Saints Row (2022): The DANAMIC Review

Reboots can sometimes bring a sense of optimism to fans. After all, it presents another opportunity for fans to experience a world they have grown to love. When done well, it can usher in new fans and lay the foundation for further instalments down the line. Developer Volition would hope this is the case with their Saint Row series reboot.

It arrives seven years after Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, the last time the franchise made an appearance; and it certainly has been a long time coming. I previously also dabbled in the series as a young lad, playing Saints Row: The Third over a decade ago after being enticed by how off-the-wall it was — it would only become crazier with each title.

The new Saints Row, however, starts from a clean slate. That means an all-new cast of characters and a brand new location to play in. Unfortunately, this Saints Row iteration does not ascend to great heights in terms of fun, only mediocrity.

The new Boss in town

Like almost all the games before it, this year’s Saints Row starts with you creating the Boss who will lead The Saints. It is an extensive character creator, featuring all manner of options to dictate how the Boss will look — from customising the body type to playing with the sliders to mould the perfect earlobe size for your character. 

Saints Row 2022: Character Customisation
Deck out your Boss when you begin the game

And this isn’t limited to the realistic either; you can choose among a variety of skin colours and body modifications as part of the customisation. So whether you want to create an average joe or The Hulk, the game gives you all the tools to do it. 

That about ends what creativity the game has to offer for its characters. Three other crew members join you in your journey to establish The Saints as a criminal organisation — Neenah, Eli, and Kevin. Together, the group are portrayed as loyal friends who will never leave one another behind.

It is as cliche as it sounds and extends to their personalities as well. You’ve got Neenah, the tough girl who is a car whiz, Eli is the team’s pacifist strategist who loves to indulge himself in TED Talks, and then there’s Kevin, whose identity pretty much amounts to cooking and being shirtless. 

Their personalities — while not very interesting to me personally — aren’t actually that bad, at least on paper. However, the writing for them kills off any semblance of likeability they would have had. These adult characters talk as if they have just reached puberty, spewing dialogue that we used to think sounded cool back in the day but now sounds cringe in hindsight. It is a damn shame because the voice acting is decent and tries as much as possible to salvage a sinking ship that is the writing.

Saints Row 2022: Dialogue
Unmemorable dialogue at play in Saints Row

Not a lot of thought was also given to the game’s story. The crew begin the game living paycheck to paycheck, resorting to robbing banks to pay their rent. Through a series of compounding incidents, they are now targeted by rival gangs and what better way to show them who’s who than to start your own criminal organisation; hence the creation of a new Saints gang. 

Overall, it is a story that feels very bland, and given the issues with the characters, not much is there to engage you to follow along the crew’s journey with building their criminal empire. Every time you start another story mission, it feels like you are just trying to tick a checkmark rather than being interested in seeing what happens next.

Unlike the series’ last games, the tone for this Saints Row reboot is more quirky than bat-shit insane. Crazy things do happen within the plot, but not to the degree of stuff like alien invasions or traversing through hell. The problem is that the execution doesn’t exactly work here. 

With the previous games, the in-your-face nonsensical nature of it at least presents itself as satirical. That is not the case here. The game’s subtler approach makes whatever absurd scenarios seem just for the sake of being ridiculous rather than being additive to the experience — there’s a certain disconnect when something crazy happens, and the characters barely mention it.

The illusion of Santo Ileso

Saints Row 2022: Santo Ileso
Santo Ileso is your new sandbox

Saints Row once again provides players with an open-world playground; this time, you’ll be growing your gang in the new city of Santo Ileso. 

Santo Ileso is based on Las Vegas, and it certainly shows, with landmarks evocative of the ones seen on the neon-drenched Las Vegas Strip and sprawling desert areas that similarly surround the urban city spaces.

