Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows

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Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows

Saints Row means a great many things to a great many people. This is what makes the idea of a reboot brave. We know that an extra spinoff with Johnny Gat or a direct follow-up would satiate fans just fine so the idea to do something new is rather interesting. Unfortunately, Saints Row 2022 never manages to escape from the monstrous shadow set by previous games.

In Saints Row, you take the role of "The Boss". Spending your days doing contract work at Marshall, a private defence company operating as one of the game's three central gangs, you finally get fed up when a mission goes wrong and decide to make a new crew. You aren't alone in this.

As a nice bit of worldbuilding, your friends are in the other two gangs taking control of Santo Ileso. Neenah, a fiery and intelligent young woman is a member of Los Panteros, a more traditional gang that takes great pride in their vehicles. Kev is a member of Idols, a pseudo anarchistic gang with neon aesthetics. Finishing up your central group is Eli, a nerdy but sincere friend who can run your finances and logistics.

Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows
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Gang Signs

Unfortunately, many of the gangs don't have the depth you may expect from how they put themselves forward. The Idols, for instance, sell themselves as an anarchistic sect preaching equality and class liberation but none of their actions follow suit. This is obviously parody or satire but never feels substantial enough to be interesting. There's plenty of room here for great comedy but it never amounts to more than facetiously gesturing at hypocrisy.

This extends to all the gangs, and most of the people too. As a backdrop, it's not horrendously bad but it makes the writing feel a little half-baked. This is a shame as Saints Row genuinely has some really great writing moments. The Boss' dynamic with the gang somehow feels both fluid and fun and cringe-inducing - a deadly combo.

Like its previous games, Saints Row is bombastic and over the top, filled with tiny sketches and ideas. Some of them don't work but they tend to hit so quickly that it rarely catches your attention for too long. The story is a pretty generic one but the way you get to that story can be interesting.

Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows
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You must be having a LARP

Saints Row is at its very best when you are not doing traditional open world things. Eli's LARPing missions are a good example of this. Swapping out the explosions and violence with foam darts and fake knockouts, you are tasked with LARPing your way across Santo Ilesos.

This involves starting fights with warring factions, gathering ancient supplies and building monstrous creations (a car with cardboard on it). It's frankly a great set of missions that taps into some of the joy at the heart of Saints Row.

Unfortunately, Saints Row' outdated open world design feels particularly weak after some of the game's stronger set pieces. From the start of the game, you have a big world open to you. You can explore it by checking off lists and activating missions. Ultimately, the world is reduced to a collectathon, doing away with most organic worldbuilding and storytelling. Like the rest of the game, it's not a horrible solution but you can't help but feel they could do better.

Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows
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Combatting the Combat

For the most part, the game's action is what you would expect. You have a handful of weapons you can use at any point, plus a takedown meter that lets you do a cool kill to regain a little bit of HP. It's a good way of keeping you in the combat and, more importantly, making you feel like the centre of the game's universe.

Saints Row is a power fantasy and the skill system encapsulates this perfectly. As you continue to fight, you get 'flow' that can be used on special kills like tucking a grenade into someone's pants and throwing them or a flurry of bullets as you spin around. Guns are powerful and enemies die quick.

This is when they aren't glitching out. My time with Saints Row had too many bugs to not notice. They would go from small visual bugs and enemy despawning to the final bad guy in the very last cutscene entirely disappearing. Like most open-world games, this is just part of the package but I can't say it didn't diminish my experience somewhat.

There is much more to Saints Row than just the combat and missions. As you start to get your own crew going, you unlock a table to invest in new businesses. This nets you some passive income, like Saints Row 1's stash or Saints Row 3's city income. You can do missions for each one of these ventures to make a little more money and do side activities in each region to increase it a little more. It's a good way of keeping you doing different things but even this feels too caught in the past.

Saints Row 2022 review - Old sins cast long shadows
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Keeping active

Saints Row has reskins of "Insurance Fraud", a mode all about jumping into traffic and "Tank Mayhem", where you have to cause as much destruction as possible, with a couple of extra small activities on the side. This feels too much like playing an old game and I can't help but wish they tried to shake it up more.

One place that feels a little different is how they use the wingsuit. If you jump from a high distance at any point, you have a wingsuit attached that can float you around the city. It's a good way of implementing Saints Row 4's traversal abilities with the slightly more grounded approach of Saints Row 2.

This being said, it is still a very arcadey title. Any car can be grabbed at any point, none of them have speedometers, and the rules of the road simply don't apply to you. This is one of the things I've always loved about Saints Row. Although it came off the back of hits like Grand Theft Auto, by the time the second game came around, it had managed to cement its own tone and style.

Though somewhat contentious, the fact that it went so out there with Saints Row 3 and 4 proves how much creativity the team were capable of. Though some may really love Saints Row 2022, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if they left the old ways behind to make something a little fresher.

Saints Row
Saints Row 2022 is a time capsule of a game and era many have moved past. Instead of building on the legacy of Saints Row, it feels like a tired retread of a game we already have.

A copy of Saints Row was provided by the publisher

For more articles like this, take a look at our Saints Row and Reviews page.