Before I played the latest Saints Row game, confusingly titled just Saints Row, I expected a shitshow. On YouTube, I saw countless, popular channels calling it soulless, dead, and the worst game of 2022. Reviews from various outlets weren’t much better. Yet after putting about 14 hours into the game on Xbox Series X, I’m having a great time, even if I feel like I’ve played this game before.
Saints Row, not to be confused with the original game, is basically a reboot of the popular open-world crime-‘em-up franchise. Released last week, it stars a new crew of characters, a new leader of the Saints, and is set in a new southwestern city. But while it might share its name with the more grounded original game, this new reboot has more in common with Saints Row The Third, featuring a wacky world filled with outlandish missions and a crew of likable misfits who are both ruthless murderers and good friends. And this time, you get to actually see the origin of this new iteration of the Saints, letting you help build up the world’s most famous gang.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: People aren’t lying about the annoying bugs and issues in this new Saints Row. On PC especially, players are having issues even launching the game, and once it finally starts, they report soft locks and other problems. However, in my time with the game on Xbox Series X, I’ve luckily encountered only a handful of minor bugs, like a character animation breaking or a menu locking up. With few technical issues to distract, I’ve been able to focus more on the game itself, and I’m digging it.
My favorite thing about this new Saints Row is without a doubt the fresh new setting of Santo Ileso, the fictional southwest city the game takes place in. Open-world games need interesting, cool worlds to explore, or the “open” part of the experience—the ability to go anywhere—feels like a waste of time. And Santo Ileso is a great and gorgeous playground that contains large canyons, valleys, deserts, and a mix of small-town and big-city vibes. Occasionally dust storms will hit, obscuring your vision and darkening the world in brown dust. Other times, you’ll launch a dirt bike over a hill and catch a glimpse of a beautiful desert sunset leaving a streak of red, warm sunlight on some rocky cliffs nearby.
Compared with so many other open-world games that seem obsessed with recreating the same four cities or jungles, Saints Row’s southwest desert charm really work in its favor and help make it feel fresh, even if the rest of the game isn’t nearly as unique.
Did you like Saints Row The Third or Saints Row 4 or Gat Out Of Hell? I hope the answer to that question was some kind of yes because this new Saints Row shares a lot of gameplay DNA with these past titles. This includes more than just driving and shooting. All of the menus, map progression, character customization, side missions, and activities feel ripped out of these past games.
At one point my fiancée was watching me play. She’s a big fan of the past games, and after about 30 minutes of watching me complete missions, side activities, and leveling up my character’s stats and perks, she remarked “Oh, it’s just more Saints Row, huh?” And the answer to that question is yes.
Now, as someone who really liked the past games (and also needed a break from Grand Theft Auto Online) this new Saints Row has been a blast. But if the past games grew stale for you and you aren’t interested in the new characters—who I like, but I can also understand people might find them grating—you can feel free to skip this one.
That said, if you want to play an open-world crime game as a British woman who can dress up as a werewolf and take down rival food trucks with RPGs and fire punches to help build a culinary empire, you might want to check this out. Sure, the new Saints Row isn’t a 10-out-of-10 generation-defining game that should be endlessly praised by critics. But some silly, janky open-world action is fine to enjoy every now and then, especially when it’s staged amid such a nice-looking backdrop.