Welcome to the Vibe. Today we’re leaving the streets of Stillwater and heading to Santo Ileso. It’s time to don our purple once again and find out whether the Saints will rise or fall in this reboot of the franchise.
Meet the new Saints
In this game, we join the Saints in the city Santo Ileso, which is based on Las Vegas, Nevada. Now before we dive in, the big question I’ve seen many people asking is, “Is beloved series regular Johnny Gat in the game?” The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, kind of. You can find Gat on t-shirts and as tattoos, but that’s about it. In this new iteration of the Saints, our main crew consists of Eli, Neenah, Kev, you, and of course Snickerdoodle the cat. You start out as roommates struggling to pay rent by working for different gangs and corporations.
First up we have Neenah, the Saints’ mechanic and getaway driver. She’s calm and cool-headed and starts in the gang Los Panteros. Next up is Kev, a pretty-boy DJ, lovable goofball, and amazing cook. Kev is funny and very likable. He starts in the Idols gang and has a penchant for not wearing shirts. Lastly, Eli is the brains of the Saints. He’s smart, business-savvy, inclined to non-violence, and the only one who doesn’t work for a gang. You, meanwhile, are a whimsical, murderous psychopath who’s quick with a quip. You start as a fresh recruit for Marshall Defense Industries. The game starts with you hunting the deadly assassin the Nahualli.
The Gangs of Santo Ileso
The antagonists of the game, as I mentioned above, are The Idols, Los Panteros, and the Marshall Corporation. When shooting it out in the streets, each affiliation has specialists that all work in different ways.
The Idols are lead by The Collective, a group of six Daft Punk-looking wannabes. The colors of The Idols are hot pink and blue. Their whole gimmick is anti-materialism, vanity, and partying. The Idols have a member who will spin glowing Kali sticks to block any incoming shots, and another who will fire flares that disorient your character. The last will send out a sound wave that will make your screen turn black and spin, and give characters a color distortion.
Meanwhile, Los Panteros don an orange and black color scheme. These guys are all about cars, strength, and traditional criminal activities. They are led by Sergio Velez. Los Panteros have two melee-style specialists: one who’s reminiscent of Wolverine, and one who does heavy damage that’ll take you out in a few hits. The third just fires a grenade launcher.
Lastly, we have Marshall Defense Industries, a technologically advanced private military proudly displaying white and blue. They are led by Atticus Marshall. Atticus’ goal is to try and take control of the city, push the gangs out, and make loads of money for his family’s corporation. The specialists here can create clones, drop mines, deploy smoke screens, and summon a mech suit.
Building an Empire: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of this game. The whole point is to build up the Saints as a criminal empire. As you progress through the game you will unlock capital ventures. These will either unlock new ways to customize everything or new side activities to do. Some of the more fun ones, like LARPing and carjacking, I was eager to complete. On the other hand, ones like Bright Future (Waste Disposal), where you need to take it slow until the vehicle takes too much damage, felt like a chore. More often than not those side activities felt like a slog.
I really liked the skills and perks system this time around. You can have four skills and five perks (two minor, two major, and one elite) equipped at a time. One improvement I could suggest would be to add loadouts so I could have perk-swapping without having to do them individually.
The gunplay is fine for the most part, except when firing items like rocket launchers as a passenger during missions. Those heavier weapons seem to have a 60% chance of actually hitting where you aim, and aiming where the enemy will be doesn’t always work either.
The driving can be janky at times, and you’ll randomly hit some invisible debris, causing you to lose control or flip. There’s also a bug that happens every once in a while where you will take damage getting out of trucks. I ran into very few graphical bugs and rarely had any texture popping or loading issues. Although, sometimes using the Death Blossom skill would cause the guns to stay in my hands after it ended, and sometimes clothes would randomly equip themselves after I exited the shop menu. Other than that, I thought the game looked great!
Now, let’s get to some of the good stuff! The customization in this game is amazing. There’s so many option to choose from when creating and clothing your Boss. Unlocking the Cutting Edge venture allows you to customize the material (i.e. wood, stone, etc) of items and even of your skin. There’s a large variety of weapons to unlock doing these side ventures, and out in the desert you can find car parts for special vehicles. Each weapon and vehicle will have a signature ability you can unlock by completing an associated task.
Too Much Spaghetti, Not Enough Western
This is where I believe the game can be the most divisive: its writing and story. I’ll be upfront. The humor here is very Millennial and Gen Z, but when it lands, it lands well. I’ve touched on the story a bit so far, but I’m going to go through the basic story now. Consider this your SPOILER WARNING.
