Back when I was 10, I would spend several hours a day gaming on the home computer. It was a Core 2 Duo HP prebuilt with 1GB of RAM and Intel integrated graphics. Not much in the way of performance, but you could play older games on it. Like GTA San Andreas and Vice City- two of my favorite open-world games to this day. After acquainting myself with the storied Grand Theft Auto series, I started looking for similar games. Open world crime dramas with detailed environments and tons of side activities. A friend recommended Saints Row, claiming “it’s the most fun you’ll ever have in an open-world game”. Boy, was he right- after playing throw Saints Row 1 and 2 my outlook on how an open-world game should be transformed completely.
A lot of people claim Saints Row is just a GTA clone, and while that might be true for the first game in the series it certainly doesn’t apply to the rest. Even the very first Saints Row offered a ton of mechanics that GTA didn’t and was revolutionary for its time. Saints Row evolved into its own thing, giving you an extremely large yet detailed open world with memorable characters and unique missions. At the same time, it has a very wacky sense of humor that feels different from GTA’s more grounded and gritty style. Saints Row if you ask me, is a better gang simulator than GTA. And you get tons of fun side activities + mini games compared to GTA with its boring fetch quests.
Yeah, the earlier Saints Row games don’t feel as refined as GTA but that’s because Volition was working with a much smaller budget compared to Rockstar. These games have plenty of soul, although they do lack a bit in terms of mechanical refinement. So, here’s my list of Saints Row games ranked from worst to best. Keep in mind these are my personal opinions, your taste in open-world games might vary. I have played every Saints Row game, including Gat out of Hell and Agents of Mayhem which many people consider spinoffs instead of mainline Saints Row games. Without further ado, let’s get to the rankings which are ordered from worst to best.
Ranking Saints Row Games From Worst To Best
Coming in at number 6, is a game that I struggled to finish despite being a huge fan of the Saints Row series.
6. Agents of Mayhem
|Release Date||August 15, 2017|
|Platforms||PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4|
While it isn’t a mainline Saints Row game, Agents of Mayhem is set in the same universe as the original while also sharing several plot points and characters. Unlike older Saints Row games, Agents of Mayhem is more about superhero abilities and over-the-top action, similar to what you’d see in an action anime. You get to choose between “agents” in order to explore the sandbox style open-world, each agent has their own unique abilities. The game takes place in a futuristic Seoul, which honestly feels bland and uninteresting compared to Stilwater (Saints Row 2) or Steelport (Saints Row: The Third).
The main issue with Agents of Mayhem is its repetitive level design and interchangeable sci-fi enemies. These enemies are essentially hordes of faceless, nameless zombies that you mow through on your way to the final destination. The story never managed to grab my attention, and I just couldn’t care enough about the plot or its characters. You meet a ton of characters over the course of the game as the story unravels itself, but you never get to really know any of these people. Not enough time is given to flesh out each character’s motivations and personality, the result is a forgettable plot. By the time you’ve gone through 60% of the story, you might have forgotten what happened in the first half.
And while the futuristic version of Seoul doesn’t look half bad, it has very few activities or engaging quests. You simply don’t interact in any meaningful way with the game world and as a result, it feels more like a pretty backdrop instead of a living, breathing environment. Vehicles have no character and you can simply summon one at a whim, not to mention the severe lack of car customization compared to older games such as Saints Row 2. Yeah, I can change the existing paint job of the car with a preset skin but that’s about it. Cars are just tools to get from A to B in this game.
Verdict: Overall, I rate this game an uninteresting 5/10. It’s fun for a while until you realize the world is wide as an ocean and shallow as a puddle. It feels less like Saints Row and more like an open-world version of Overwatch. Yeah, this game isn’t part of the Saints Row series but it shares the same fictional universe along with characters from Saints Row which is why people will keep comparing the two games.
5. Saints Row: Gat out of Hell
|Developer||High Voltage Software, Volition|
|Release Date||January 20, 2015|
|Platforms||PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One|
Unlike Agents of Mayhem, this IS a Saints Row game which should be evident from the title. You know how every Rambo sequel kept building on the carnage and mayhem of its predecessor, amping up the violence and gore with each successive entry? Well, Volition took the ridiculous superpower stuff from Saints Row IV and turned it up to 11 for Gat out of Hell. So if you liked IV, you’re going to love this one. Me? I am not a huge fan because of how far this game strays from its roots, and in the process it didn’t actually improve things. It made much of it worse. Change isn’t always necessary, nor is it practical.
