In a time where it seems like almost every second game released is a remaster or remake of some kind, it’s interesting to see the kinds of titles that publishers decide to pull out of the back catalogue, and even more so to see what studios do to bring them to a modern standard. While I’m often perfectly happy just to have the chance to relive fond memories of older titles in higher definition like the recently released Mafia II: Definitive Edition, it’s also nice when a developer puts some actual effort into touching up a fan favourite, even if that game is Saints Row: The Third.
Saints Row: The Third picks up several years after the events of Saints Row 2, where the Third Street Saints have risen from dominant street gang in the city of Stilwater to actual celebrity status. This catches the attention of a mysterious international crime group called The Syndicate, who drop in on the Saints performing research for their upcoming feature film (see: an actual bank robbery), and the ensuing chaos forces them out of their home city for the previous two games and into the brand new location of Steelport. From here, the crew decides to mount a full-on takeover of the city, clashing with multiple local gangs and causing absolute chaos in the process.
If you’ve never played a Saints Row game before, especially this one, that might sound a little over-the-top, but let me assure you – that barely scratches the surface. Saints Row: The Third is wild from beginning to end. This is a game that lets you give your custom crime boss bright blue skin, freakishly disproportionate features and a zombie voice which they’ll then use to sing along to Sublime’s ‘What I Got’ on the car radio on their way to buy new threads. Everything here is 100% over-the-top, from the way your character leaps through windscreens to enter cars to the suite of weapons that goes from regular gun fare to ‘dildo bat’ and ‘octopus launcher’ real fast. In its prime the series had grown to be the antithesis to the likes of Grand Theft Auto’s increasingly mature (to use the term loosely) direction and by The Third, the rulebook had been tossed out the window, burned, urinated on and snorted in a strip club bathroom.
That metaphor is an apt one, because Saints Row is a series not known for subtlety in its themes. There’s really no getting around the fact that Saints Row: The Third’s ‘personality’ hasn’t aged well. While I’m far from opposed to a healthy dose of mindless violence with a side of toilet humour the game is very much a product of 2011, topping off an endless parade of bad jokes about dubstep and autotune with a wearying helping of casual queerphobia and appropriative AAVE.
It comes with the territory of course, and fans will either not care or already be prepared to cringe at things that they used to enjoy. Still it’s a tad alarming to load the game up and be greeted by a main menu option titled ‘Whored Mode’ in 2020, which I struggle to believe anyone even found funny nine years ago. The game’s characters are actually fairly well-written and interesting at least, and the overarching narrative isn’t without merit, plus when the jokes do land they can be quite funny. One of the earliest gags involves a character asking how far away their rescue helicopter is, to which the answer is ‘about two waves of S.W.A.T. guys away’. Naturally, the player then fights two waves of S.W.A.T. guys while waiting for their ride.
As a game, Saints Row: The Third is similarly brash and messy in its execution. In its original release there was something of a natural crescendo in the way that the game almost immediately let you loose to go anywhere and play with anything, after spending the prior two games building up a criminal empire. Stripped of that context it can be jarring to be an unstoppable badass with a suite of super weapons and vehicles from the outset, and it doesn’t do wonders for the game’s pacing and sense of progression. Most will be in it for precisely the kind of senseless and depraved shenanigans that are on offer though, so laying it on thick and fast isn’t exactly a bad move. The important thing is, the game is still dumb fun and full of great moments, like an early mission that sees you parachuting into a penthouse shoot-out to the tune of Kanye West’s ‘Power’. There’s absolutely still a place in the market for an open-world game designed for maximum mayhem and excess.
On the visual side of things is where the Remaster label really comes into play, and it’s actually mighty impressive. There’s almost no facet of the presentation that hasn’t been touched, with a laundry list of updated graphical features like new ambient occlusion and global illumination models, HDR, physically based rendering, volumetric fog effects, lit particles and tons more. Character models for main characters have been completely rebuilt, and secondary NPCs, vehicles, world geometry, buildings etc have all been reworked and more. The city population itself has been beefed up as well, feeling much more alive with cars and pedestrians than the original, which was a major complaint at the time. The result is quite transformative, and the effort that Volition has gone to is much more than the simple up-res that I expected. The only disappointment is that (likely due to all the new bells and whistles) the game still runs at 30fps on console, with an option to unlock the framerate that doesn’t help all that much.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
At the end of the day, the value of Saints Row: The Third Remastered will wholly depend on either a heady reverence for the original game/series or a penchant for emphatically stupid antics bolstered by puerile humour. There's no denying that the visual overhaul is thoroughly impressive, but little else has been done to make the game feel like anything other than a throwback to the year that put both Pitbull and LMFAO in the Top 10.
Through Visual Overhaul Looks Substantially Better Than The Original
Increased Population Density Helps Steelport Feel More Alive
Chaotic Action With Barely Any Consequences Is Still A Lot Of Fun
Humour Hasn't Aged Well
Still Rife With Annoying Bugs
Going From 0-100 Right Away Hurts The Games Pacing