After you create your character, the game starts off with a rewind to the past that gave me Fallout: New Vegas vibes. After you get acquainted with the gang, your first goal is to make rent by knocking off a payday loan. After that, you go to your job with Marshall in which you recon a Los Panteros convoy. Since you are a gun-toting psychopath, this then becomes an “I need to stop the convoy” mission. After fighting waves of Los Panteros and making your way up to the convoy, you have an underwhelming melee boss battle.
After finishing this mission, you meet with Marshal, who makes you the head of security for a museum showing. Now your job is to protect the McGuffin. Er… I mean, the Codex. Then Los Panteros show up to steal it, followed by The Idols. After shooting priceless art and gang members, you manage to get the Codex… which was swapped out by the Idols, causing you to be fired. You fall into a state of depression along with Neenah who likewise failed.
While you and Neenah both have a depressive episode, Kev and Eli are going to a party held by The Idols. Surprise, surprise! Los Panteros attack the party. This results in Eli getting shot. You get the tip-off when Neenah gets a message about the attack from Sergio. The two of you go on a murder spree at the party to rescue Eli and Kev. After saving them and doing some at-home surgery, you all decide to start a gang/business empire. You basically kidnap a realtor to get the deed to a new gang hideout (the church) and plots of empty land.
I’m going to sum up the next parts because they are unfortunately uninteresting. Starting with Neenah, Sergio gets revenge by destroying her dead mother’s car, which she brought from Guadalajara. Unfortunately, as emotional as this moment is meant to be, there’s zero build-up for why we should care. After Neenah swears revenge, you blow up the factories that Los Panteros use to build cars.
Kev gets kidnapped by the Collective as revenge for betraying the gang. You go to rescue him at a bar and, surprise, he’s not there. You kidnap an Idol who’s locked in a port-a-potty and hook it up to your vehicle, threatening to go destroy The Idols’ camp until he tells you the real location of Kev. After that, you go to the Santo Ileso sign to defuse bombs, rescue Kev, and kill more Idols and two more Collective members. This is yet again an underwhelming fight, which I wouldn’t even call a boss fight. Oh, and at some point you and Kev steal the Codex back from the Idols and kill two more of the Collective, and it’s never mentioned again.
I’ll be honest, I liked Eli’s story the best. As I said, Eli is smart but has no combat training. You actually teach him how to shoot! His other side quest is The Dustmoot, which is LARPing-meets-Mad Max.
You break the Nahualli out of prison for a train heist so you can pay your gang. This is a stealth minigame that becomes a shooting gallery. After freeing him, all of you go on a gang bonding trip. You commit the heist and offer the Nahualli a position in the gang, which he says he’ll think about, and he becomes your friend.
After all that, you come to find out Marshall actually owns the Saints, because of the fine print your character didn’t read when getting hired! Angry, you storm Marshall Defense Industries, shoot up Marshall employees, and get to the top of the tower to find he’s escaped. He left his partner behind, who hates him and wants your help to screw him over. You plummet the stock of MDI by hijacking an A.I. tank and causing mayhem. This causes the board of MDI to vote him out, which results in you giving the final vote. At this point, you can shoot him or fire him but it doesn’t really change anything.
After that, the Saints throw a party to celebrate! Before you head in, you have a chat with the Nahualli. He says he likes your friends and that you don’t deserve them… as he betrays you. This brings us to the beginning of the game that I call ‘Fallout: Santo Ileso’. Honestly, this next part was my favorite. It becomes an afterlife acid trip. You walk through a dark valley and reminisce on your friends as you try to find Snickerdoodle. You then transfer to a board game that you were seen playing with everyone in the beginning. You do the fetch quests until you need to go into a barn within the board game. Then you go through a nightmarish semi-platforming section where your character starts succumbing to guilt and thinking everyone would be better off without them. Getting to the end of the nightmare, you try to kill the Nahualli vision unsuccessfully, and eventually Snickerdoodle helps you snap out of it.
After climbing out of the grave, you go grab some weapons and hunt down the Nahualli, realizing he’s kidnapped your friends. You go back to where you first encountered him and, surprise, it’s an ambush! Once you’ve killed everyone, the sole survivor gives you his location: a closed-down casino. You go through the casino with the help of your friends and fight the Nahualli as you go. Eventually, you fight him as he flies a helicopter, and you shoot him down with a rocket launcher. That still doesn’t kill him, and you have a showdown on top of the building in a QTE-style cutscene. You shoot and kill him. Afterward, your friends enjoy beers on you while watching a sunset, and end scene. That’s it! That’s the game. Given how fun the past few have been, it’s odd that it was so boring.
Despite the lackluster story and the slog of certain side hustles, I honestly really enjoyed this. When it hit its high points it nailed them hard. I really hope that if this gets a sequel it has better writing, but there was still plenty of fun to be had.