Saints Row was the first installment in the series as a whole, having begun development in mid-2003 as a PlayStation 2 title under the name Bling Bling. The game was first announced at E3 2005 for the Xbox 360. As the first sandbox style video game to be released for the Xbox 360, Saints Row was widely anticipated; its pre-beta demo build set records after being downloaded nearly 400,000 times within a week. It had sales in excess of 500,000 during its September 2006 release month, and was critically acclaimed. To date, the game has had sales in excess of two million units. The game is set in the fictional city Stilwater, located in the state of Illinois. The player character is inducted into the 3rd Street Saints gang after they save his or her life, and assists the Saints in eliminating three rival gangs that control the city. After the gangs have been eliminated, police chief Monroe kidnaps the Saints founder Julius Little and offers the player to exchange the gang leader's freedom for mayor Marshall Winslow's life. After Winslow is assassinated, Monroe is murdered by the Saints, and Julius is freed. The other Saints members look towards the player character, considering him their new leader. The new mayor Richard Hughes invites the player character aboard his private yacht and Julius betrays the player by blowing the yacht up and killing everyone but the protagonist on board. The game was renowned for being the first seventh-generation sandbox game, and introduces new features which have since become staples to the genre. It introduces online multiplayer, an in-game mobile phone, GPS navigation, and elaborate character and vehicle customization.
Saints Row 2 began development in mid-2006, a few months before the Xbox 360 release of Saints Row. While a PlayStation 3 port of Saints Row was in development, it was cancelled when Saints Row 2 was first officially confirmed in May 2007. A Microsoft Windows port, announced in June 2008, eventually released in the early months of 2009. Three downloadable content packs were developed and launched in mid-2009 (for console only), including Ultor Exposed and Corporate Warfare.
Saints Row 2 is set years after Saints Row; having survived the yacht explosion, the player character awakens from coma in a prison hospital and, after escaping, saves Johnny Gat from execution. Together with the newcomers Carlos, Shaundi, and Pierce, they begin to revive the 3rd Street Saints, gradually reclaiming Stilwater from the three gangs that had taken control of the city in the meantime (The Sons of Samedi, The Ronin, and The Brotherhood). The Ultor Corporation, responsible for the redevelopment of the Saint's Row district, eventually recognizes the Saints as a threat and attempts to extinguish them, but the player character assassinates Ultor's CEO Dane Vogel, destroying the company. The ending sees the Saints run Stilwater once more. The game builds upon the fundamentals of Saints Row by improving the respect system, adding more varied activities, increasing the extent to which the player can customize their character, gang, and vehicles, and adding a number of new vehicle models. It expands the Stilwater setting and adds new gameplay features and content.
Saints Row 2 received several downloadable content releases, including two story-DLCs. The first, Ultor Exposed, adds Red Faction: Guerrilla-themed content, and stars American pornographic actress Tera Patrick, who plays herself as a whistleblower and former microbiologist for the Ultor Corporation. It was released on April 23, 2009. The second, Corporate Warfare, focuses on the struggle between the 3rd Street Saints and the Ultor Corporation, and was released on May 28, 2009.
Saints Row: The Third was officially announced in March 2011. It was released in North America on 15 November 2011, then in Europe on 18 November 2011, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows platforms. The game began early development at Volition in September 2008, a month before Saints Row 2 was due to release. The player again controls the leader of the 3rd Street Saints, who have grown from their humble roots as a street gang into a worldwide crime group. The story centers around the conflict between the Saints and the Syndicate, a rival crime group who seek to take advantage of the Saints' influence. Though the first two Saints Row games were set in the fictional city of Stilwater, Saints Row: The Third is set in a new city named Steelport. Steelport is run by three gangs, much like Stilwater was in Saints Row and Saints Row 2, yet these gangs—Morning Star, the Deckers and the Luchadores—are all under the control of the Syndicate. Later on in the game, a Division of the Military known as S.T.A.G. is called to Steelport by authorities in an attempt to eradicate all of the gangs in the city.
Downloadable content for Saints Row: The Third was announced before the game's November 2011 release along with a commitment from publisher THQ to support 40 weeks of content. Among smaller upgrades, three main content packs were released: Genkibowl VII (released January 17, 2012), Gangstas in Space (released February 21, 2012), and The Trouble with Clones (released March 20, 2012).
Saints Row IV was officially unveiled in March 2012 and released in North America on 20 August 2013 and worldwide shortly after on 23 August. The game is set five years after the events of Saints Row: The Third. After the Saints stop a terrorist attack by Cyrus Temple on the United States, the Saints leader has been elected president. Soon after, an alien invasion occurs and the earth is overrun. The majority of the game is set in a simulation of Steelport created by the aliens to break the Saints' wills. In this simulation the Saints must fight against the enemy for justice of their past and their own worst fears.
