Since the original Saints Row came out back in 2006, it’s no surprise expectations have changed, but can this now teenaged franchise call us back to the streets with a fresh paint job?
Once The Saints find their HQ, and pick their name, the map really fills out to almost overwhelming levels. Beforehand, there's already a few activities scattered about the map like dumpster diving, photographing signs and, inexplicably, being a "wingsuit saboteur". Yes, you can wingsuit about the city.
After that, you can start to build business ventures, beginning at the frankly bafflingly cheap price of $30,000, which then generates income constantly, though in small amounts at first. Each venture adds its own activity, like collecting trucks full of toxic waste barrels or making food deliveries.
Fortunately, there’s a handy “GPS to next venture objective” option, which is a godsend for actually being able to find these across the vast map’s nine districts.
Your enemies in the game are either one of the rival gangs, The Idols and Los Panteros, the aforementioned Marshall or the cops.
The police are the most overzealous, which is not a new experience to anyone who’s spent time playing Grand Theft Auto V, but here the ease at which you can set them off seems borderline unfair.
At one point, to complete a venture mission, I had to steal a particular type of car and take it to a garage. After fending off the cops, who seemed to instantly spawn all around you, I got back in the car to finish delivery and…the process started all over again.
if you aren’t put off by the character’s brash attitude and enjoy messing around in a sprawling city then there’s definitely something here you’ll enjoy...
In fact it makes the experience feel rigid, with the game telling you to be chaotic and then warning you not to leave an area or you’ll immediately fail. Plus, there seems to be no way to self-right a car that’s flipped over, so if you have a bad crash – you’ve had it.
All this leads to a contradiction in tone, where you take on large groups of colourful enemies, but leaves you with relatively limited weapons and abilities to take them on. Your skills, unlocked by completing challenges, seem unreliable, causing you to occasionally jump or roll around instead of using them in combat.
For a time, we found ourselves with only a machine gun in our inventory, as the few other weapons we’d unlocked remained stashed in a gun case at HQ, forgotten. You can also collect, customise and upgrade vehicles, but you’ll need to fetch them from a specific garage rather than just getting it brought to you.
The soundtrack is strangely sparse, far from the high bar set by older GTAs for licensed music, with arguably no well-known tracks and relatively few overall. Though you can make a mix and match personal playlist from all stations through the app on your phone.
Phone apps let you tap into all aspects of the criminal underworld, except certain things you need to go back to HQ for. One particularly nice detail is the ability to adjust your style and even your character’s appearance on-the-fly, without paying an arbitrary in-game fee.
Game performance is worth mentioning, with generally just a bit more pop-in than we’d like, but there were a few times where we got stuck not being able to press a button. There was even one horrible moment when we were in combat and could suddenly only melee, as all other offensive controls just stopped working. There was also one hard crash, but that’s not unheard of ahead of the day one patch.
So it’s a really mixed bag for Saints Row. The bottom line is that if you aren’t put off by the character’s brash attitude and enjoy messing around in a sprawling city then there’s definitely something here you’ll enjoy, but as soon as you dig deeper there’s not a huge amount of substance, especially by comparison.
The driving is actually pretty good, but nowhere close to Forza Horizon 5, which the setting in particular invites comparison to. The variety of the missions isn’t as wide as GTAV, an almost 10-year-old game, and arguably it doesn’t look as good either. There is coop but it’s limited to two players.
Finally, in terms of gunplay, you might think of third-person action like The Division 2 or the similarly chaotic Sunset Overdrive, but the action is just not as tight. Weapons feel too light and bullet spread is high, you never have enough ammo and it takes a long time to get access to more weapons, and when you do, they are such wacky armaments as…an RPG.
It’s frustrating, because we went into this wanting to hear this story we’d heard of, but never got into, and, unfortunately, the game doesn’t do itself justice in terms of telling it.
If you only played the first couple of hours you might not even get to the point where you start building an empire, and given people’s limited attention spans, that could be a serious problem.
Summer holidays or not, it’s time to head back to school at the illustrious Two Point Campus for a university spin on the Two Point Hospital formula.
Students adhere to a list of archetypes, including swot, clown and goth, and each have their own wants and needs in terms of the environment and how they learn.
For example, there are various items which are relationship-building between students, such as a heart-shaped love seat, and some students will call for different new items which match their archetype, such as a spooky Goth chair or a rose garden, which one pair of students will not stop bothering me about every month.
Herein lies the most frustrating part of the game so far. Some of us will have put hundreds of hours into Two Point Hospital, unlocking a wide range of items and decorations, and the process for unlocking new things is the same – kudosh.
Unfortunately, the amount you get is tied to in-game challenges and rewards is quite low, so you find yourself being asked to unlock three or four items at a time, and are frustratingly limited.
Another lack of flexibility, which is particularly apparent in the early stages, and no doubt by design in the vein of simplicity, is the inflexibility of teaching options. Any changes you want to make won't come into effect until the following year, and moving teachers around can be fiddly, leaving you being asked to recruit extra staff and having nothing for them to do.
Sometimes you want to be able to dig into the detail right away, and the game holds you back, which can lead to you feeling impatient.
The fun and games come from the ingenuity and fun which stems from the equipment needed to deliver the various classes, from Knight School to Wizardry to Gastronomy...
Humour has been a big part of these sorts of games, and the tannoy quips, and resident DJ, are back this time to keep you chuckling here and there.
The world map offers a range of campuses you slowly take over, and you can either max them out up to three stars, or push on to the next adventure.
There is something a little repetitive about starting from scratch each time as well, not to mention you feel like missing out on the vast wealth or even pro teachers from your previous, a little unfair, but at least the items you've unlocked are unlocked everywhere.
The fun and games come from the ingenuity and fun which stems from the equipment needed to deliver the various classes, from Knight School to Wizardry to Gastronomy.
There's a joy in seeing a little character animation, or a cheeky pun or reference which you know the game is jam packed full of. You almost feel like they've been hidden in there just for you.
The built-in downtime of the summer break can mean you're less tempted to constantly stop time to make changes during the year, which certainly has been an issue for us for our hospitals in the past, but the chaos seems to ebb and flow rather than gradually building to a nightmarish panic of queue lines everywhere.
The madness itself can be endearing, but at the same time in some areas there's not enough depth. In others there seems to be too much, but once you get your head around it all there's a really good time to be had here. No doubt there's nooks and crannies, such as student clubs, we didn't explore as much as we wanted to either.
Overall, the gamble of remixing the formula and throwing in a dash of new ideas largely works, giving us that hit of fun and frantic management we have been craving but still managing to surprise us.