So how crazy is the story for Gat out of Hell? Well, the game is set in hell and your job is to prevent the wedding between Saints lieutenant Johnny Gat and Satan’s daughter. Yes, THE Satan himself is who you’re going to be fighting, down in hell. While the premise is quite amusing and can make for a fun time, the way it’s executed really doesn’t click for me. There isn’t much to the story other than the whole “prevent marriage with Satan’s daughter” plot, and the developers didn’t even include traditional levels. Instead, you wreak havoc in the open world to fill up your Carnage meter which causes you to progress the wafer-thin excuse of a plot forward. Your mayhem meter fills by fighting with hell’s own law enforcement organization, or you can do side activities that are very boring and shamelessly ripped off from previous Saints Row titles.
Is this game all bad? No, the new flying system is very addictive. You feel a sense of empowerment and awe as you fly through the hellish landscape filled with weird-looking skyscrapers. The new arcane abilities let you spawn minions, drain the life essence of foes, immobilize everyone around you, apply debuffs like fire, etc. However, the mission structure and world design are so bland that you don’t get a chance to really play with all these cool toys the game gives you.
Verdict: Volition didn’t have the best development schedule for this game and it shows in the final product. It feels rushed and incomplete. The playtime is extremely short, and there isn’t much to explore within the hellish open-world that Volition has created. Does it have potential? Yes, but the gameplay feels repetitive because all you do is mow through waves of generic foes and fly through hoops. Maybe a sequel in the future will improve upon the concepts introduced within this game. I am going to give this game a disappointing 5/10, putting it on the same level as Agents of Mayhem.
4. Saints Row IV
|Release Date||August 20, 2013|
|Platforms||PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One|
Saints Row 1 through 3 were open-world action games in which you play as gangsters, fighting rival gangs and climbing the ladder. In Saints Row IV you become President of the United States, gain superpowers, and fly around the city fighting off an alien invasion. Story and character development take a backseat while insane action and pop-culture references spring to the forefront.
You fight hordes of zombies, fly around like Superman, toss giant objects with your telekinetic powers, and upgrade abilities on your skill trees. The game parodies popular sci-fi games and movies such as Mass Effect, Matrix, etc. The plot doesn’t make any sense, but it doesn’t have to. Just like a good old 80s action movie, blowing up stuff in the coolest way possible is what really matters.
The fourth entry in this story’s game series feels like a missed opportunity. Instead of letting you customize and create your own open world like advertised, the game merely puts you in a simulation of the city from the 3rd Saints Row game which was already forgettable to begin with. On top of that, you fight the Zin empire (aliens who blow up most of the United States) for the majority of the game, these fight sequences are dull and repetitive. There are parodies of other, more successful franchises. You get to blow up an entire city in a giant mech suit, play a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, and hide within boxes like Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. Most of the humor doesn’t land, and the satire directed at other game/ movie franchises lacks nuance or subtlety which makes it feel ham-fisted.
Verdict: What the game lacks in plot or nuance, it makes up for with tons of side activities. From bike racing inspired by Tron to Streets of Rage style missions in which you beat up hordes of enemies within a side-scroller minigame, there is always something fun to do within the game world. While the Steelport simulation looks poor, there is enough gameplay variety to make it at least mildly entertaining. Car customization is nonexistent, and honestly pointless because you just run around at superspeed like the Flash or fly over the buildings like Superman. I give this game a score of 6/10, it’s alright at times but the nonsensical plot and mish-mash of gameplay elements don’t fit together. As a result, you end up with a convoluted mess that borrows from better games without having any identity of its own.
3. Saints Row
|Release Date||August 29, 2006|
The early to mid-2000s were a period in which many game genres emerged and flourished. From stealth to action RPGs, gamers had tons of options to choose from. One of the genres that everyone wanted to experiment with was open-world crime games. While GTA was and still is the undisputed king of this genre, Volition really hit it out of the park with Saints Row in 2006.
When this game came out, a lot of people were quick to accuse it of being a GTA clone. Yeah, you play in an open-world city just like GTA. You drive around and shoot enemies just like GTA. You do side quests, just like GTA. But once you go beyond surface-level comparisons (because honestly, these are elements present in every open-world 3rd person action game) Saints Row really begins to shine.
