Saints Row 2 proved to be quite the success for Volition so it wasn’t surprising that they almost immediately began work on a third game. However, for the sequel they moved in a new direction, describing it as a reboot for the series with a focus on being over-the-top to help differentiate the game from Grand Theft Auto. Well, they certainly accomplished that goal, but the result is a wildly different game from its predecessor. There’s even big character changes like the boss of the Saints (who you play as) going from a vicious psycho to an almost Nathan Drake-esque action hero. Sure, it was Saints Row IV where the series went completely off the rails and didn’t so much jump the shark as it did blow the shark up with a UFO, but Saints Row: the Third did at least leap over the shark while wearing a luchadore mask and swinging a giant purple dildo. Now, nine years after it first launched, we have Saints Row: The Third Remastered. How has the game held up over nearly a decade?
The tone is firmly in the realms of barmy madness with a tasteful dash of crass. This is a game where you rescue a pimp who was being forced to let people ride around on him in a BDSM club. It’s a game that successfully degrades men and women alike, and also empowers them at the same time. And weirdly it rarely, if ever, devolves into fart jokes, which is downright amazing. Y’know, apart from the fart grenades, but who counts those? A lot of people are going to find the game’s humour too much, and some might even find it offensive in this politically correct climate, but personally I love it. Saints Row doesn’t have a great story, but it does have hilarious, likeable characters and a lot of jokes that made me grin. The only thing it’s really missing is the presence of Johnny Gatt, the franchise’s best character. He’s absent for the majority of the game, and it tells.
All these years later I’m actually surprised to find that the character I like the most in Saints Row: The Third is actually Killbane, the hulking Luchadore gang-boss who likes to use wrestling allegories. Maybe it’s just because I’m back into wrestling these days, but I really enjoyed every scene he was in.
It’s a bit rough around the edges, mind you. Occasionally it feels like there’s a cutscene missing, as though the developers forgot to add a bit of connective tissue. And missions have a habit of just ending, even when you’re still surrounded by bad guys who are driving tanks. How did you get away? Where did they go? No idea, just go with it.
The idea is that the Third Street Saints have become a multimedia empire, while also still somehow being a gang who go around doing illegal shit. They’re world-famous, and so to help promote the upcoming Saint’s movie they head off to rob a bank with a method actor in tow. Things quickly go wrong however as they’ve stepped onto Syndicate turf, and as a direct result they find themselves stripped of their cash and assets. In other words, you have to build it all back up again. In the middle of this messy gang war the city brings in STAG, a faction wielding advanced technology with orders to stamp out the troublemakers.
Don’t worry if you haven’t played the previous games though. Sure, you’ll be more familiar with the characters, but so much was changed between games that Saints Row: the Third is more like a soft reboot of the whole franchise.
This isn’t a complete remake, but it’s certainly a hefty remaster with almost everything getting a touch-up or remodelled. Cars and guns, for example, have all been redone so that there’s more detail in them. Character models got the same treatment and now look a lot better, although the lip-syncing and quality of the animations is still quite stiff. Some characters have even been redesigned or tweaked, like how Kinzie now looks more like her Saints Row IV counterpart. It’s not all perfect, though – Johnny Gatt’s new model just doesn’t look quite right, for example.
There’s also a whole new lighting model at work that helps make the world look less flat and more like an actual place. Plus loads of fancy new particle effects and suchlike to make explosions look extra explosioney.
None of this is to say that Saints Row: The Third Remastered looks modern; the animations in particular look stiff and awkward, and things have a habit of popping into existence in front of you. But it’s still a big step up from the original game and probably the best that could have been done without a full remake being required. Whether its enough work to justify the £35 asking price for people who already own the game is another question.
There is a caveat to the remaster, though; the console versions are locked to a disappointingly piddly 30fps by default. You can, however, venture into the options and enable 60FPS mode. Personally I can’t comment on how well it runs, but the fact that the game defaults to 30FPS isn’t hugely promising. Thankfully on the PC we get to run the game as fast as our systems will allow, and the game is sooooo much better because of it. In other words, the PC version is the no-brainer choice if you can get it.
Most of what you’ll be doing involves shooting stuff or driving, and both fall squarely into the ‘yeah, it’s fine’ category. There’s a general sense of weightlessness to the shooting, but mowing down hundreds of goons (I wish they had added a few more enemy models into the mix) is good fun. There’s never much of a threat as you can happily stand in the middle of gun fire and soak up the damage before sidling behind cover and watching as your health regenerates.
