It’s weird. I remember a time when open-world sandbox games were the one thing that everyone in the gaming space went head over heels for after Grand Theft Auto III dropped on the PS2. There’s something to be said about the kind of catharsis that games like it provide by dropping you into a huge city and just wreaking absolute havoc upon all who roam, protect, and plunder there. Though somewhere along the way, Rockstar decided that GTA needed to distance itself from its sillier side and focus more being a more nuanced and serious type of crime game. While I have had my fun with a couple of titles in that franchise, Saints Row started out as a more straightforward alternative to GTA games and started going in a much goofier and ridiculous direction with subsequent entries.
Saints Row: The Third is the game where Volition looked at anything remotely serious in terms of story of gameplay and essentially put the tone of the game in the hands of a horny teenage boy wearing a clown nose writing down what he thinks would be his ideal version of GTA would be. While I have nothing against a good silly time, you’ll be hard pressed not to crack a few chuckles at the sheer bombastic aesthetic of the opening act of the game and where it goes from there.
Though this isn’t the first time that Saints Row: The Third has seen a release on current platforms. Last year, the Switch saw a port called The Full Package and it sort of landed with a bit of a thud from a performance standpoint. This isn’t just a port of the last gen version, though. Rather, it’s more of a substantial update for modern platforms and another chance for new players to take a crack at going nuts in the city of Steelport if they somehow missed out back in 2011.
Developed By Volition/Sperasoft and published by Deep Silver, Saints Row: The Third Remastered released on PS4/Xbox One/PC (Epic Games Store) on May 22, 2020. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Super Ethical Criminality
In the years following Saints Row 2, the Third Street Saints of Stilwater have become a hot property with merchandise, a movie in the works, and bobbleheads to go with all this newfound fame as a result of their exploits from the prior game. Hell, it opens to a Star Wars-style text crawl to accent how famous they are now right before you’re thrown into a bank heist with Johnny Gat and his crew. While the segment is light on plot but heavy on action, it’s a fun way to open the story as it’s straight out of an over the top action movie.
Unfortunately for the Saints, things go to crap and they end up in jail briefly before being bailed out by none other than The Syndicate’s leader Loren (think ‘low-rent’), who whisks them away on his private aircraft to offer the Saints a deal. Either they turn over a significant portion of their assets, or face death. Obviously, Gat tells Loren to pound sand here and chaos ensues. Most of the Saints narrowly escape the insanity, but not without Loren wiping their assets away and leaving them with nothing.
Back at square one, the Saints find themselves penniless in the Syndicate-riddled city of Steelport and have to claw their way back to the top to exact revenge on Loren and take the city back from him, while also tussling with rival gangs Morningstar, Luchadores, and Decker. Yeah, the plot is super simple here, but considering we’re talking about a game where there’s an option in character customization to up your “sex appeal,” the bar set here was deliberately low.
That isn’t to say that the acting in missions are bad, but it would be pretty inconsistent for me to say that the voice cast in the game wasn’t handed a big ‘ol ham and cheese sandwich along with their scripts before going into the recording booth. Parts of the script lean into self-aware territory at times, but they know what they’re in and just go with it. While story missions can be selected alongside other activities in the city, it’s a stupid-simple plot that’s more concerned about getting laughs in lieu of doing anything resembling subtlety.
Despite that, I don’t mind a bit of ham in my playthroughs of anything story-based so long as everything else is entertaining. While it’s definitely entertaining, you’re not going to get anything beyond the surface level. It’s a group of celebrity criminals doing criminal things and tussling with The Syndicate and Steelport’s gang pool. This isn’t the tonal shift of serious story to goofy moments you see in Yakuza games, but it lives in that comedy barn and just runs wild with it.
Show Up, Break Stuff
Being that this is a sandbox game, it doesn’t surprise me that the elements you see in similar titles show up here as well. After you finish the opening segment of the game, you create your own character as the “leader of the Saints.” I’m always happy to see a plethora of customization options in a character creator, and the given choices are pretty dense and frequently amusing. Yes, the aforementioned “sex appeal” option is here and will let you adjust…yeah. But there are many outfits and options to choose from here. Seeing the voice option for a zombie always amused me, but I’m sure it’d grate after several hours of gameplay. Along the way you’ll be able to change up your options as you go (the game even encourages you to do it to up your Respect stat), so fear not if you want to change something up.