However, it is all just a facade. While Santo Ileso may have some unique and interesting things to look at, ultimately, the world has very little you can do within it. Beyond the various shops located around the map, the only thing that is interactable about it are some landmarks that you can take photos of. Unfortunately, except for a few that unlock fast-travel points, these photo-taking opportunities only give a small amount of XP, so it is not as though it is something you’ll go out of your way to do.

Saints Row 2022: Santo Ileso Landmarks
Pretty locations in Santo Ileso, but nothing else beyond that

You can start establishing your presence with criminal ventures that you can set up around the city, which will build a unique building within the area that you’ve picked. But it, too, suffers from a lack of interactivity. Whatever activities involving the ventures are all done away from these buildings — heck, sometimes they aren’t even within the same area. So besides being able to talk to the NPC placed in charge, these buildings just function as scenery.

The same goes for the NPCs populating the world; they don’t do anything beyond their usual walk-cycles, maybe blurting out randomised dialogue. It’s the bare minimum, perhaps, and not something necessarily bad, but it’s an issue with specific NPCs that appear in Saints Row. 

Santo Ileso is divided into areas dominated by different rival gangs, so you’ll likely find members from the specific gangs casually patrolling the streets. The game makes it known that The Saints are at odds with these gangs — at one point, it literally states that one group has erected checkpoints to look for you — but if you encounter a patrol group, they simply ignore you. Instead, you have to attack for them to engage you. It just adds to the lifeless nature of how the world feels. 

Travelling around the city is also unnecessarily tedious in Saints Row, especially during the early parts of the game. Fast-travel points are sparse and unevenly distributed, meaning that even if you make use of fast-travel, there’s a good chance that you still have to travel quite a distance to where you intend to go. 

This is particularly frustrating whenever you get killed. If you die during a side activity, you’ll be transported to the nearest fast-travel point, which could be in an entirely different area from where you once were; you’ll have to travel back to where the mission was to retry it. Even though vehicles are almost always readily available to help with travel, it drains so much motivation from wanting to get back into the action quickly.

Saints Row 2022: Fast-travel
Every opportunity for convenience is taken away by the game

But perhaps the most egregious issue with fast-travel is when you start a campaign or side mission. Beginning one often prompts you to meet with a character at a specific location, but the game does not allow you to fast-travel to it to reach there quicker. It is actually more efficient to just abort the mission, do the fast-travel first, and then start it properly. This is just bad game design at work, and there’s no reason why the game has to make it so difficult. 

Mission decommissioned 

Speaking of missions, Saints Row pads the main ones that progress the story with side missions that usually involve one friend from the crew. 

The story missions usually provide some variation of a big action set-piece, while side missions allow you to connect more with your trio of friends as you spend time learning their quirks. Unfortunately, both are structured somewhat predictably, often leading to some sort of shootout or car chase.

At the very least, there are some side missions with interesting concepts. A highlight is one with Eli, where he convinces you to join him in a LARP (live-action role-playing) quest. You still get into the same shootout outcome, but because everyone is LARPing, you dress up in faux armour, and your enemies dramatically over-act your killing of them. I wish I got more of this cheekiness, as not enough of it is prevalent in Saints Row’s list of missions.

Saints Row 2022: Eli Side Mission
Eli’s LARP missions are a rare gem

Besides the missions, there are several activities to do within Santo Ileso. Littered on the map are Side Hustles that The Boss can take to earn extra cash, varying on things like posting bad reviews to provoke rival gangs, couriering items as quickly as possible, and protecting your driver in car chases, among others.

They are fun the first few times you try them out; shooting and blowing up cars while riding on the roof of a car as you protect your driver brings chaotic energy that I like. Sadly, they get repetitive as you progress in the game, and with some located out of the way, these become less enticing to tackle. These Side Hustles also have an unforgiving checkpoint system, in that it doesn’t have any. Fail, and it is back to the start — another trait that demotivates you from doing these activities.

As mentioned, you can also set up Criminal Ventures around the map that help generate a constant flow of cash which you can transfer to your account. Building a venture not only unlocks threats for you to eliminate to increase your cash flow but also opens up venture missions for you to do around the city. 