Saints Row IV's first story-driven downloadable content pack, Enter the Dominatrix, is a "directors cut" version of the cancelled Saints Row: The Third expansion of the same name, and was released on October 22, 2013. Its second story-DLC, How the Saints Saved Christmas was released on December 10, 2013.
A standalone expansion to Saints Row IV, called Gat out of Hell was released on January 20, 2015 in North America and January 23, 2015 in Europe. The plot revolves around Johnny Gat's attempt to rescue the Boss from Hell after being captured by Satan.
The Saints Row series is part of a genre known as sandbox games. The series combines elements of action, adventure and vehicular gameplay. The player can freely roam the virtual world on foot or by use of vehicles and make use of an array of weapon and mêlée based combat. Illegal activity such as assaulting NPC civilians and police officers will instigate a proactive and potentially lethal response from authoritative figures. In the instance of death or arrest, the player will respawn at a nearby hospital or police station.
An emphasis is put on urban warfare; the player character is affiliated with a hip-hop cultured street gang known as the 3rd Street Saints. Game missions are structurally divided into separate mission arcs. These mission arcs do not intertwine but can be played through altogether at once or separately by the player. Missions are unlocked by accruing respect points; respect is game currency earned by playing non-story mini-games known as activities and diversions. Customization also constitutes a large portion of gameplay. The player has the ability to customize their character's appearance and clothing, can take certain vehicles to chop shops for modification and in Saints Row 2 is able to decorate the interior of in-game safehouses and refine the behaviour of the Third Street Saints gang.
The setting of both Saints Row and Saints Row 2 is the fictional city of Stilwater, located in the mid-western state of Michigan, USA. Stilwater is primarily based on the real-world American cities Chicago and Detroit. During the early development process of Saints Row, the city was designed before the script was assembled and was more than four times the size of its final revision but was cropped to a smaller revision because development resources could not support a city of that size. During its development phase the city went through consistent expansion and cropping; examples such as the shopping mall and trailer park districts in Saints Row 2's city revision were originally included in early designs of Saints Row's city revision. A design challenge was creating the city without load-screen interferences and as such the engine was designed to stream around the player's location in individual chunks of the city. The city was designed to feel diverse and have a variance of districts; Saints Row product art director Matt Flegel commented that "We wanted the city to cover all styles, from the towering sky scrapers of downtown to the gritty industrial feel of the factory district. We want the player to feel the changes between the districts, rather than just noticing the visual difference." The districts were also designed to feel relevant to the gangs that controlled them.
The Stilwater of Saints Row 2 is significantly different from its original rendition; the city is 45% bigger than its older counterpart. Much of the city from Saints Row is redeveloped in Saints Row 2, albeit becoming more "alive" and full of depth. Saints Row 2 lead producer Greg Donovan said that "Stilwater in Saints Row 2 is very different from Saints Row. In fact, every detail has been touched to some degree or another. [...] I think that what will end up happening is that people who played Saints Row or are fans of the franchise are going to have a great time exploring the city and looking for new things. [Also], people that are new to Saints Row 2 are just going to be presented with a huge, very dispersive and very different looking environment, it's very well polished and detailed." There are no in-game load screens in Saints Row 2, a notable feat as the game allows for seamless co-operative play. There are over 130 interiors within the city, including over ninety different shops. The city is more dynamic and lifelike in Saints Row 2, as the artificial intelligence is smarter i.e. civilians will interact with each other. Additionally, certain elements of Saints Row 2's environment are destructible as the game shares some technology with the Volition-developed Red Faction: Guerilla game. Its environment also features numerous landmarks and Easter eggs; one such feature won "Top Easter Egg of 2008".
The game Saints Row: The Third is set in the sister city of Steelport, a city that flourished in the 1800s and has since succumbed to economic failure. Steelport's districts are almost distinctly the same, and the city size is smaller than Stilwater but has larger buildings. Steelport's most memorable feature is the large statue on Magarac Island, south-east of downtown Steelport. The statue is that of steel worker Joe Magarac and is a parody of the real-life Statue of Liberty. The overall design and look of Steelport can be changed via progressing through the story. At certain points the player is allowed to choose whether to do one thing over the other, which will change how Steelport's skyline appears. Some of these choices include deciding whether to keep or blow up the Syndicate Tower. A large military ship named the Thermopylae will be located south-east of Steelport after completing the first STAG mission, "Gang Bang".
Saints Row IV is once again set in Steelport, however the city is set in a simulation under control of Zinyak, the game's main villain. Zinyak has changed Steelport to fit his likeness removing all signs of the Saints from the city and replacing them with images of himself, and alien technology can be seen heavily throughout the city. Many missions in Saints Row IV take place in locations other than the main sandbox of Steelport. The city of Stilwater (the setting of Saints Row and Saints Row 2) returns for one mission of the game, two missions take place in the 50's city of Pleasantville, while Washington, D.C. is featured in the game's introduction.
