Saints Row Accessibility Review — Can I Play That?

Ben Bayliss14 minute read

Saints Row Accessibility

Deaf / Hard of HearingBlind / Low VisionMobilityCognitive

Saints Row has an impressive suite of options available, especially when it comes to mobility. Implementation of visual information and management does feel like a back and forth between "Not half bad" and "Could be Better." Above all, it's a fun, over-the-top experience that sets this iteration as the most accessible in the series.

Score

6 out of 10
  • Legible subtitles that clearly stand out
  • Lots of customization for controls
  • Buggy gameplay can cause some issues with playstyles or settings
  • Lots of management

Over-the-top action, foul-mouthed characters, and a satirical take on the open-world formula are what to expect from Saints Row. We’ve already seen a tease of the Boss Factory back in June that showed a number of wins for representation so the upcoming title was already looking promising. Now, I’ve been able to jump into the world of Saints Row to take a look at what accessibility is present. This review also focuses on the PS5 version.

To give an idea of the gameplay for those who have never played a Saints Row title, you’ll likely find this to be on par with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. You play as a criminal, you do missions, you steal cars, there’s a lot of shooting, and even more swearing, and it’s all set under a comically wild —and very buggy— umbrella.

First Boot

On first boot, there was already a fairly substantial legibility concern. Sure, no one ever reads the EULA agreements, but having light text that is also small and thin on a light aqua background does not instill me with much hope. Thankfully, my worries are alleviated —somewhat— later on, which I’ll get too soon.

The standard startup screens appear, allowing for adjustments of brightness and HDR settings. There’s also a slider for UI brightness but the preview changes the entire screen brightness, so I’m already confused about what it’s actually changing. I leave it at default out of fear of making my overall game dark.

There’s no accessibility menu that pops up before the main menu, but there is both a Settings menu and an Accessibility menu available from that main menu. Various features can be found here such as subtitles and subtitle customization, options to skip QTE events, colorblind options, and even high contrast is available.

Our lengthy Saints Row accessibility menu deep dive is available here if you fancy finding out exactly what to expect. Honestly, on paper, it’s pretty nifty. Implementation, though, tells a different story.

Jumping Right In

My first introduction to gameplay is packed with gunfire, and as I progress, minor tutorial boxes appear in real-time to explain mechanics. Really, it’s a fairly quick onboarding but feels linear and clear in explaining the basics, although may be a bit intense for new players new to the franchise.

Subtitles

Subtitles fill me with mixed emotions.

In Saints Row, I can adjust the size of subtitles, apply a speaker label, and choose background options. I’m elated to see these options and the degree of customization there is. What’s more, the background box fits in with the game’s overall slanted UI style which means that the subtitles add to the interface rather than stand out, and I quite like that.

There are minor captions in regards to sounds such as one time I saw a sigh captioned or the frequently ringing phone per mission. That’s about it though, so don’t expect to see much in the ways of detailing the world sounds surrounding you.

Sadly, subtitles in Saints Row are buggy, which isn’t wonderful for accessibility. Sometimes they’ll vanish, sometimes their timing is off, and the speed setting to keep them on screen longer doesn’t seem to do much because of the broken timings.

Supporting dialogue that falls out of the main script is presented as fun, floaty, and fluky-style bubbles. These bubbles hover over an enemy’s head but are fairly illegible with no customization available. If an enemy is off-screen, the bubble appears around the edges of the screen which is useful for directionality.

The size of these bubbles is dependent on distance, meaning small text for faraway sources, just look at the above image that shows a bubble smaller than the mini-map in the bottom-left corner. Thankfully being throwaway quips does mean they’re largely unimportant to the story, but as a Deaf player, I want to be aware of what I’m hearing through my hearing aids. I just can’t help but think that another way of presenting these could have helped me enjoy them.

As far as audio goes, the default way of playing is to have all the audio at a level footing, but a Context Audio option being enabled allows the granular adjustment of various elements. This ranges from explosions, vehicles, injury sounds, and more.

