Before the Saints Row series even came to store shelves in 2006, it was almost impossible to argue that it would fail. Volition were just coming off Red Faction II, and hadn’t really faced much criticism as a studio, with most of their games receiving above average reviews on launch. Whilst some would argue in retrospect that some of their output could be considered a little lackluster, it’s hard to deny that the Illinois-based developer made their mark on the industry.
Spanning four core entries, the Saints Row series is one of their most prolific franchises, and has become a household name since its conception in mid-2003. The IP is still going strong nearly 15 years since the release of the original game, and that’s why in today’s article, we will be taking a look at every entry in the iconic series, from the core and obscure releases, all the way through to the cancelled spin-offs.
Saints Row (2006)
Originally titled Bling Bling, the first Saints Row title began development for the PS2 in mid-2003, following the release of Red Faction II. Conceived as a non-linear open-world experience in which the player could advance through the story at their leisure, the studio had some trouble in creating a narrative that felt natural and engaging, without compromising the freedom that they wanted to grant the player.
Prior to release, the title was fortunately changed to the one we know and love, and Saints Row was born. The demo hit the Xbox Live Marketplace in August 2006, and set a record for the most downloaded demo on the storefront within a week, at 350,000 downloads. The game was performing exceptionally, with positive coverage from the likes of IGN and GameSpot, and ended up getting two perfect scores from The Times and the Detroit Free Press.
Unfortunately, it was here that the game would first encounter comparisons to the series that would overshadow it for years to come – Grand Theft Auto. The Sydney Morning Herald were among the first to state the game was going to keep you busy until Grand Theft Auto IV, and a lot of the public took this point of view and ran with it. If anything, this was an early, but classic instance of the public’s elitism around the sandbox genre, and Rockstar’s monopoly on the industry.
Saints Row did a lot to stand clear of its competition though, with a fantastic tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, iconic physics and an instantly recognizable colour scheme that would become a series mainstay, Volition’s brand of over-the-top action really helped it stand out from the pack. Whilst it still could be said that SR borrowed a lot from Rockstar’s cash cow, Volition injected a hell of a lot more personality into the formula, and for that – gained my preference very early on.
The game ended up releasing exclusively for the Xbox 360 in August 2006. It’s reported that the game was a critical and commercial success, selling over a million copies by the end of 2006, prompting development of a sequel – which became the core focus of the team, leading to the cancellation of a PS3 port.
Also in the works was a Wii version of the original Saints game, which was being developed by Californian Mass Media. It was set to be a much less graphically intensive port, that would leave the core gameplay intact. It was quietly cancelled during development.
Saints Row Mobile (2006)
Before the Saints were kitted out in their iconic purple attire, they were actually green – at least, that’s if 2006’s Saints Row Mobile is to be believed. Developed by a separate studio, Mnemonic Studios, alongside the main game, and advertised via a pack-in leaflet in the core game packaging, most people would’ve just glanced at it, thought it looked alright, and moved on. For those who did choose to foray into the mobile title though, this was a lot of fun.
Swapping the third-person view of the main game in favour of a top-down one, Saints Row Mobile was actually pretty impressive for the time. Whilst it doesn’t feature the series trademark crazy customization, it does feature 4 preset characters, and a lot of content.
Saints Row Mobile tasks you with earning respect to take over territories, whilst exploring a full open-world. Missions involve making delivery drops, taking out targets, engaging in street races and more. It’s a little finicky to get to grips with controls wise, but a lot of fun none-the-less. For those of you willing to dig a little deeper to get your fix of Saints Row, this isn’t a bad choice.
Saints Row 2 (2008)
Entering development around a year before the original Saints Row hit store shelves, Saints Row 2 is generally considered the pinnacle of Volition’s flagship series. It can be speculated that the project actually started as something different entirely, as THQ Concrete Games had been working on a project called Revolution in late-2005. Revolution appeared to be an open-world shooter somewhat reminiscent of Pandemic’s Mercenaries games. Concrete Games ended up providing assets for the Saints sequel, and closed their doors prior to the game’s release. You can see some screenshots of the cancelled Revolution here.
