After about a five-year hiatus and a couple of delays, the Saints Row series has finally returned. With developer Volition still at the series’ helm and no new GTA game in sight, you may think that this is the perfect time for the Saints Row franchise to assert itself in the modern era, welcome back old fans, and possibly win some new ones.
However, the early reactions to 2022’s Saints Row have ranged from “mixed” to “downright hostile.” What should have easily been one of the year’s biggest games is now the subject of widespread fan backlash. As is so often the case with divisive pieces of popular media in the internet age, the discourse surrounding Saints Row spread so quickly that it can be difficult to understand what the whole thing is really about.
So, while there are quite a few people who have many different opinions about Saints Row, here’s a brief overview of some of the major reasons why this open-world crime game is currently garnering a lot of hate.
Some Fans Feel The Saints Row Reboot is “Too Woke”
While I’d love to be able to avoid this particular controversy altogether, you can’t fairly discuss the Saints Row backlash without talking about those fans who claim the reboot is too “woke.”
See, the original Saints Row games (Saints Row 1-4 and their various add-ons) famously utilzied an over-the-top, take no prisoners style of humor that has often been compared to South Park. The Saints Row series has historically looked for ways to make a name for itself and stand out from the competition (most notably the GTA franchise), and that style of humor and general absurdity have long been its biggest weapons in that fight.
Generally speaking, Saints Row‘s ridiculousness has been its greatest asset. You may or may not find things like dildo bats, dubstep guns, or a car repair shop called “Rim Jobs” funny, but the franchise’s willingness to really lean into that direction certainly helped it find an audience. To be very fair that approach also contributed to some of Saints Row‘s best moments. There aren’t many games that start with a gang leader becoming President of the United States only to eventually acquire superpowers that they use to defeat aliens, but that’s exactly what a game like Saints Row 4 offers.
However, that willingness to go so far over the top and skewer absolutely everything meant that Saints Row often went way too far. The Saints Row games have historically been filled with homophobia, racism, numerous instances of sexual violence towards women being played for laughs, and numerous other instances of crass content often justified in the name of parody.
The series actually did get a little better in that respect as it went on (honestly, some Saints Row moments and characters are downright wholesome in their own way), but there’s a degree to which embracing the franchise at its best meant being willing to tolerate, overlook, or yes, even love the games at their worst. At some point, the offensive nature of the Saints Row series became one of its defining features.
Right from the start, the developers of the 2022 Saints Row reboot have been clear about their desire to target some of Saints Row‘s most offensive elements while attempting to retain some of the absurdity that helped make the rest of the franchise work. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Saints Row producer Rob Loftus offered this explanation for the team’s desire to not just reboot the franchise but to reexamine some of the themes that the franchise was built upon:
“It wasn’t a choice where somebody on the publishing side, or somebody on the business side said, ‘You know what? Societal tastes have changed and we need to change Saints Row. It was our own thinking that drove this…I think that a lot of content creators and brands are trying to expand their audience. And that means not connecting with that type of humour. It’s about connecting with a type of humour that is more suitable for a larger audience.”
As soon as those statements (and the game’s controversial reveal trailer) were released, some Saints Row fans latched on to the idea that the reboot’s creators were disingenuously making their game “woke” in order to appeal to a wider audience. Some of those fans are simply the kind of people who are offended by something as simple as the reboot’s use of gender-neutral pronouns to describe the player character while others tried to argue that the reboot’s developers were ignoring the kinder, gentler sides of previous Saints Row games by suggesting the series was in need of a complete tonal overhaul.
I’ll have more to say about Saints Row‘s writing, humor, and tone in our own review of the game, but one thing that I think is important to realize about this particular controversy is that it kind of took on a life of its own before anyone actually played the new Saints Row game. There are numerous (and valid) criticisms you can make about Saints Row, but if the reactions to this game feel especially acidic at times, that’s because the fans behind them have been marshaling their outrage resources for months. They’ve been waiting for the chance to attack this game because of a belief that they formed long ago.
It’s ultimately not fair to say that the Saints Row reboot never had a chance to please those who decided to hate it based on its very existence (even if some of those fans hate many things, ideas, and people on the basis of their existence), but it is fair to say that the game was always going to be controversial in this respect.
Saints Row’s New Cast of Characters Represent a Tonal Shift That Some Fans Refuse to Support
This point kind of goes hand-in-hand with the section above, but it’s enough of its own thing to treat as a separate topic.
Basically, there are some gamers who outright hate Saints Row‘s new cast of young characters (as well as its new tone) based largely on the idea that they are designed to appeal to Gen-Z gamers/hipsters (which are the most popular terms used to describe the game’s presumed demographics). Again, some of that vitriol can be traced back to the belief that Saints Row is trying to be “woke.” The game’s slightly more diverse cast of lead characters is certainly the biggest target in that respect. Crucially, though, other franchise fans are upset by some of the broader thematic differences between the old Saints Row games and this reboot.