Saints Row’s continuous back and forth of “Not half bad” and “Could be Better” across the game continues with directionality. The minimap features a clearly noticeable objective waypoint and there’s an arrow to indicate the objective itself is higher or lower than my current position. An on-screen waypoint comes complete with an arrow to help direct me to the marker if it’s off-screen.

Driving features prominent driving lines that mould into the world itself as well as the mini-map, and thanks to the dark style of the mini-map, it’s clear to know where the main roads are. Frustratingly though, off-road routes and alleyways are faded out which does mean I’m missing a lot of shortcuts I could be wanting to take.

However, when I enter interior locations, the minimap blacks out. There are no blueprints of any kind to help me with knowing corridors, open spaces, and other areas are present. This works against me when it comes to combat because there’s not much to keep me visually informed of the dangers.

Saints Row offers some more accessibility information that’s available during combat. A damage indicator ring will appear, but aside from that, enemies don’t have outlines unless I’m close enough to activate a Takedown. Red dots in the mini-map are the most help I get here, and I’m always uncomfortable with having to look to the mini-maps in games while I’m being peppered with bullets. Frustratingly, a number of missions have enemies obscured by fog, bright lights, or sandstorms, which makes locating them even more frustrating. It’s just lucky they have health bars above their heads to make it somewhat more bearable.

What’s more frustrating is that you can unlock enemy outlines through a later side-mission where new tech is given to me for testing. One of these is a deployable screen that allows me to not only shoot through walls but also see the outlines of enemies for the duration the screen is erected.

Combat itself is littered with lots of shooting, performing skills, activating a Takedown when it’s ready, and it’s all very high-octane. Trying to take cover isn’t something that’s really encouraged in Saints Row, instead, the crouch button is set, by default, to down on the D-pad.

The action across the game might be overwhelming for some players, maybe for those with limited mobility, but also for those struggling to take in the key subtitles while trying to survive against hordes of enemies.

There is also a weapon wheel to make switching weapons somewhat easier. Sadly, unlike most titles these days, there’s no slow motion when activated, so there’s that frantic panic in trying to switch in real-time while enemies flank me.

Shifting back to the mini-map briefly. There are a number of missions that have me searching for a specific item or person within a large yellow radius. While the radius is handy, the amount of coverage given has had me looking for a painstakingly fair while with little success.

QTEs and Controls

In the above image, QTEs require me to mash the X button to get out of bed. This happens three times during this scene, and each time my character rolls over groaning requiring a little bit more button mashing than previously. I then realized pressing the pause button is locked during this sequence, which means if someone was having trouble mashing, they’d have to quit the game to go to the main menu.

Saints Row, despite its flaws, has a great number of accessibility features for controls. Players can remap the PS5 controller, which I would like to imagine is the same across all platforms. However, despite offering secondary inputs, this feels rather limiting, not allowing combinations like R1 and Square, for example.

There is a number of aim-assist features with varying levels of intensity and snapping. However, the higher sensitivity options have my character snapping aim onto nothing directly behind me in some cases. There’s the QTE skip option. there’s an option to remove timers from timed missions, there’s even a whole list of toggles that players can go through and toggle on or off.

There’s not much in the ways of fast travel either, and what is available has to be unlocked over time by completing missions or challenges. Regardless, If players grow fatigued driving the large open world, they won’t find much comfort in the lacking fast-travel options.

Driving a car is a bit on the heavy side, which makes for more fiddly steering. Gunfights at their basic are mostly aiming and shooting with occasional dodging and takedowns. Special abilities by default require holding a bumper and then choosing the assigned face button. However, combat grows more complex with inputs to climb on a moving car roof, and mashing circle to extinguish yourself when on fire.

Interface and Legibility

The general interface feels fairly simplistic while still delivering what I need to do. A top-left objective, a mini-map with varying sizes to choose, tand he ammo, health, and shield area in the bottom-right. My main complaint really is the weird placement of some icons that could have fared better tucked alongside other areas.