Set five years after the events of the first game, Saints Row 2 consists of iconic mission after iconic mission. Featuring just about everything you can think of, ranging from escaping a prison to a samurai duel, and even a zombie horde mode, Saints 2 is incredibly varied. It’s likely you’ve got a few of the songs you first heard in this game on your Spotify playlist, and you’ll have fond memories of driving through the city with your pals to get suited and booted in the online co-operative mode.
Whilst sales figures were initially much slower than the original game, with the sequel selling 400,000 copies in its first month, as opposed to the 1,000,000 the 2006 entry managed to rake in, Saints Row 2 managed to pick up speed in the months following its release, and by late 2010 THQ had managed to sell 3.4 million units.
Saints Row 2 was also the first title in the series to receive DLC, with three packs being released for the game. The first, Ultor Exposed, featured adult film actress Tera Patrick in a side-story in which the player attempts to take down the megacorporation, Ultor. The DLC also featured some otherworldly new clothing and customization options, with a strong Martian theme, nodding to Ultor’s presence in Volition’s Red Faction series. The second DLC Pack, Corporate Warfare, also revolved around the Ultor Corporation, but this time focused on an internal struggle for dominance, with Ultor’s Head of Security involved in a nuclear weapons operation. The player is recruited by Ultor bigwigs to put an end to it. Saints Row 2 also received a third DLC based on the clothing brand Ünkut. The Ünkut pack was distributed for free and did not feature any new narrative content, instead only featuring new clothing and customization options.
Saints Row 2 Mobile (2008)
A huge step up from the previous mobile entry starring the Third Street Saints, Saints Row 2 Mobile featured an explorable, highly detailed recreation of Stillwater for the player to explore. The game features a toned-down rendition of the narrative from the core game, with a slightly heavier focus on missions.
It controls a lot better than Saints Row Mobile, and the Saints are much more recognizable due to the newly implemented purple colour scheme. Developed by G5 Entertainment, the game opts for an isometric camera angle, and larger sprites make it much easier to see what’s going on during gameplay. Saints Row 2 is undoubtedly the best-shipped handheld game in the series, and it’s by quite the margin.
There’s a fair bit more to do in this entry, with the player able to rob civilians, steal and hijack vehicles, each coming with its own mini-game. The world feels a little fuller too due to the inclusion of interactive buildings such as Forgive & Forget and food stores. You’re also able to pimp out your crib in the game, which gives the player more of a reason to earn cash and complete missions.
Saints 2 was the final mobile entry in the series, as by the time the third game rolled around, Java was a dead platform, and Android development was a much pricier investment.
Saints Row: Undercover (Cancelled – 2009)
Originally titled Saints Row: The Fall, this PSP title was cancelled in 2009. Though it started out as a PSP port of Saints Row 2 by Mass Media Games, Undercover would soon be changed in order to deal with the limitations of Sony’s handheld platform. With Savage Entertainment taking the reins, the game began its transformation into a fully-flegded subplot, with the player taking control of an undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating the Saints in order to stop an internal power struggle from turning into a civil war.
The game was cancelled in 2009, when THQ and Volition came to the decision that the game would not live up to the high standard of quality the series had become known for post-Saints Row 2. Luckily, Volition posted the unfinished build online for fans of the series, and it can be played through use of a PSP emulator, although it is rather glitchy, and textures are not fully rendered in places.
It’s still well worth giving this one a go, as it’s a great piece of history that we would never have been able to experience in most cases.
Saints Row: The Cooler (Cancelled – 2010)
Another cancelled game in the series, The Cooler was set to be a Kinect/PS Move brawler set in the Saints universe. Being developed by Heavy Iron studios, it would follow the player as they tried to work their way up from a lowly bouncer in the slums to the bouncer of high-class locations. Development lasted around six months, with the game being around 65% complete when THQ pulled the plug. Some footage exists of the game in action, but it appears that the game was cancelled due to quality concerns.
The development team would go on to work on UFC Personal Trainer for PS Move and Kinect, which appears very similar in mechanics, and is most likely the closest you will ever get to playing The Cooler. With the lukewarm reception to Sony and Microsoft’s motion titles, it’s not that surprising that the game was canned, but it’s still a shame.
If this one ever surfaces like Undercover did, I’d be interested to try it out – but I don’t think it would’ve been incredibly successful in 2010, had it released.
