Though it can feel dated in spots, Saints Row: The Third Remastered still offers ridiculous, over the top fun.
There was a time when Saints Row was one of the biggest selling franchises in gaming. What started out as little more than a GTA clone in the early 2000s slowly morphed into something more and more ridiculous, and Saints Row carved itself a successful niche in the world of the crazy and the insane. And then the franchise just sort of…disappeared. Gat Out of Hell was a reasonably successful expansion, but that was five years ago, and nothing has been seen since. But now Volition has stated that a new game in the franchise is well on the way, making this the perfect time to get back into the franchise. And, as if right on cue, Volition has decided to remaster the third game in the franchise, the one that really broke through to the mainstream. How well does it hold up in today’s gaming world? The answer to that depends largely on what you’re looking for.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. As an open-world title, it certainly shows its age. The gunplay is a bit on the clunky side, as are the controls at times. The AI, especially for your allies, can be frustratingly dull, and there are a couple of noticeable difficulty spikes during the story. And though the city of Steelport is large, and actually pretty fun to explore, there’s not a whole lot to do aside from the story missions and side activities. Very few buildings in the world can be interacted with, and for the most part NPCs can’t be at all. And of course, the driving is infamously bad, although to the game’s credit, it’s actually self-aware in this regard, and even plays it for laughs. This is a far cry from more modern entries in the genre, which strive to build that kind of constant immersion.
"The point of Saints Row: The Third is the larger experience of it; the experience of the writing, characters, and humor, and the ridiculous nature of the story you’re experiencing. In that regard, the game has aged remarkably well."
If you’re looking for something that scratches that kind of itch, Saints Row: The Third probably isn’t for you. But then, that was never really the point of the game. Even when it first released, it was never really trying to compete with games like GTA anymore. After all, it had tried that with the first game, and to a lesser extent with the sequel, to mixed success. Instead, the point of Saints Row: The Third is the larger experience of it; the experience of the writing, characters, and humor, and the ridiculous nature of the story you’re experiencing. In that regard, the game has aged remarkably well. A few jokes can feel a bit dated. In particular, there are a couple of jabs at FPS trends of the time that don’t really apply anymore, but with those few exceptions the writing still holds up. The dialog is snappy and flows really well, and the characters, while often ridiculous and over the top, are actually well-written.
And that’s one of the surprising strengths of the game. Underneath the ridiculous veneer, there are actual real characters here, with consistent personalities and reactions to the world around them. That’s a critical part of the game’s success, as otherwise the constant barrage of silliness could have worn thin. One particular moment early on stands out, where the player character, the Boss, and their right-hand man Pierce sing along to “What I Got” by Sublime. Both characters sing it poorly, out of key and out of time, and spend as much time making fun of each other’s performance as actually singing. It’s charming, and helps make the characters feel like real people, in spite of the utter insanity of the world around them. Moments like that help ground the characters, and it’s a better game for it.
In fact, that leads to one of the other, larger strengths of the game, which is rather surprisingly the story. Much like the characters, the game has an actual story that is being told underneath the craziness. By and large the game plays its plot completely straight, and this actually helps add to the game’s humor. The characters in the world rarely react to how ridiculous everything happening around them is. They react to all of it as though it’s just a normal occurrence. This may sound jarring, but it’s actually a big part of the game’s charm and appeal. Of course, it’s hard to describe exactly how and why something is funny, and even harder to be truly objective about it. You may not find the game funny; a lot of its humor is relatively juvenile, a reliance on the absurd and impossible. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you probably won’t find the game as funny as I do. Personally, I found that the jokes landed more often than not, and that the snappy moment-to-moment dialog carried the game forward.
"Underneath the ridiculous veneer, there are actual real characters here, with consistent personalities and reactions to the world around them. That’s a critical part of the game’s success, as otherwise the constant barrage of silliness could have worn thin."
That’s not to say the game relies solely on its humor to carry it. There is some fun gameplay to be had here. The core gameplay loop, beyond the story missions, involves completing activities and buying up properties to expand the Saints’ influence in Steelport and push the rival gangs out of town. It can certainly be compelling, as there’s almost always something else you can do, however small, to build the gang’s influence. And some of the activities are really entertaining. One activity in particular, the beautifully named Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, puts the player in a bizarre gladiatorial game show, where you kill your way through an obstacle course, complete with color commentary. It’s a perfect example of the kind of off-the-wall humor that Saints Row excels at, and it’s easily one of the best activities in the game.
Some of the others don’t fare as well. Heli Assault, which tasks the player with flying a helicopter to escort an ally on the ground, suffers for the clunky vehicle controls, as does Trail Blazing, a mid-game activity that puts players on a vehicle on a track and requires them to drive through certain checkpoints. Though it is played for laughs, the vehicle controls are almost universally clunky, and the activities that rely on them tend to be the least enjoyable as a result.
As far as the remaster itself is concerned, it gets the job done well enough. The visuals have received an update, particularly where the environment is concerned. The lighting especially has received an overhaul, which makes the city of Steelport come to life in a much more vibrant way. Some of the texture work has been redone as well, making the environments as a whole look much better than before. The same care doesn’t quite seem to have been given to the character models. They look decent enough, but the facial expressions are stiff and some of the animations can look a bit off. It’s nothing too jarring, but it is worth noting. The remaster looks better than the original, for sure, but likely won’t blow you away with its visuals.
"As far as the remaster itself is concerned, it gets the job done well enough."
Aside from visual changes, there isn’t too much that has been changed in the remaster compared to the original release. It does include all of the DLC add-ons, including co-op, which is great. But aside from that, for better and for worse, not a whole lot of control or quality of life changes were made. The game generally didn’t feel like it needed them; aside from some occasionally clunky controls, things are intuitive enough, and nothing is really too difficult in the game. But it may be worth noting that if you played the original release and really didn’t like something about it, that’s probably still in the game. I had no issues with it, but your mileage may vary.
Saints Row: The Third Remastered is a game that is completely certain of its identity. It knows exactly what it is and what it is trying to do, and it makes few attempts to be anything else. If that doesn’t sound like it’s for you, go on ahead and give this one a pass. But if that slapstick, over-the-top style and silly, humorous approach to open-world gameplay sounds up your alley, this game is definitely worth your purchase. The remaster comes with all of the expansions and a co-op mode, so there is plenty of content here to make it well worth the purchase. Saints Row: The Third may not be the best open world game these days, but it is a perfect Saints Row game, and a great way to reintroduce players to the silly, chaotic, and highly enjoyable world of the Saints.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Strong writing carries the game; The humor is generally on point throughout; The story mode is a blast to play through.
Some gameplay elements haven’t aged the best; The visuals, which don’t get much of an upgrade, haven’t either.
If you’re a fan of Saints Row, or if you’re at all curious about the franchise, this remaster is well worth the time and money. But if Saints Row’s particular style isn’t for you, there’s nothing new here that will change your mind.