A spin-off titled Saints Row: Undercover was in development for the PSP in 2009 but was cancelled for unknown reasons. On 22 January 2016, Volition found a prototype of the game in a PSP development kit and released it as a free download on Unseen64.net.
Saints Row: Money Shot (Saints Row: Drive-By on 3DS) was to be a spin-off of the main series, originally developed for Xbox Live Arcade. It was first publicly announced at E3 2010 for the Nintendo 3DS. It was originally suggested that the game would also be available for the Xbox 360 as an Xbox Live Arcade game and for the PlayStation 3 as a PlayStation Network game featuring 3D graphics. The game would have been tied to Saints Row: The Third, as part of the marketing campaign for the game. Playing Saints Row: Money Shot would have unlocked exclusive content for use in Saints Row: The Third, and vice versa.
The connections between Saints Row and Voltion's Red Faction series begin as early as the series' first installment in 2001, Red Faction. The first Red Faction takes place in 2075 and continues the story of The Ultor Corporation, who have begun mining operations on Mars due to Earth's rapidly depleting resources. This storyline is heavily referenced in Saints Row 2 and its DLCs. The first DLC, Ultor Exposed, shows Ultor experimenting with Nanotech in order to improve the lung capacity of miners. When asked where Ultor plans on mining, an Ultor employee answers, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you". In the second DLC, Corporate Warfare, the Boss comments that as long as Ultor stops harassing the Saints, "they can go to Mars for all I care." Red Faction: Guerilla themed vehicles and clothing are featured in both DLCs. Despite potential licensing conflicts after Nordic Games purchased the rights to the Red Faction series, Red Faction references continue to make appearances in the Saints Row series.
On June 6, 2016, Volition released a trailer for a new IP set in the Saints Row universe, Agents of Mayhem. The game is set in a futuristic Seoul, South Korea, and takes place after the events of Gat Out of Hell in the canon ending where Earth is recreated. The cinematic announcement trailer shows Persephone Brimstone (a character featured in Gat Out of Hell) leading an organization known as "M.A.Y.H.E.M." under the Ultor Corporation's payroll and to stop the terrorist organisation "L.E.G.I.O.N." from destroying the world's nations. Agents of Mayhem is set for a 2017 release.
Both Saints Row and Saints Row 2 received positive reviews for their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports. However, the mobile phone ports of both games as well as the Windows port of Saints Row 2 received a more mixed response. Additionally, the downloadable content packs for Saints Row 2 received mostly average reviews.
The Xbox 360 port of Saints Row received generally positive reviews and scores. It received an 82.20% and 81/100 from review aggregators GameRankings and Metacritic respectively. IGN reviewer Douglass Perry awarded the game an 8.5/10, praising the presentation and gameplay while pointing out technical shortcomings as well as the often forced humour. GameSpot reviewer Greg Kasavin awarded the game an 8.3/10, giving credit to the driving, the action, the presentation and the story. However, he criticized the lack of polish and lack of variety in mission design. It was hailed as "the best reason to own a 360 this side of Oblivion" and a "must buy" by GamePro reviewer Vicious Sid, who awarded it five stars out of five.
Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 ports of Saints Row 2 received positive reviews. It received an 83.37% and 82.99% from GameRankings respectively, and 82/100 and 81/100 from Metacritic respectively. GameSpy reviewer Gerald Villoria awarded the game four and a half stars out of five and said that "Saints Row 2 offers up a shooting and driving experience that is plenty of fun [...] It's self-consciously funny in its irreverence, and its low-brow humor will definitely appeal to much of its audience". IGN reviewer Nate Ahearn awarded Saints Row 2 an 8.2/10, praising the gameplay but criticizing the lack of polish and the weak artificial intelligence. However, the PC port of Saints Row 2 received a much less positive response. It received an aggregated score of 70.68% and 72/100 from GameRankings and Metacritic.
Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer wrote that Grand Theft Auto IV was a boon for the Saints Row series since it allowed the latter to be "gleeful silly sandbox games" as the former series took a more serious turn.
Saints Row 2 shipped over two million units for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 during October 2008, the month of its release.
On 2 November 2011, THQ CEO Brian Farrell announced that Saints Row: The Third was already the most pre-ordered title in series history. In fact, the game had four times the number of pre-orders Saints Row 2 had two weeks before its launch. THQ estimated the game would ship over 3 million units before the publisher's fiscal year ends in March 2012. By comparison, Saints Row 2 launched in October 2008 and sold 2.6 million by the end of the fiscal year. On 25 January 2012, THQ announced that The Third had shipped 3.8 million units globally and are expecting to ship between five and six million units lifetime on the title.
To date, the series has roughly sold over 13 million units, including over three million for Saints Row 2.
Johnny Gat was a guest character in parody fighting game Divekick. Pierce Washington is a featured character in the PlayStation VR game 100 Foot Robot Golf.