Saints Row 4 was one of my first reviews. I started with USgamer as a News Editor, tackling primarily daily news. Prior to that, I'd never done a professional review. So I was learning the ropes on the culmination of Deep Silver Volition's open-world franchise—the Grand Theft Auto knockoff that became something sillier, naughtier, and more endearing. Now it's the year 2020 and I'm playing Saints Row: The Third Remastered, a nearly-decade-old game with a modern day coat of paint.
Saints Row: The Third takes the Third Street Saints from their home in Stilwater to the Detroit-style town of Steelport. Having completed a very hostile takeover of the Ultor Corporation, the Saints are pop culture heroes; the fodder of movies, commercials, and a somewhat banned energy drink. They're targeted by The Syndicate, a multinational organization not unlike Spectre from the James Bond films.
Ultimately, the plot isn't nearly as important as all the nonsense you'll get up to in the game itself. You'll fight pimps, luchadores, and aliens; lead gangs of hipsters, ninjas, and bikers. You'll generally do the most awesome thing Volition could think up at the time. Saints Row: The Third is bursting with variety, from helping a mad scientist with an experiment gone awry, to killing costumed mascots in a Japanese-style game show. It's idea after idea on fast-forward, and even in a revisit, it's hard to be unhappy with the shotgun of content smashing into your brain case.
Saints Row: The Third is the home to some of the most iconic missions in the series. Of course, there's the mission soundtracked by Kanye West's "Power," where you parachute into a penthouse party for a raid. In another, you head into Tron-style virtual reality to take on one of the gang leaders, ending in a massive mech brawl. There's also one mission where you use a chainsaw to protect a luchadore from an angry crowd, only to jump into the ring and finish the fight yourself. Anything goes in The Third.
It's the apex of the Saints Row formula. The first Saints Row wasn't all that great. The second was much better at differentiating itself from Grand Theft Auto, but it suffered from the clash between its grounded elements and its more wacky nature. Saints Row 4 made friends with the shark and traveled together to another dimension. Saints Row: The Third feels like it lives in the sweet spot: clearly still an open-world action game, but with the strain of "extreme" that's now distinct to the series.
That last part is key because Grand Theft Auto also trends across this unreality with its version of satire. The difference is that Grand Theft Auto is sneering and disdainful, while Saints Row lives in embracing it all. Saints Row: The Third is generally on the side of, "We're all kind of fucked up, so it's probably best to embrace it. Live and let live!" It's not as wholesome as Sega's Yakuza series, but it's the only other series that lives in the same place. That's probably a pretty worthwhile message for 2020.
In terms of the remaster itself, the release comes complete with everything from Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package. That's the full base game, all three DLC mission packs—Genkibowl VII, Gangstas in Space, and The Trouble with Clones—and a whole host of costumes to drape your characters in. It's the same cornucopia of content that came in the recent release on Nintendo Switch, and you can already pick up on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. This does mark the first time PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players can pick up the game though, the backward compatible version on the Xbox One notwithstanding.
Visually, the remaster does a damned good job. The character models still look a little bit like plastic action figures in the new presentation, but the world itself benefits from the new textures. There's also a brand-new lighting engine, which offers more realistic and dynamic illumination. The Remaster includes small perks like actual street lights, and reflections in the puddles on the road. The lighting also adds a Los Angeles-style haze over Steelport at dusk, a change I actually appreciated.
I also happen to own Saints Row: The Third on PC, so I was able to load up the original and the remaster to see how they compare. At 4K resolution (3840×2160) in full Ultra settings, I was looking at similar performance for either version, trending at a frame rate of 42-45 FPS for the Remaster and 45-50 FPS for the original. Saints Row: The Third Remastered has an uncapped frame rate—I couldn't find a 60 FPS lock in the options menu—so at 1080p, it runs around 113-120 FPS. I admit, there's an additional sharpness to the original that I couldn't replicate in the remaster, even by messing with motion blur or depth of field. You wouldn't notice it in play, but side-by-side, it popped out to me.
For folks on console, I didn't get to test those versions, but the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions run at 1080p and 30 FPS, and the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions run at 1440p (upscaled to 4K) at 30 FPS. Sorry, no 60 FPS for you.
One thing that hasn't changed is the general nature of Saints Row: The Third. The original was a game I loved, but it was also a buggy mess at times. This carries forward into Remastered, where I continued to run into a host of problems beyond the generalities of weird citizens and bodies stuck in walls. One enemy attacked me with a flamethrower that did damage, but the flame itself never appeared. I failed a mission because an NPC driver got stuck between two objects, backing up and moving forward until enemy fire ultimately caused the car to explode. Saints Row: The Third Remastered even hard crashed to desktop a few times. Ahh, the nostalgia.
Saints Row: The Third Remastered is like that friend who's a bit of a screw up, and has now returned years later with a new wardrobe. They're the same person inside, but now they're wearing Air Jordan 33 All-Stars instead of Air Jordan 2011 All-Star Easts. Still, it's a game that I love dearly, and replaying it on PC actually rekindled that love more than playing the Nintendo Switch version last year. (The Switch's squat analog sticks are bad for aiming, sorry.)
In an essay earlier this year about Final Fantasy 7 Remake, editor-in-chief Kat Bailey talked about "the 3.5 / 5 game that also makes my Game of the Year list." I don't know if it was actually in my Top 10 for 2011, but Saints Row: The Third stuck with me despite being a clear 3 out of 5, or worse. It's a messy, endearing game that's still broken and straining in places, but playing it all over again for the third time, I'm reminded of why I loved Saints Row: The Third in the first place.
Saints Row: The Third time travels to 2020 with a solid remaster. This is the same game you remember from 2011, with all of the DLC and content packs along for the ride. Developer Sperasoft has redone some of the models, especially with regards to the vehicles, and added an all-new, more realistic lighting engine. Unfortunately, it still doesn't quite measure up to the original PC release, and all the bugs of the original are still here. Still, Saints Row: The Third is a wonderful experience despite all its flaws, and that remains true of this remaster release.