Saints Row: The Third on Switch Has Issues, But It's Your Best Shot at Portable GTA

Saints Row: The Third on Switch Has Issues, But It's Your Best Shot at Portable GTA

So the Switch can't do everything, but Saints Row: The Third is still worth a shot.

I've been fairly consistent in beating the "games from previous generations should be on Switch" drum. While the Switch has proven itself capable in terms of modern multiplatform titles shared with PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, I'm less than satisfied with the cuts in terms of image quality. Wolfenstein 2, Doom, Rocket League, and Mortal Kombat 11 are fine proof-of-concept releases, saying "Hey, the Switch can do this too," but they're not visually up to snuff for me.

In contrast, Dragon's Dogma was fairly fantastic and showed that Nintendo's hybrid console could excel with games that ran on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Even Onimusha's remaster, slight though it was, offered up a compelling picture of the types of games that would fit well on Switch. With that in mind, I turned to the release of Saints Row: The Third with some excitement. While, I'm still pleased with the outcome, the excitement is muted.

What is Saints Row: The Third?

The first Saints Row released back in 2006. It positioned the player as a member of the Third Street Saints, a gang in the fictional city of Stillwater, which drew from cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore. You had to gain Respect to improve your standing in Stillwater and reign over the other gangs. Saints Row was a solid release, but it wasn't all that memorable. It came two years after the release of the excellent Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which made it a very hard act to follow.

Following it up with a sequel only two years later, developer Volition decided to play up the wild and comedic tone for the sequel. Compared to the fairly-straightforward (and somewhat disappointing) Grand Theft Auto 4, Saints Row 2 found a nice middle ground between the humor and the emotion. The missions were dumb and reveled in it, but the supporting cast was excellent, and there were moments with them that offered up real heartbreak. And the character creation gave players leeway to be as serious or fun as they wanted to be, in contrast to the stoic Niko Bellic in GTA 4.

Another three years brought the series to Saints Row: The Third, which threw out the pathos in favor of a completely madcap adventure. Saints Row: The Third's plot begins with the Saints being the biggest media brand in the world, while still also being outright criminals. When the Syndicate, an international criminal group gives the Saints an offer they can't refuse, your band of merry folk say "Screw you." This makes them public enemy number one in the city of Steelport, which is controlled by the various factions of the Syndicate.

That's the feel of Saints Row: The Third. Screenshots all taken on Switch native capture in portable mode. | Mike Williams/USG, Deep Silver Volition

There is no chill in Saints Row: The Third. It begins with your gang stealing a bank vault with a helicopter, and transitions to you stealing a parachute as you blast through a cargo plane. Then you skydive onto a penthouse party to kill a rival gang while Kanye West's Power plays in the background; hunt down a Hulk-like clone of series mainstay Johnny Gat; kill mascots in a Japanese game show, and beat enemies to death with a dildo bat. If Saints Row 2 is Fast & Furious 6, splitting the difference between crazy action and heartfelt emotion, Saints Row: The Third is Furious 7. All action, all quips, and all nonsense.

I'm not going to say that Saints Row: The Third is my favorite in the franchise. If Saints Row 2, Saints Row: The Third, and Saints Row 4 are on a sliding scale toward maximum over-the-top action and scenarios, I like the fact that Saints Row 4 waves goodbye to anything approaching common sense and taste. In fact, I was a bit surprised that Deep Silver Volition chose The third instead of its sequel. But The Third is a still a great game, and the performance on Switch highlights why the choice was probably made.

Yes, I'm boring. | Mike Williams/USG, Deep Silver Volition

How is Saints Row: The Third on Switch?

I'll start with the caveat that I played Saints Row: The Third on PC. That's my established baseline, my starting point in terms of visual prowess. Even given that, for the most part, Saints Row: The Third holds up pretty well on Switch. Models and textures all look about the same, thought the lack of anti-aliasing is noticeable. Take a screenshot, and I'd say it's in the ballpark compared to the older console releases.

The problems are found in the details. The performance is a bit rough, with the frame rate floating around 30-35 fps and frequently dipping below that in the heat of the action. (The opening mission is good litmus test for whether you'll be able to stomach the drops.) It's not an absolute stutterfest—I was able to keep playing with little issue—but it was far from the smooth 60fps I enjoyed on the PC.

Saints Row: The Third on Switch has a significant amount of pop-in; the faster your vehicle, the more likely you are to see trees, citizens, and vehicles pop into existence. This also extends to some lower level-of-detail models that load a bit slower at times. There also seems to be an issue with clutter: anytime there's a massive explosion with a lot of debris or a ton of items onscreen, it looks like some of that has been cut on Switch to preserve general performance.

Visually, especially in screenshots, the port holds up well. | Mike Williams/USG, Deep Silver Volition

I still have an overall issue with the analog sticks on the Switch Joy-Con. They're a bit too short, with a bit of a deadzone, making them less than adequate for high-level third-person shooting. With some tweaks and sensitivity, I was able to make it better, but the Switch Pro Controller is a far better option. Saints Row: The Third actually requires pretty good aim in certain missions, making them a bit of a struggle during portable play.

It also hard froze on me once. Jumping from the Switch home screen back to Saints Row didn't fix the freeze. Ultimately, I had to software the software and reload to fix the freeze, which only lost me a bit of time.

What you get in the Full Package is fairly significant though. For $39.99, you get the full base base game, the three DLC mission packs (Gangstas in Space, The Trouble With Clones, Genkibowl VII, and most of the packs with additional cosmetic items. All of this stuff is unlocked from the beginning of the game, adding to the already stacked character creator. The price is slightly high in my estimation—Dragon's Dogma was only $29.99—but it's decent for what you get.

Steal a car, drive around, kill some folks. | Mike Williams/USG, Deep Silver Volition

And at the end of the day, what you get is Saints Row: The Third, portable. Saints Row: The Third on Switch is definitely a "good enough" port. Dragon's Dogma I could recommend without major caveats, but with Saints Row: The Third, I'd have to say it's worth keeping the performance problems in mind. They didn't ruin my experience with the game, but if a locked frame rate or non pop-in is a requirement for you, I wouldn't look at the Switch release.

Saints Row: The Third isn't the heavy compromise of Doom or Wolfenstein 2, but it's not the rock solid port of Dragon's Dogma either. This is probably your only chance to get that Grand Theft Auto-style action of Nintendo Switch. Sure, Rockstar released L.A. Noire on the platform, but it doesn't seem like Grand Theft Auto will be making the same transition anytime soon and it doesn't seem like there's a Switch-only release incoming, like GTA: Chinatown Wars for Nintendo DS. Saints Row: The Third is a good enough port of a pretty good game, and a unique experience on the platform overall.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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