Saints Row Review (Xbox Series X) – Keep It Strange, Santo

Saints Row is bananas. Like its predecessors, it’s an open-world crime sim where you play as The Boss. You’ve got to take your criminal empire from nothing, all the way to the tippy top through theft, murder and racketeering. Unlike many contemporaries, Saints Row opts for a hyper-real, exaggerated style. The world of the Saints reflects the real world only at its most base, most amplified state.

Santo Ileso, the setting for this reboot of the Saints Row franchise, is a southwestern version of Gotham City. Nobody would ever actually live in this lawless hellscape, at least nobody from our reality. Within Saints Row though, it’s normal to have a ‘murder-for-hire’ app on your phone rather than Tinder.

It’s an everyday occurrence in Santo Ileso for gangs to go to war with automatic weapons, for cars to explode and for people to be murdered in the street. And, it’s not horrifying. It’s banal, it’s vanilla. It’s the US of motherfucken A.

Saints Row Review

See, while Saints Row wants to appear goofy, over-the-top and ridiculous, it’s actually got a pretty bleak message at its core. However, as Fight Club’s musings on toxic masculinity have been misinterpreted, so too is it likely that the point Saints Row makes will be missed. And, you know what? That’s fine. Not every game needs to change the world.

For players looking for a deeper meaning, they’ll find something in Saints Row. A pitch-black look at the American dream in 2022. A darkly, biting satire reflecting on fame, wealth and power. For others, who just want to blow some shit up and turn their mind off for a while…they’ll also find something in Saints Row. They’ll actually find lots of something because there’s a tonne to do.

In addition to the regular open-world activities, one might expect — driving, shooting, flying, wingsuit — and the decent number of main missions, Saints Row features a huge number of side quests, bonus missions and more. The more of these you engage with, the richer and more powerful your Saints will become, with access to bigger and badder gadgets, weapons and vehicles.

Each and everything you do in Saints Row feeds back into the growth of your empire and your expansion across Santo Ileso. It’s a smart way to keep players engaged, especially when the map is COVERED with icons. Unlike some other icon-heavy open-world games, it never feels overwhelming nor a chore to cruise around town and complete mini-games or collect items.

This is, in part, because of the variety of activities you can choose from. Sure, there are a lot of fetch-ish quests, combat missions, driving mini-games and the like, but then there are the weird and wonderful inclusions like the insurance fraud mini-game. Here, you need to hurl yourself into traffic and accrue as much damage as possible in order to claim phoney medical bills. The more you get hit, the higher your adrenaline goes, before finally it peaks and when you smack into cars they explode sending you skyward. If you can manage to bounce on other cars before landing, you’ll get a combo going and rack up big dollars. It reminds of the Crash Mode from Burnout 2, except instead of a car, you’re smashing up your fragile human body.

There are plenty of other gems to find scattered throughout Santo Ileso, and the joy comes from the discovery. The city itself is well designed if a little bland. The neighbourhoods offer something slightly different from one another but by and large, Santo Ileso is one of the least visually and geographically interesting cities in an open-world game. That’s not to say it’s bad, because it’s not. It’s just not going to blow you away.

I’d say that’s actually a fair comment overall for Saints Row. The shooting and driving mechanics are good but nothing we’ve never seen before. And the same can be said of the mission design and overall presentation of Saints Row. But, it’s not a game that intends to reinvent the wheel nor does it need to.

And while it may not be a revolution, it is hugely enjoyable.

There’s plenty to see and do on your trip to Santo Ileso. If you want to team up with a friend and take on the city together, co-op is easy and lots of fun too. The story is over a little quicker than I anticipated but there’s plenty to keep you occupied once you’re done with the Saints’ rise to the top.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to be your own boss.

Saints Row was reviewed on Xbox Series X using digital code provided by the publisher.

Saints Row
Reader Rating0 Votes
A pitch black look at modern life
Tonnes to do
Fun, silly and enjoyable
Looks and feels a little dated
Nothing you've never seen before
Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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