enemies called “Tough” or “Mini-Boss”, which have the annoying tendency to break our nuts more than to offer us a real challenge. They are indeed only big PV bags capable of resisting more pistol bullets than a helicopter. Note that the AI is completely messed up. Enemies are just good at shooting straight and come to impale themselves on your bullets without flinching. On the other hand, they have the special ability to see you through walls and aim at you even if you are out of sight. The police have the same calibration and pose absolutely no threat. Furthermore, the search system (the equivalent of the GTA stars) is totally random. Sometimes you can kill about 40 civilians without being targeted, while sometimes you end up with 3 cars on your tail after shooting a box in an alley. Great art.
This is pure arcade
We will finish the tour of the “novelties” of this opus by talking quickly about the driving and the vehicles. City is a must, we will have the right to a great variety of cars to drive. From the city car to the monster truck, passing by the dump truck, the bus, the motorcycle or the jet-ski, there is something to do. It’s only a pity to see the skins repeated until they run out of steam without even changing the body color.. Sometimes it seems like we are in the middle of a street where everyone has bought the same 5 cars, ruining the credibility of the world around us;
In any case, if on the water and in the air the driving is still pleasant, on land (road or desert) it is much less funny. We are on something extremely arcade here again, the grip is immediate, on the other hand the physics is totally broken and random. Our cars weigh 500 grams, fly away for nothing and can even do somersaults on command by pushing the joystick during a jump. A lot of nonsense, sometimes funny, but often frustrating, especially when skidding. when the car takes an uncontrollable and disproportionate speed boost or during the handbrake turns, so dry that you draw right angles in less than two. In plain English, eating up the scenery, running over passers-by and destroying the roads are commonplace. Note that if your two-horse is capable of blowing up trees 10 meters high, it will be stopped by any railing, be warned. As for the famous chases, the only new thing here is that the camera takes a little distance to allow us to see what’s around us when vehicles stick to our wheels. It is also possible to send them into the scenery by pressing an attack key. Except that the controls and the physics are so random that you will quickly send yourself into the wall.
A sandbox with a messy GTA-like background
Not even a nice PS4 game
As if that wasn’t enough, this poor Saints Row is, at least, 7 years late graphically. On PS5 we have the right to an ugly 1080p resolution, a 1440p just honest or a clean 4K, but not always stable. We’ll also have the option of favoring fps for 1080p and 1440p resolutions or opting for “higher quality” which is supposed to use better rendering, and even ray tracing. The truth is that the textures are too messy and the aliasing a bit too present for ray traced lighting effects to save the retina. In 4K however, it is much better and the contours are much finer. Here, the lighting effects remain quite honest and the textures manage to save the furniture. However, it doesn’t matter which mode you choose, the modeling of the characters remains a big joke, as do the animations. The artistic direction may opt for a slightly cartoonish and chubby aspect, that doesn’t excuse everything.
Bonus, the game is full of bugsdespite a first patch served during testing. If no day one patch comes to correct it, expect quest blocking, characters crashing into the scenery, scripts bugs, a camera that gets stuck who knows where (in the garage, while flying a helicopter, etc.) and so on.
Fortunately, a co-op mode allows you to laugh about it with a friend. You can also restart the game together when one of you has crashed the session by daring to go on the management table of his HQ, or by trying to change his clothes via the phone app. And in between crashes, you can also enjoy the adventure together.
However, if there is a positive point in this new opus, it is that the OST offers a wide range of licensed musicand that it goes very well. Good on the other hand, it seems that the audio tracks that are supposed to energize the action scenes don’t always startand often leave us without music in the background during our missions. If it’s a bug, it’s a shameIf it’s a bug, it’s a shame, since I couldn’t enjoy the music for more than half of the adventure, if it’s not, it’s a more than questionable choice since it totally ruins the rhythm and the staging.