Saints Row - The Follow Up
I have been reviewing video games for close to 14 years now and in that time I have reviewed a lot of titles. It is fair to say that I have written thousands upon thousands of words about hundreds of games. I say that not to boast or gain some sort of street creed, I say that to provide context. The context for what? Well, in my 14 years, tens of thousands of words and hundreds of reviews I have never felt the need to follow up on one of my reviews. I stand by all of them wholeheartedly. If you read one of my reviews you can rest assured that is 100% my honest opinion of the game, whether you agree with me or not. But now, thanks to one game, I feel like I have to write a follow-up, admit I missed something, and provide more info on why I felt the way I did. That game is Saints Row.
Let me bring you in on my Saints Row journey. About 7 days before the game came out, I received my review code on PC. I immediately jumped in and had a blast. I am a long-time Saints Row fan and this was exactly my sort of jam. I came across a few graphical problems and on one instance the game hard crashed, but that is pretty normal for a review game pre-release. There is often a cost reviewers pay to play games early and that is playing without the all-important day-one patch. In this day an age, that patch is often the difference between an amazing launch and a buggy mess. Everything I saw in my PC playthrough was minor enough that it was a safe bet to think it would be gone once the launch patch was applied. So I continued on my merry way, had a blast and gave my final opinion.
That opinion (for those that haven’t read it) is an A-. First I want to note the inherent problems of summarising 1000+ words into a score, but that is for another time. I stand by that A- was my genuine score for my time with the PC review build of the game. I realised when I wrote it I would probably be at the high end of scores, thinking it would float between the 7-8.5 score range on Metacritic for the most part. I was slightly higher because Saints Row is exactly what I wanted it to be. I loved the writing, the new characters and the humour. The open world felt familiar but improved and while some of the side stuff fell a little flat, for the most part, I had a blast. I stand by all of that but I also realise that not everyone would feel that way. That is the joy of an opinion, right?
But when the review embargo dropped and I saw the game getting absolutely slammed, I immediately felt something was off. These writers, writers I have known for years, writers I trust to give honest and well-formed opinions were going to town on it. It seems that for the most part, everyone got hammered with a broken game, a game that barely functions. Add to this the sudden appearance of a number of, shall we say, over-zealous gamers in my Twitter DMs telling me my review was paid for, that I was a corporate shill giving good reviews for cash and things weren’t adding up. This was not my experience at all so I needed more information. With that in mind, I headed to Amazon and grabbed an Xbox Series copy of the game. I figured, it is a fun TV type of game anyways, it came with the Expansion pass and this way my 17-year-old son could play it too, so no money was wasted.
Well, I am not sure about that last part because boy-o-boy the Xbox version is a different beast from the PC version I played (on my admittedly very high-end PC, which also may have been a factor). I have now put about 5-6 hours into the console version and have had at least 10 game crashes or controller lockups that forced me to exit the main menu and load back in. The pop-ups and texture clipping are terrible and the controls feel horrible, with button presses often not registering or performing an unintended action. This is a properly broken game at this point in time and one that needs some serious work before I could recommend it to anyone.
Sound familiar? It certainly has a very Cyberpunk feel about it, doesn’t it? I would not be surprised to find out that similar, Executive level directives led to an unfinished title getting pushed out the door. No dev on the planet wants to push out a broken game and there is no way that Volition didn’t know that the console versions were broken. There is very much the feeling that some suit somewhere used a basic equation to work out the cost of delay versus the cost of releasing a broken product and went with the latter. The problem here is I doubt this suit took into account the biggest costs, the negative press on the franchise, which could conceivably kill the entire property, and the cost to developers. There is now a huge pressure placed on developers to fix these problems and fix them fast. It is totally understandable that people want a product that works, the devs have to fix that but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t some bean counter with no public-facing presence that put them in this position to begin with.
So we are now in a situation where no one is happy. The customers with their broken game, the developers with the added pressure (and possibly crunch) to fix the problems and the suits because they have potentially ruined the franchise forever. It is a shit sandwich of the highest order, that is undeniable. I understand the need for caution and concern as far as expenses are concerned but in this instant, I think it is pretty obvious that the maths doesn’t justify the end result.
It has also led me to this, writing my first-ever follow-up to one of my reviews. It is certainly a strange position to be in, that is for sure. I am writing this to say a couple of things. Firstly, I still love the new Saints Row. Everything I loved during my time with the PC version, I still love it now. I stand by my score while also recognising that not everyone will like what I like and that is totally cool. The second reason is that I have had new information come to me, information I didn’t have at the time I was writing my review. I had no way of knowing just how broken the console versions were, so I want to warn our readers that this is the case, if only for my own conscience. Finally, I want to use this opportunity to highlight just how expensive not delaying a game can be. From the emotional abuse the developers have received, to the damage to the IP, the cost of a delay suddenly looks a lot more affordable, doesn’t it? I can understand not wanting to delay another game in this pandemic, delay-riddled era but the alternative, in my mind at least, has been worse. Shigeru Miyamoto is often attributed for saying “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad” and honestly I feel (even if the quote is possibly misattributed) that saying holds particularly true here.
Saints Row is, for me at least, a blast. But at the moment for a lot of people, it is downright broken and that can make the fun very hard to find. Hopefully, the team can quickly (yet healthily) fix the issues and the game finds its audience. But if it doesn’t, the Executives will only have themselves to blame.