While some were always going to be upset that the Saints Row reboot doesn’t feature any of the franchise’s most famous characters, there seems to be a ton of hatred towards this particular cast of characters. I’ve heard the new Saints Row crew called everything from Fortnite rejects to wannabe TikTok influencers, and those are the descriptions I feel comfortable sharing with you. Mind you, the pure hatred towards this game’s main characters has existed since before we even really knew anything more than what they looked like. I don’t even want to try to dive into the psychology of this whole thing, but for several reasons, the main cast of 2022’s Saints Row has really gotten under the skin of those who claim to be fans of “true” Saints Row games.
Honestly, I do think that the new Saints Row has an identity problem that affects the quality of its cast. As I mentioned above, though, it’s important to realize that the hatred towards the game’s cast has been brewing since some gamers set their eyes on the title. It can sometimes be difficult to separate fan entitlement criticisms from creative criticisms, especially when you’re talking about a game that is currently being criticized from all sides. As always, though, it remains important to be able to do just that.
The Saints Row Franchise Has Steadily Been Disappointing Some Fans For Many Years Now
While the first four Saints Row games generally enjoyed pretty positive reviews, there’s been some backlash brewing against the franchise ever since Saints Row 3 really embraced the more absurd elements of the first two games. Some enjoyed that pivot towards the absolutely ridiculous, while some felt that the series pushed too far in that direction. A lot of people from both of those camps hated 2017’s Agents of Mayhem: a Saints Row spin-off that fully-embraced Saints Row 4‘s Saturday morning cartoon vibes and made sweeping changes to the franchise’s gameplay formula.
I think quite a few people heard “Saints Row reboot” and immediately imagined a game that took the series back to its slightly more grounded roots. Instead, they saw a reboot that retained the series’ ridiculousness while shaving down some of the franchise’s rougher tonal edges. Granted, the game’s debut trailer wasn’t great, but that would certainly help explain why some of those initial reactions to the reboot were as…passionate as they were.
In some ways, the anger you might be seeing towards 2022’s Saints Row is being fuelled by years worth of disappointment towards the franchise itself. We know why those who enjoyed some of the more recent Saints Row games are disappointed by the changes this reboot makes, but it’s fascinating to see that they’re being joined by those who haven’t actually enjoyed the series for years now but still harbor hope that they will again. As I said, it’s kind of a perfect storm of outrage at the moment.
Saints Row Suffers From Numerous Bugs and Glitches (and a Controversial Art Style)
I wrote an entire article about this particular point, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that some of the anger you’re seeing towards Saints Row is directed towards the game’s various technical problems.
While Saints Row is far from the biggest Triple-A game I’ve played in recent memory, it’s still a very buggy game that is sure to upset those who generally can’t tolerate technical problems in video games. There’s also the increasingly popular idea that some studios are becoming a little too comfortable with releasing what are sometimes seen as “unfinished” games. That idea is rarely fair to the efforts of the people making those games, but again, that’s the environment this reboot is being released in.
I should also mention that some have complained about the game’s “Fortnite” art style and general visuals. While many of those complaints are more representative of some of the tone and content controversies mentioned above, some criticisms have been reserved for the general quality of the game’s visuals. Make of that what you will based on what your own eyes tell you.
Even Those Willing to Give Saints Row a Chance Will Find a Game With Quite a Few Problems
While I’m holding off on sharing some of my own final, personal thoughts about Saints Row until I’ve had the chance to spend a little more time with the game, I can echo the sentiment suggested by many of Saints Row‘s early review scores. At the end of the day, the game has a ton of problems.
I genuinely respect developer Volition’s attempt to retain the best parts of previous Saints Row games while trying to resolve some of the franchise’s legacy issues in a way that will help the series reach new players. On paper, I think that was a great move. Unfortunately, the right intentions can’t fully disguise this title’s technical issues, undercooked gameplay elements, unengaging plot/characters, and often failed attempts at humor. There’s very little in this game that other games (including other Saints Row games) haven’t done better. It ultimately feels like it’s meant for those who have wholly embraced the core Saints Row gameplay, but for the many reasons outlined above, many of those fans have already found reasons to turn their backs on this title.
My biggest fear is that those who decided to hate Saints Row long before it was released will use the game’s legitimate shortcomings as a way to justify their anger towards it and the people who made it. There are lessons to learn from Saints Rows‘ successes and shortcomings. The most we can hope is that the discourse surrounding this game doesn’t become so toxic and unbearable that someone ultimately decides it’s just not worth touching the franchise at all.