The Saints Row franchise returns after nine years with a new crew and a rebooted universe. The new entry still certainly has the humor and the gameplay of its predecessors.
- Story is simple, but has a lot of humor
- The main characters are all unique and engaging
- Fun combat perks and abilities
- Deep customization on almost everything
- Boring mission design
- Side activities required to progress through main story
- Various gameplay bugs
It feels odd that this is the first new mainline Saints Row game in about a decade, with Saints Row IV releasing back in 2013. Since then, the third and fourth titles have been remastered and re-released on several platforms, such as Google Stadia, and most likely made that time feel shorter.
The latest game, simply called Saints Row, is a reboot for the franchise. This is still a story about the Saints gang, but a new creation of it with new characters. Does it still retain the soul of the series' history, while potentially moving it forward or is just another open-world game? We also see how the game fares on Stadia after launch, as pre-release reviews for other platforms have not been so kind to the game.
Saints Row on Stadia: What's good
|Developer||Deep Silver FISHLABS|
|Players||Single-player, Two-player online co-op|
|Release Date||Aug. 23, 2022|
|Launch Price||$60 (Standard Edition)|
One of the major strengths of the Saints Row series has been its over-the-top tone, where it feels like anything can happen and nothing is off limits. Saints Row: The Third hooked people in with a giant dildo bat, jumping out of a helicopter to Kanye West's POWER, and actual Burt Reynolds being the mayor of the city.
Meanwhile, Saints Row IV became a Crackdown game where the player was the United States' President, and the player's first choice was to pick between two bills: cure cancer or end world hunger.
The rebooted Saints Row does not get as ridiculous as the previous titles. There are funny weapons like a gun that shoots piñatas, satirical radio commercials, and shops named JimRob's Garage. But this game is milder than others since it's a new origin story for the Saints gang, and it works for the story at least.
The game follows you, the Boss, and your three friends all sharing an apartment trying to carve out a living in southwestern Santo Ileso. You get fired from your private military job, your friends quit their respective gangs, and the entire crux of the game is to build a criminal empire together and overthrow the other three factions: the PMC Marshall, the mafia-like Los Panteros, and anarchist Daft-Punk-rejects the Idols.
The story is simple, but is easy to follow and full of humorous moments. One of your friends gets shot at a party, and the end of the mission winds up with you laying on top of a car shooting unlimited RPGs at a small army chasing you, all while a podcast about self-worth is playing to calm your then-dying friend. There is also a side quest of missions dedicated solely to a LARPing war that is worth a few laughs, even if it is low-hanging fruit.
The humor is more subtle than bombastic, and the characters are dialed back from the Johnny Gat's of old. Eli is smart and meticulous, Kevin is a social butterfly that never wears a shirt, and Neenah is a passionate mechanic. These characters get fully fleshed out in their loyalty missions, and during cutscenes with them planning the next stages for crimes or board game night. They play well off each other, and are engaging enough that you want to see them succeed.
Saints Row plays into the aspect of building a gang with a deep customization system, another strength of the series. You can customize your character at almost any time from the start, and it expands to weapons, vehicles, your home base, your gang's clothes, your gang's cars, and your three friends that can join you as AI companions. It is almost dizzying the amount of options available to customize, and is fun to play around with to set your own themed gang.
While your weaponry doesn't get as abstract as other Saints Row games, there are a lot of fun perks and skills that let you build your character beyond just running and gunning. Perks are more passive, with features such as gaining more ammo from dropped enemies or getting extra health bars once depleted.
Skills are earned from leveling up and are incredibly handy during fights. One of my favorite skills is grabbing an enemy, dropping a grenade in their pants, and then flinging them wherever you want. It's incredibly useful for armored enemies who are essentially bullet sponges.
Though there is one skill earned from the semi-optional Criminal Ventures activities that lets you temporarily shoot enemies through walls. It does not break the game completely, but it did make the last few missions hilariously easy by essentially clearing out entire rooms before even stepping through them.
Saints Row on Stadia: What's not good
While the story and characters are engaging, the mission design between the cutscenes are dated in the least, and tedious at the most. Besides the skills giving you temporary invincibility and explosive punches, Saints Row is a standard third-person shooter.
Most of the main missions are simply traveling to the destination and eliminating a lot of enemies, or getting into a car chase in which you hang out on the roof blowing up dozens of cars at once. Sometimes you may get ahold of a monster truck or an assault helicopter, but then only to simply destroy more stuff.
The moment-to-moment action is not terrible, but can get really tedious if the mission goes too long. All you are doing is shooting grunts, and maybe one boss-type enemy that also requires no strategy except to shoot in the face repeatedly. The AI are bullet sponges and not particularly smart, so the difficulty comes from fighting too many at once, which is most of the time.
It is extremely noticeable during the LARPing missions after spending five minutes doing nothing but shooting waves of enemies with low magazine dart guns and crossbows. Some missions do not have enough variety within them to break up the action of continually aiming for the head.
