Saints Row: The Third Remastered Review
A fresh coat of paint on an aging frame.
Saints Row: The Third Remastered is the gaming equivalent of painting your old 1992 Honda Civic, adding a spoiler, then reselling it as “retuned”. While the fresh coat of paint is appreciable, everything under the hood betrays its age. Saints Row: The Third Remastered gives the Saints and Steelport a much needed visual overhaul, but those expecting old legacy issues to be addressed should temper their expectations. This is the same old Saints Row from 2011, but with improved graphics and 4K support.
The Saints take Steelport…again.
For those keeping track this is now the third re-release of Saints Row: The Third. We had The Full Package edition released a year after launch that was your typical “Game of the Year” version of the game with all the previously released DLC included, followed by the Nintendo Switch port of that same edition (which was plagued with issues) last year. Here we stand once again with a “new” Saints Row: The Third, but this time it’s been polished up and given a psuedo-modern sheen for the current-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Considering we are on the cusp of entering the next-generation of video games, it makes sense for Volition and Deep Silver to relaunch one of their most popular titles, especially if Saints Row V is actually in development (meaning that game is looking more and more likely to be a next-gen title). Saints Row: The Third Remastered acts as a reminder to the larger gaming population that – hey – Saints Row is still a thing, and a remaster is certainly an easier way to send that message than rushing out a brand new title before it’s done cooking.
That said, it’s been nine years since the original game was released – back in a time when Grand Theft Auto V had yet to dominate the open-world genre. There are plenty of people out there who likely haven’t played a Saints Row game, so a moderately modernized re-release of the game should prove appealing enough. While franchise fans may prefer Saints Row II it’s code is far too ancient for a port, or so Deep Silver claimed in a virtual press conference we attended last month. Thus, here we are with Saints Row: The Third Remastered.
Anyone who played the original or Full Package edition of the game won’t be surprised by any new content in this release. It is exactly what you remember, giant dildo-bats and all. There is a pleasant familiarity that falls over you as you once again step into the shoes of The Boss, leader of the remarkably famous 3rd Street Saints. While I may have dipped my toes back in more recently thanks to the Nintendo Switch ports of III and IV, there is something to be said about resuming control with a mouse and keyboard in hand, which is how I experienced Saints Row: The Third almost a decade ago.
The shooting, mission design, and dialogue all remain the same, which is as equally good as it is bad. The shooting is functional by today’s standards, and the sound design for the guns doesn’t quite have that bassy “oomph” we’ve come to expect nowadays. The audio is adequate, but you’ll notice something is missing the moment you pop a few rounds off.
Same goes for the dialogue and humor. What was once funny and crass in 2011 comes off as cringey and try-hard in 2020. That’s not necessarily because “we’ve become too soft.” Our sense of humor has evolved with our culture, and what was once a fresh joke at the turn of the last decade has grown stale over time. There are plenty of laughs to be had, sure, but not every joke lands with the same aplomb as it did back then.
Then again, beating thugs to death with a floppy giant dildo will always make me smile due to how utterly absurd it is. It’s in these moments that Saints Row: The Third Remastered’s humor hits the mark; not when it’s making some quick pop culture reference or obviously inappropriate joke, but when the game leans into the insane and zany with tongue firmly planted in cheek, which is far more often than not.
It’s this brazen abandon that separates Saints Row from its contemporaries. Even if Saints Row II was more grounded in comparison, it marked a clear transition for the franchise that led to wilder, and wilder adventures. Saints Row: The Third felt like it was jumping the shark at the time, but such weirdness has allowed it to age better than it should have, the more dated jokes aside.
What hasn’t aged as well are the graphics, thus remaster handler Sperasoft’s focus to renew them as best they could. The game was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 after all, so this remaster needed all the love and care it could get to merit another release. For the most part Sperasoft has done an admirable job updating the character, weapon, and vehicle models, whilst throwing an updated lighting engine under the hood that gives the aging title a more current look. When standing still, when all of the improvements are highlighted together, the game does look like something that came out in the last four years instead of nine.
That changes a bit once the action gets going, though. In many ways the framework in which the remaster rests upon doesn’t feel like its been touched on at all. The frame-rate remains capped at 60 FPS on PC (though I remember playing it at higher frame rates back in the day; the joys of memory), and cutscenes only render at a dismal 22 FPS. I thought I was experiencing performance issues born from pre-release code, but upon firing up the original version of the game I found myself confronted with the same issues: 60 FPS frame-cap and 22 FPS cutscenes.