At its core, you still have the freedom to do whatever you want once you’re let loose onto the streets of Steelport. Because of that, wreaking havoc at your leisure is absolutely within reach here. You will attract police attention, but you’ll also be under fire by several rival gangs while traversing the streets. Notoriety from either of these groups will have their own meter, so keeping that low is important unless you have the resources to fight back the insanity coming at you with as much as you can reasonably dish out.
While we’re on the subject of minutiae of games in this genre, there are a couple things that are welcome additions. One of the big drags for me in open-world games has to be getting from point-to-point in various ways, namely driving. Because of how often you’re driving around, you don’t always want your eyes glued on the mini-map when you’re on your way to your next mission. Volition decided to put glowing neon arrows along your path, in addition to the mission marker, to make sure you know where you’re going. In a city as big as this, it’s a welcome addition to traversal. While having GPS in games like this was nothing new when this game was released, being able to just pick a mission and go is still nice to have compared to earlier titles in the genre.
Hijacking vehicles is a little different here, too. While nothing is stopping you from doing it the tradtional “walk up, hijack, drive off” method, it is way more entertaining to run full bore at a vehicle and barge into it feet first and drive off. It’s a nice little game flow measure, and it somehow doesn’t lose its luster. It’s also a little more reliable than the traditional method, as getting into a vehicle can be a bit finicky at times. While you’ll have access to many different types of vehicles like cars, trucks, boats, “broomsticks,” tanks, and aircraft, for some reason or another it’s fun as hell to just bust through some random person’s window and go nuts. Though once you deposit whatever vehicle you bring back at your “crib(s),” you’ll have the option to have your crew deliver those vehicles directly to you at your command. You’ll also be able to call fellow combatants into the fray once you unlock them through progression.
Speaking of going nuts, Remastered also brings in all the content from The Full Package. Once you pass a certain story beat early on in the game, you’ll be able to hit up this content at your leisure. I ended up goofing around with the missions from the three mission packs and it’s safe to say that they goes in a pretty silly direction with their premises, and sometimes you just want to roll a giant yarn ball throughout the city Katamari style causing as much destruction as possible. All missions (DLC or otherwise) can be set from your in-game phone, so just getting where you want to go is pretty easy. Not only that, cheats are but a tap away. Though that does unsurprisingly disable the ability to obtain trophies/achievements if that’s what you’re looking to do. It’s mostly there for fun.
Because you’re building yourself back up from nothing, you’ll have to build a foothold in the city. Naturally, you’ll have to acquire currency, but you’re not just limited to completing missions to get it. Though finishing missions and general reckless behavior done in game will net you respect. While you won’t be able to upgrade certain abilities without the right amount of respect, it isn’t going to prevent you from progressing in the game.
You can also purchase properties around the cities and reap the benefits of ownership here as well. It’s a “spend money to make money” kinda situation, but sometimes it comes with discounts and the like. The more properties you own in any given neighborhood, the higher your cash flow will be. Obviously, it’s nice to have some extra cash rolling in when you’re trying to upgrade the various personal buffs and additional perks that come with having the capital to dump on it.
Because of the nature of gang shenanigans, gunfights are commonplace. Situating yourself in the midst of a hail of bullets is nothing complicated, but the difficulty here isn’t much of an issue. While this isn’t an outright third-person shooter, I would have liked a cover system instead of finding a place to crouch. Sure, it’s cool as hell to be able to power through enemies with guns blazing, but having the option to have that tool to use in on-the-fly strategy would have been nice. Having melee weapons (including one that’s phallic as hell), light hand to hand combat, and finishers are all nice as well. I would have liked to have the option to shoot and drive in any vehicle instead of a select few assault vehicles.