I also played on the default difficulty, Entrepreneur, which is middle-of-the-road in terms of challenge. The difficulty can be changed at any time, and there are generous accessibility options that let you fine tune granular settings, such as enemy health, number of tougher enemies, and ammo scarcity.
It helps that you can upgrade your weapons throughout the playthrough, and each weapon has a unique skill, like fire bullets or decreasing your takedown meter, earned after completing a challenge. Unfortunately, I had to force myself to try out the other weapons because the basic assault rifle handled practically everything, as long as the mission did not force a specific loadout on me.
Saints Row does have plenty of side activities on the map to break up main missions, with wingsuit gliding, car combat with you riding shotgun, and the return of legally dubious Insurance Fraud. Some of these activities are optional and grant you some XP and money, while Criminal Venture activities are mostly required.
Passive city income returns to Saints Row with Criminal Ventures, where you buy property and complete specific challenges to earn more money every in-game hour to then cash out whenever. I always love systems where you invest money in things to make money for you in the background, but there are two reasons I am not especially fond of it in this game.
Each property planted on the map has its own activity. Some of them are only a few missions long, while others might require doing the same thing a dozen times. I am fine with playing Insurance Fraud a few times, but carefully driving a truck full of radioactive waste or risk exploding 13 times is more busywork than fun.
Thankfully, you earn cash simply by placing the venture and earn more by completing its activities and others within the region. Unfortunately, placing and completing some of the Criminal Ventures are necessary to continue the main story at various points.
So you may be stuck doing a series of side activities if you finish the current slate of main and loyalty missions if initially neglecting them. These activities are also spread out across the world, which means a lot of selecting icons off a map, traveling to them, and then perhaps driving back to the main venture depending on the activity.
Saints Row also contains various bugs that do not break the game, but could perhaps require a reload. Some of the slightly annoying bugs are jammed reload animations, graphical glitches, getting launched in the air from grabbing enemies lifting giant barbells, missing/wrong mission prompts, and AI getting stuck/driving into walls.
Although, that last point could screw up certain missions. I have had enemies spawn outside the mission area, and then not move towards me. It was no problem if it's out in the open, but wedged behind buildings or other structures meant I had to be quick to travel outside the mission area and kill the lone enemy before the area timer failed me. It did not happen much, but was frustrating as it's no fault of my own.
Saints Row on Stadia: Stadia performance and features
Saints Row's performance on Stadia is very solid considering the swarm of reviews, including Windows Central, around other versions where the game became practically unplayable. Although, it is important to note that launch-day reviews were done on a pre-release version of the game, and did not have the day-one patch. My review code was the retail version of the game.
The game never crashed during my time with it, and any gameplay bugs listed above were a little more than slight annoyances. I did receive a save file corruption error one time when loading my continued game, but it worked fine after trying again.
The Stadia version offers two performance modes: High Frame Rate and High Resolution. The game was smooth playing on High Frame Rate, though would stutter occasionally when driving very fast or random action happening during fights.
Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your internet connection to stream the game. For reference, I had an average download speed of 288Mbps and an average upload speed of 21Mbps, according to my Optimum connection's Speedtest. Google recommends at least a 10Mbps download speed for 720p streaming, 20Mbps download speed for 1080p streaming, and at least a 35Mbps download speed for 4K streaming.
Saints Row on Stadia does not have any platform-exclusive features. While the game does support two-player online co-op, there is no cross-platform support. Playing with a friend will require them having a Stadia copy as well.
Saints Row on Stadia: Should you play it
Saints Row was an enjoyable, yet safe experience that doesn't hit the shocking highs of previous titles. The story is simple and full of humor, with engaging characters. Meanwhile, the combat is average, with dated third-person shooting mechanics, a few fun abilities, and too many damage-sponge enemies that you can thankfully dial down in the settings.
It is another open-world game with a map full of icons that require you to do X amount of the same activities. Roaming around the map on an infinitely boosted motorcycle and going down a checklist of activities can be relaxing in its own way, but you know whether you want that, or do the bare minimum to get through the story.
The Stadia version is a tough sell unless it is your only platform, where it is slim pickings for newer games to be some of the best Stadia games. The game is playable, though there are still a few issues that need to be ironed out. There is no cross-platform multiplayer, though there is cross-gen multiplayer support between PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
There are also no Gold or Platinum Editions of Saints Row being sold in the Stadia store at the time of this writing. The much more expensive editions contain the expansion pass, a cosmetic item pack, and a copy of Saints Row: The Third - Remastered. It's less a choice if you want to spend more than the Standard Edition, though the expansion pass containing future DLC will eventually come to the Stadia store once the DLC is released, according to the development studios.
The newly rebooted Saints Row is back and available for Google Stadia. It doesn't quite capture the magic of the previous entries in the series, but can still be worth a play.
Buy from: Stadia (opens in new tab)
Thomas Meyer fell in love with video games starting in the mid '90s with a NES, Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and Jack Nicklaus' Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf. He hasn't stopped and is not planning to anytime soon. Freelance for Android Central and Windows Central.
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