Saints Row: Money Shot (Cancelled – 2011)
Yet another title that didn’t make it to release, Money Shot was a PSN/XBLA game similar to Burnout’s crash mode, only with a speeding bullet. The player would be given various missions and situations to shoot through, and they’d be able to rack up points by guiding the bullet through civilians and environmental objects.
The game was nearly ready to release, and an executive decision was made to have the game drop alongside Saints Row: The Third and feature unlockable rewards for use in the core game. These rewards would later be made available in the Money Shot DLC pack for The Third, following the cancellation of the arcade title.
Money Shot is another cancelled Saints game that you can actually play. Unfortunately, with the state of Xbox 360 emulation, this is one you’d need a debug kit to properly experience. If you have the means, I’m sure that Money Shot is a decent alternative to games like PAIN.
Saints Row: Total Control (Delisted – 2011)
For those of you who remember constantly receiving hundreds of invites to Farmville, you won’t have the fondest memories of Facebook gaming. Saints Row: Total Control was exactly that, a Facebook-only title in a similar vein to Mafia Wars.
Total Control only existed for a small window of time, and is now completely unplayable. It would’ve consisted of you sending groups of thugs to take over buildings and gain territories. Being based on a Flash engine, it’s unlikely that Total Control had much depth, and its short lifespan and limited press coverage leads me to believe that the game wasn’t overly successful.
Saints Row: Drive-By (Cancelled – 2011)
What would’ve been the only Saints game to release for Nintendo hardware at the time (discounting Saints IV Switch and the cancelled Wii port of the original game), Saints Row Drive-By was effectively going to be a Crazy Taxi-like driving game released exclusively for the 3DS. The game would revolve around you being hired by a judge to drive around a city and fetch hookers for him, delivering them in a timely manner.
No footage or screenshots exist of the cancelled title, but it was cancelled a little prior to the release of Saints Row: The Third, as it was meant as a tie-in.
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
When Saints Row: The Third released in 2011, I remember being really disappointed. It seemed to me that Volition had let the GTA comparisons really get under their skin, and were doing everything in their power to just be wacky and zany, and for me – this change sucked. I enjoyed the subtle humour of the previous games, I thought Saints Row 2 had nailed the balance and had an identity that was individual and incomparable.
Releasing for all sorts of platforms, including the ill-fated OnLive, The Third performed pretty well critically, but publications such as Edge stated that they felt it was ‘The WarioWare of open-city games’ and scored it a meager 6 out of 10. Not many of the previous games’ development team were involved with the title, and it just seemed to feel completely different for a lot of players, myself included.
Saint Row: The Third thrust the player into a brand-new city – Steelport – and tasked them with extending the reach of the Third Street Saints into new territories. Steelport felt huge when compared to Stillwater, and there was a lot to do, with a decent amount of variance in the activities. Saints 3 had some great new additions, regardless of its overall juvenile nature.
DLC was also prevalent here, with the game receiving 23 pieces of DLC. Of these, twenty were individual stuff packs focusing on clothing and customization, with no added narrative content. There were three narrative DLC packs, with the first of which, Genkibowl VII adding in some Professor Genki themed missions for the player to complete. Professor Genki was a huge part of the marketing for the game, and it was obvious that this DLC pack was Volition really trying to push the unofficial mascot for the series to new heights. Following the release of Genkibowl VII came Gangstas in Space, with three new playable missions about the Saints extra-terrestrial escapades, and the final DLC pack, The Trouble with Clones, adding in a further three missions surrounding an avid fan of the gang.
Saints Row: The Third – Enter the Dominatrix (Cancelled – 2011)
The Trouble with Clones was not the end for the DLC run for the third game, or so it seemed at the time. Volition were hard at work on another DLC pack, which would run standalone from the core game. Initially presented as an April Fools’ joke, it wasn’t long until it was announced that the expansion was in fact very real, and that it was really happening.
Enter the Dominatrix would’ve featured an alien invasion on the city of Steelport, and the Saints were considered to be the biggest badasses on Earth. Unfortunately, the DLC was later cancelled, as in June 2012, THQ President Jason Rubin went on record saying that he’d like the ideas to be merged with that of the next title in the Saints Row series. The DLC eventually resurfaced as a DLC pack for Saints Row IV, albeit it was not standalone like its original incarnation.