Saints Row 2022: Criminal Ventures
Located around the map are spots to build your Criminal Ventures

The threats themselves are mostly forgettable, recycling variations of killing enemy gang members, occasionally throwing in something different in the mix. Meanwhile, venture missions are at least unique to the type of venture you have built. Some are pretty interesting; insurance fraud is an entertaining one that asks you to get over by vehicles and rake up cash from personal damages — a throwback to a similar minigame in Saints Row: The Third.

Others can be annoying. There’s one with toxic waste, and missions involve you transporting barrels of them back to HQ. The challenge here is that they are volatile, meaning you must be careful when driving. It is slow and dull and simply not fun to do.

Overall, Criminal Ventures are a mixed bag. There’s undoubtedly some enjoyment, but not all of them are activities you would want to spend your time on.

Gameplay sinners

Saints Row employs a rather brain-dead gameplay system. The shooting aspect itself is pleasing; it feels responsive and punchy, though melee is a let-down since it lacks any feeling of impact — it certainly isn’t as fun as bashing people with a dildo bat.

Rather, it is the combat that is middling. There is no cover system implemented, so you are basically running and gunning every time you get into a shootout. There is a button to crouch, but there is literally no point in using it. During combat, you can do an execution on a foe, which elaborately kills them off with a single button press. Executions also heal you, but once you’ve done one, a cooldown starts, and you’ll need to wait for it to refill to reuse it. Killing enemies will, however, quicken the process.

Generally, every shootout gets into a rinse-and-repeat cycle of killing enemies and doing executions to heal up, with the occasional dodge roll when it gets hectic. It is a monotonous process, especially when there is a big group of opposition to fight through. 

Except for a few special ones, enemies are also undistinguishable in combat. The AI for them also gets quite dumb, damaging their comrades or willingly walking into hazards like fire. Overall, combat has no challenge; it becomes a turn-off your brain habit every time you get into one.

Saints Row 2022: Enemy types
SWAT police with riot shields are just one of a few enemies that differ from the usual dross

You can use skills to add a little diversity to the combat, ranging from throwing a grenade or executing a flaming punch at an enemy. Unfortunately, bar maybe one or two skills, none of them are particularly useful in combat, so they mostly go unused when I was engaging enemies.

Criminally unpolished

Open worlds are often more susceptible to bugs and glitches than any other game genre, and the same is true here for the new Saints Row, but even compared to other open world games, this game has its fair share of them.

Thankfully, they haven’t negatively affected my playtime too much. My two worst experiences occurred early on; I could not get back into the gameplay after being locked into the customisation menu, and the game froze on me during a mission. Since then, no such game-breaking bug has happened.

Probably the buggiest thing about Saint Row is the AI. There are amusing ones, like when enemies have no disregard for their surroundings and will ram over civilians and their peers to hunt you down. But the game also has really annoying ones, such as spawning enemies outside of mission zones, making them difficult to eliminate since you can’t leave the zone or you will fail the mission. 

Saints Row 2022: AI
Enemies spawn out of your mission zone, with the AI not smart enough to go past a wall

Another thing I did notice as well was that Saint Row does not do a great job of tracking certain stats. For example, guns unlock a special skill if you complete a specific objective while using them. Still, even after doing them (like getting double kills or killing a particular enemy), the game occasionally does not add them to the running counter. 


The new Saints Row certainly qualifies as a game; it just isn’t a very fun one. There are occasional bright sparks within, but between the uninteresting characters, cookie-cutter story, tedium in travelling around, and repetitive gameplay, there isn’t much here worth experiencing. For a series that once took it upon itself to stand out from the crowd, it is disappointing to see this game be as bland and generic as it is.

Screenshots were taken on a PlayStation 5, with additional visuals courtesy of Deep Silver.

Saints Row (2022)




Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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