I don’t expect to be slammed with a huge amount of difficulty here, but it was a rare occasion that I would outright die during a mission. More often than not, failing the objective feels more likely than dying. Most missions aren’t all that cumbersome, but there were a handful of missions that were frustratingly tedious. So if you decide to throw your hands up and restart the mission, going through an additional screen saying you failed isn’t exactly my idea of good pace.
If you’re looking to go crazy with a friend or two, you can do that with online co-op. You can either tear through the campaign or go through Whored Mode, which feels like a weird relic from an era past despite the game being nine years old. Horde-mode playstyles aren’t the new hotness that they once were, but getting together with friends to take down wave after wave of rival combatants is still a fun time. It’s a nice option to have given the times we live in, but I do lament not being able to do couch co-op with buddies here either.
Steelport Face Lift
While the gameplay is still silly and more importantly fun, the one thing that this remake touts as a major feature is the graphical overhaul to bring it up to par for the current generation. While the original release didn’t go in a realistic looking direction, the level of detail was indicative of the hardware it was released on and performed decently enough. While porting what may as well have been a toned down build of the original game on Switch, this simply isn’t the case here.
Instead, the graphical style presented in Remastered aims to take advantage of current-gen hardware. You’ll see a lot more detailed textures and much more robust lighting throughout the game, but there are times where character models occasionally look strangely claylike in appearance. It doesn’t exactly scream low effort to me, but it is a bit weird to notice when you’re cutting through the city.
Animations are about what you’d expect from an open world game. Characters act the way they should in combat for the most part, though sometimes you’ll raise your eyebrows at the wonky physics in the midst of gameplay. Vehicle operations make sense and don’t look out of place, but there is plenty of flash with a large amount of the selection. Not surprising considering that the game itself is so flashy I need sunglasses.
One thing that stuck with me is the game’s performance. Mind you, I’m personally using a launch-design PS4, so it’s very possible that I’ve worked the poor box to the bone. Despite that, framerates were constantly in flux for me (though FPS Lock is an option to use if you want). Depending on the amount of action going on, sometimes I’d run into smooth framerates above 30FPS. Other times in I would run into sharp frame drops that slowed to a near crawl in the heat of combat.
It’s absolutely a drag, but the frequency of these performance issues are not egregious enough to totally hamper the experience. It’s more like finding a brown spot on an apple. Cutting it out would be nice, but it doesn’t affect the whole thing as it stands. Still, I’m hoping that a patch can be pushed out to help those poor launch consoles still chugging along. Per the norm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see buttery smooth performance on relatively modern PC builds for those who would rather play there. But console folks may have to grin and bear it, potentially even on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Though the PS5 and Series X should be able to handle this a little better than the current generation will thanks to backwards compatibility.
The audio presented here isn’t much to worry about, if I’m being honest. More often than not what you’ll be exposed to is the glut of voice acting from the main cast, and the snarks and screams of the general populace are easy enough to deal with. The main cast sound and perform just fine for what they were given, and appropriately go into Shatner mode when necessary. I will say that it was a bit annoying to hear repeated lines in combat, though it wasn’t exactly something that got on my nerves all the time. Though the music selection available to you with your in-vehicle radio radio does feels a little lean in comparison to what came after it.
It’s The Saints, But Shinier
Remakes and remasters are all too commonplace in the industry nowadays. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s good for preservation and the convenience of having an older title available for current platforms. The way this is implemented varies, but what’s released is usually improved upon or tweaked in some way. This is obviously the case for Saints Row: The Third, for better or for worse. Playing through this wasn’t a chore by any stretch of the imagination, but fans looking to get a current gen replay in or jump in for the first time will be more than happy to get their hands on this.
In the end, it’s still a good time rolling through the city in this Remastered take. Even with the performance issues I experienced, which did hamper the experience sometimes, I found myself having a fair amount of fun being the wackiest criminal I could be. In its current state, it’s not the most polished version of the game, despite being better looking than its original version. But the gameplay here is fun enough to forgive that to some degree. If you’re looking for something outside Los Santos and would rather hit people with a dick bat, this isn’t a bad way to spend some time indoors.
Review copy provided by Deep Silver for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Logo courtesy of Deep Silver.