For starters, the character customization in Saints Row is leagues ahead of GTA. Even the original 2006 game has better customization than new GTA titles. The whole gang war aspect of a crime game is better done in Saints Row where you can fight unique rival gangs that control different parts of the city. The game showcases your gradual rise to power from a small-time street gang. Side activities in Saints Row are introduced through characters and are often just as important as the main story, unlike GTA. Car, hair, clothing, tattoo, jewelry, and logo customization in this old game from 2006 is still more comprehensive than the latest GTA (at least vanilla GTA, I am not factoring in mods).
Verdict: Saints Row 1 is easily one of the most innovative open-world crime games that broke new barriers back in its day. Its customization and storytelling still stand up to this day, although the graphics don’t. The gameplay is clunky and mechanics aren’t as streamlined as GTA, but Volition was working with a tiny budget compared to Rockstar games. The main downside is that this game is only available on Xbox 360 so unless you have one of those the only other way to play it is via emulation on PC. As for scoring, I give it a respectable 7/10.
2. Saints Row: The Third
|Release Date||November 15, 2011|
|Platforms||PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, Nintendo Switch|
Not only is Saints Row: The Third one of the best in the entire series (many would say it’s the best), but it also ranks up there among the best open-world games of the past decade. It balances the wackiness of IV with the witty storytelling and deep characters of Saints Row 2. Plus, the game runs and plays better than its predecessors with the production quality matching that of GTA.
With Saints Row: The Third, you’re not playing an average open-world game. Sure, it relies a bit too much on lowbrow humor and certain jokes wouldn’t fly in today’s society. However, this also means that the game is nothing like GTA. If you want serious writing and plots that are semi-believable, you play GTA or Mafia. If you want to blow up tanks while wearing a clown costume with a giant masked wrestler as your sidekick, Saints Row: The Third is your game.
Some claim the city of Steelport is inferior to Stilwater in terms of side activities and gangs, plus you can’t do the gang missions as freely in the 3rd game. It is more linear compared to the story of the 2nd Saints Row which lets you do gang missions independently of one another. Also, the customization in terms of clothing is certainly not as detailed as that of the 2nd game.
Verdict: An excellent open-world game, the 3rd Saints Row is my definitive pick for the 2nd spot on this list with a solid 8/10 score. It’s fun and while it scales down on some of the mechanics from 2 to make a more streamlined and linear experience, the fun aspect is simply too good to ignore. The gameplay feels intuitive and smooth, especially the gunplay. Graphics still hold up to this day, despite this being a game from 2011 designed for 7th gen consoles.
1. Saints Row 2
|Developer||Volition, CD Projekt Localization Center (Windows Port)|
|Release Date||October 14, 2008 for PS3 and Xbox 360 with a Windows release on January 5, 2009|
|Platforms||PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
Considered by many to be the perfect Saints Row game, the 2nd installment in this series was developed with a goal to differentiate itself from GTA. The developers were tired of complaints from people accusing their game of being a “GTA clone” so they created a unique world with life-like NPCs using state-of-the-art tech. A new engine was designed to improve NPC interactions, graphics, and gameplay.
In terms of customization for clothing and vehicles, Saints Row 2 is the most comprehensive in the entire series. The game isn’t as crazy as the 3rd or 4th installment, instead focusing more on inter-gang rivalry instead of global domination plans and nuclear missiles. Storytelling is really good with the occasional lowbrow humor thrown in to remind you that this isn’t GTA.
Stilwater in Saints Row 2 is the best it has ever been, with 45 neighborhoods divided between 20 districts. The second game builds upon the characters introduced in the first game and introduces new characters with fleshed-out stories. Plus, there are new gangs and each gang can be interacted with independently of one another so you get to know their officers and what each gang represents. The story is more open-ended and you get a lot of room to explore and do side quests. Everything from your character’s facial expression to fighting and walking styles can be customized.
Verdict: An open-world game is defined by its “world” and no other Saints Row game even comes close to beating Stilwater as presented by Saints Row 2. Each district feels unique instead of another copy-pasted region with slightly tweaked looks. Every part of the city has its own character and unique gang members. There are activities and quests unique to each area, whether it be the museum district or Chinatown district. This encourages exploration because you always stumble upon a new activity, quest, or secret. You could get lost roaming and doing side activities for hours within this world. There is plenty of variety in gameplay, from gang warfare to being a corrupt police officer or even an underground fighter- you can count on Saints Row 2 to keep you entertained. I give this game an exceptional 9/10 and highly recommend you check it out if you’re looking for a good open-world game to lose yourself in.