The driving feels slow by today’s standards. I wonder if that was due to the more limited draw distance of the time holding back how quickly you could move across the map. The physics don’t feel right either, in the sense that you never seem able to get the height on jumps that you think you should be able too.
But what the game is great at doing is dressing up the gameplay and basic objectives so that you don’t care much about the flaws. From skydiving onto a penthouse while Power plays in the background to protecting a cargo container full of hos being transported by helicopter, Saints Row: The Third always finds some insane way to hide the limits of its basic gameplay. Flying advanced VTOL aircraft that fire laser beams? Check. Shootout in a strip-club? Yup. Diving through the cock-pit window of a cargo jet in mid-air? Got that, too. At one point I find myself riding a Tron-style bike in a digital world, and then a few minutes later I’m committing insurance fraud by deliberately hurling myself into oncoming traffic. Not every mission hits the same high standards (there’s a series of them near the beginning that introduce side-activities that kind of suck) but for the most part there’s always something entertaining and just straight-up fucking crazy happening.
My personal favourite mission might just be the one where you have to fight through a virtual reality. You start off as a toilet, then a sex doll before getting a half-decent avatar. You get to finish up as a dragon wielding a sword. Mind you, battling zombies at the behest of Mayor Burt Reynolds is pretty freaking awesome, too. Oh, and wrestling Killbane in a ring after chopping up a bunch of Luchadores with a chainsaw was a highlight, too! Or going to my crew’s rescue while I Need A Hero plays. I swear, this game is a constant barrage of standout moments.
You also get all the extra DLC missions that were released for the original game. These are fun little storylines and add a bit more content to an already quite chunky game.
The downside to all this madness is the pacing is off in the sense that the ending can’t ramp the action up anymore because the game already started at 11 and hasn’t let off the entire time. There’s no escalation. Hell, in Saints Row IV they literally had to bring in aliens so that they could top themselves. But then again, in a game like this you naturally get time to breath when you’re messing about in the open-world between missions, so constantly having the action ramped up works for Saints Row: the Third.
It’s outside the missions where I think the game suffers. There are activities like going on a rampage or driving as fast as you can with a tiger in the passenger seat, and they are fun the first couple of times, but they get old fast. And there’s not a whole lot else to find in the city in terms of awesome jumps or potential for madness. The city of Steelport is composed entirely of skyscrapers and houses, so there isn’t exactly much variety, and since you can’t enter the majority of the buildings that just leaves the streets to explore. The remaster has added more NPCs wandering around which does help the city feel a little more alive, but ultimately there’s nothing there.
Of course, you can still find some fun doing all the normal open-world stuff like running down hundreds of hapless civilians in a tank, skydiving into a military base or just smacking people with a giant purple dildo because reasons. Important, vital reasons.
In the background there’s a very basic little management thing going on. You can buy up businesses and buildings around the city that increase your overall control and will funnel money into your pocket every in-game hour. It feels cheap though, because if you have a bit of patience you can wait around to build up money and buy whatever you want. Ultimately the whole thing doesn’t add anything to the rest of the game, which is a real shame. I always hoped they would do more with the idea and actually let you run the Third Street Saints empire, but sadly they never did that. Ah well.
Everything you do garners respect that goes into building up a meter which in turn opens up a whole bunch of upgrades. You can buy the ability to dual-wield SMGs (awesome when they are fully upgraded to spew flaming bullets) or just bump up your health to turn you into even more of an invincible action here. One of the later upgrades even makes you impervious to bullets, which is just crazy.
I really liked Saints Row: the Third when it came out some nine years ago, and I’m impressed by how well it actually holds up. Yeah, the driving and shooting feel quite basic, but honestly GTA V doesn’t feel any better in terms of its core movement, shooting and driving yet people still love it. Saints Row: the Third usually finds inventive, funny and entertaining ways to stage its missions and gameplay so that you never notice the problems with it. The result is a game that’s just plain fun and has a bunch of memorable missions, moments and characters. So many games try to be gritty and realistic, or present high concepts,. Sometimes you really just want to sit down and ride a panda-quadbike around while dressed like a wizard and shooting at Luchadores.
Now, what about that Saints Row 2 remaster? Get to it, THQ.