Having your active crew in the top-right randomly feels like empty space being badly utilized while having a speaker icon in the near-top-left feels like it could have been alongside the speaker label or mini-map. The Takedown icon sits just above the subtitles and feels as if its presence has resulted in the placement of subtitles feeling too low for comfort, resulting in more distance between reading and action.

There are also side-missions that involve taking a photo of a landmark within a certain frame. It’s incredibly difficult to see the red corner lines that are required to fit within your white corner lines before they turn green.

PS5 Features and High Contrast

DualSense haptics are odd, as are adaptive triggers in Saints Row, and neither serve a function for accessibility. I’m unsure if it’s just the buggy build of my review copy, but with adaptive triggers set on to resist, they just don’t seem to do any form of resistance. Usually, firing guns or the accelerating of a vehicle in games is where these kick in.

The haptics feels like your typical action haptics, picking up on gunfire and explosions and the like. However, when I sit idling on a motorcycle, the haptics always do a weird pattern as if the engine is chugging. “Dup, dup, dupdupdup, dup, dup, dupdupdup.”

In Saints Row, the high contrast feature offers two options that allow players to play the game with various colored shaders, but not to the level we’ve seen in Sifu, or Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered. The main difference with Saints Row is that there’s no freedom of choice for customization and personal preference, and these shaders are mostly outlines rather than full model shaders.

The Highlights Only feature has the world in its usual color, however, all key elements are given thick outlines with different colors for certain things. The Full feature greys the world out while keeping the colorful outlines standing out.

I also want to highlight a problematic enemy attack. Idols, one of the enemy gangs, appear to use flashbangs with psychedelic effects. This involves the whole screen going black, leaving glowing rainbow shaders for characters with a tiling and distorted effect.

I’m unsure if turning motion blur off reduces the intensity of this effect as I’ve not come across the attack in a while. However, in the end-game, a similar effect happens and testing it with motion blur off there removed the effect.

Online, Management, and Side-Missions

During my time with the Saints Row online, which was only very brief, I found myself engaging with another player by assumptions alone. I couldn’t seem to find any quick-chat options, and I certainly wasn’t available for voice chat if that was on. However, having a friend, or stranger at my side to help me go through missions was enjoyable, even if it was frustrating waiting for them to unpause so I could walk around.

There’s some form of management with inventory needed. Ammo and cash can be picked up from fallen enemies. When health is low-performing takedowns are required to bring it back up. Flow can be earned through combat to allow the use of Skills.

General exploration also finds additional tasks such as rummaging through dumpsters, collecting car parts, and finding drug stashes. The completion of these, logged in to my mobile phone, and unlock more things such as vehicles, gear, or decorations.

There are also side-missions where you can hunt bounties and find collectibles to decorate your HQ. There’s a cash app that lets you withdraw passive earnings as well, but to increase the value earned, I need to expand my empire through the map table. This also unlocks more side-missions.

One area I find irritating is the missions app. Uncompleted missions are automatically sorted at the top of the list. Completed missions are available directly below with a tick. I’d much prefer to have completed missions shoved to another tab to help with visual clutter. As the game progresses, areas start becoming turf wars, which can involve a fair bit of management from me trying to keep on top of it all.

Conclusion

Sadly, implementation for a variety of things is quite buggy or done without legibility in mind. Subtitles are nice, but buggy, and controls are customizable but limited. Buggy gameplay can cause a headache with controls messing up. The amount of management is a fair bit and increases the further the game progresses, and while text may be small across the game, there’s thankfully not much to read unless you’re reading subtitles and objectives.

On paper, Saints Row has a fair bit available for accessibility, and it’s undoubtedly the most accessible game in the franchise. I’m really impressed with what’s available for toggle customization and it’s clear that accessibility has been considered for a variety of players.

A review copy of Saints Row was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben
BaylissEditor-in-ChiefHe/Him

Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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