Saints Row: Prime (Cancelled – 2012)
Prior to THQ’s bankruptcy in late 2012, Volition had been working on a fourth entry in the series, titled Saints Row: Prime, or Saints Row: Part Four. This title entered development a few months after the release of The Third and would set the player loose in a brand new city. The story would follow on immediately from that of the third game, and would center around some of the worlds most revered villains through history, with the main antagonist cloning famous figures such as Genghis Khan, Cleopatra and Joseph Stalin. These clones would act as the leaders of the city’s gangs, and you’d have to take them down to take over their territories.
Saints Row Prime looks as though it would’ve oozed flavour, and I’m sure it would’ve been a very exciting direction for the series to take. Unforutunately, Prime ended up being cancelled by THQ during the tail-end of their financial troubles, as they felt it’d be more cost effective to enlarge the planned DLC expansion for The Third, Enter the Dominatrix, instead of developing a brand new full-scale product. It’s decisions like this and the U-Draw that ruined THQ for everybody.
Saints Row IV (2013)
Released in mid-2013, Saints Row IV took the over-the-top ridiculousness of its predecessor and tripled it. Putting you in the shoes of the president of the United States, and thrusting you into a virtual world with aliens and dubstep guns, Saints Row IV wasn’t looking to take any prisoners. Some fans weren’t too happy with the dive deeper into silliness, but for the majority, Saints Row IV felt like a hilariously fun superhero game, similar to Infamous, but with more dildos.
During development, THQ declared bankruptcy and the Saints IP, along with Volition, was bought out by Koch Media at auction. Koch Media stated that they did not wish to take any creative control from Volition, and allowed the studio additional time for polishing the game, and making sure it was up to standard with the rest of the series.
The game sold over a million copies within its first week, and reviewed pretty well with publications such as Polygon and EuroGamer. IGN were slightly less enthusiastic about the release, awarding the fourth entry a 7.3 out of 10, citing the game had no sense of challenge, and felt like you had the god-mode cheat enabled the whole time.
Two narrative DLC packs were released for the game, the first of which, an updated Enter the Dominatrix, contained five new missions and a lot of leather clothing options. The second pack, How the Saints Saved Christmas, was a holiday themed expansion, and consisted of three new missions as well as some new activities. Volition also released a plethora of stuff packs for the game, which added vehicles, clothing and customization options.
Saints Row IV: Gat Out of Hell (2015)
The final entry in the Saints series to date, Gat out of Hell released two years after Saints Row IV hit store shelves, and was a standalone expansion for the fourth game. It was set to serve as an epilogue to the game, and featured the player taking control of one of two non-customizable characters and trying to escape Hell.
Gat out of Hell had some very cool ideas, such as weapons based on the seven deadly sins, and a pair of angelic wings the player could navigate the map with, though overall it felt a little toned down in sense of scale compared to the previous physical releases in the series. This was the first time that a game in the series had received middle of the road review scores, and it was clear that the series needed somewhat of a reinvention, a clean break. A big complaint shared among most reviewers was the short length of the campaign, which clocked in at around four hours. GamesRadar+ ended up giving it a 2.5 out of 5, which was a new low for Volition’s series.
In 2017, Volition released Agents of Mayhem, which set to follow on from one of the endings to Gat out of Hell, whilst not technically a Saints Row game, it featured a lot of nods to the series, including a strong presence on Fleur de Lys. Agents of Mayhem released to similar review scores, and it seemed that the semi-spin-off was a failed experiment.
Upcoming Saints Row Game (TBD)
THQ Nordic’s financial report released in August 2019 stated that a new Saints Row title has been in development at Volition. At this stage, all we have is rumours and speculation, and nothing concrete to go on in regards to what the game will be, and even if it will be a Saints Row 5. For all we know, this could be another spin-off like those we have seen cancelled in the past. Either way, it’ll be interesting to witness the future of Volition’s series.
Update: It’s been confirmed that this entry in the Saints Row franchise began development in 2017, shortly after the release of Agents of Mayhem.
I’d love to hear what you thought of this iconic series, as well as when you started playing the Saints Row games. What do you think Volition should do with this next entry?
Craving some more obscure gaming content or just want to read something interesting? You can click HERE to go to ObscuReviews Archives and delve deep into games you didn’t know existed.