I found that to be odd, so I looked up some of the old troubleshooting tricks and found none of them worked in either version of the game. I can understand the frame-rate limitation if the game has any underlying systems, such as physics, tied to it, but I couldn’t find anything anywhere that said that was the case. Instead, I kept reading how the original game had an uncapped frame-rate. I eventually had to step back and remind myself that in 2011 hitting 60 FPS in Saints Row: The Third required a beefy rig, and I likely wasn’t playing above that frame-rate, despite what my rose-tinted glasses led me believe. I didn’t recall there being a frame-cap because I wasn’t exactly blowing beyond it.
With today’s hardware it’s evidently a thing, and something I can forgive knowing the age of the engine and the likely limitations. What I want to know, however, is why the cutscenes run so poorly. I’ve tried every trick in the book, but have thus far failed to get them to run above 22 FPS. It’s strange, because I do recall those running at 30 FPS, and a cursory glance across the internet and old Steam posts confirms as much. On their own these frame-rate issues are not terrible problems in the grand scheme of things, but they highlight how much of this remaster was a straight-up facelift.
Coming into 2020 I half expected Sperasoft and Volition to iron out the kinks within the code, but all the old problems remain. Frame pacing is jittery, screen tearing is common even with V-Sync, and the draw distance remains woefully short with pop-in of objects and textures happening no more than twenty feet in front of you. If the team was able to improve the lighting engine I couldn’t fathom why they weren’t able to at least push that out a bit further. Then I went back to the original and noticed that they indeed did. That’s the fun thing about memory, isn’t it: things looking or running worse than you remember.
In a way it’s easy to forget this is a remaster and not a remake, due in large part to how much work has been done. Much like the wave of HD Remasters we saw half a decade ago this upgrade is purely cosmetic, yet it offers more than a boost to high-definition. It’s knowing they updated the engine in some capacity that made me yearn for additional tuning.
That’s all because the tweaks Sperasoft did make to the game are largely good. Character models are more detailed, though lip-syncing remains mediocre at best. The new designs for the weapons and vehicles are sharp and well-realized, even if the sound design for each remains dated. The lighting is vastly superior to what was on offer in the original, though bloom is a touch too high and the reflections continue to look low-resolution. During the day the new lighting engine can look somewhat muted in some regards, but it comes into its own at night showing how much more advanced it is over the original game’s engine. I could go on about the remaining low-res billboards and other legacy quirks that exist in this remaster, but I’d be beating a dead gimp: the remaster largely succeeds at what it set out to do, I just wish it had a little more ambition.
For all I know Sperasoft and Volition probably did want to touch upon those facets of the remaster I’m bitching about, but the ancient spaghetti code prohibited them from doing so. I don’t know, and it’d be a bit unfair of me to judge them too harshly for it without understanding what they were up against. We were promised a visual overhaul to the existing game and that’s precisely what we got, so in no way was Saints Row: The Third Remastered falsely advertised. I merely needed to readjust my expectations.
I bring all this up because, like any remaster, it will determine who should pick it up, and who should safely move on. Existing owners of Saints Row: The Third will not receive the remaster as a free upgrade, meaning returning fans will have to pay for the privilege of seeing the game in its new dress. Normally I wouldn’t be too upset by this, but Volition has already set a bit of a precedent with their last remaster: Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered. While its graphical overhaul wasn’t as involved as Saints Row: The Third’s (though impressive in its own right), Steam owners of the original got the updated version for free, and new owners only had to pay $30 for both (which has since dropped to $20).
Saints Row: The Third Remastered, however, is on the Epic Games Store, so none of that business here. It’s also a $40 purchase, which while not as pricey as a full AAA game, is still a bit rich for returning fans. I know, the two games technically have different publishers, but it’s still strange to see the difference in approach for two technically similar remasters that fall under the same overall umbrella. Though, I doubt existing fans are the intended audience for this remaster: we’re too busy waiting for more information about Saints Row V to drop. No, this remaster is to acquire newer, younger fans.
If you’ve never played a Saints Row game in your life then Saints Row: The Third Remastered is an excellent game to jump in with, especially on console. The 30 FPS lock on Sony’s and Xbox’s hardware is as odd as the 60 FPS lock on PC, but for all intents and purposes console-gamers are less likely to lose their minds over this issue, and they can always unlock it in the settings, though with variable results depending on the platform. The game still runs well enough to not offend (even if the frame-pacing isn’t stellar at the end of the day), and what has been improved is strong enough to carry the overall package.
Even new PC players will find plenty to enjoy once they get over the frame-cap and turn V-Sync on, and while the new visuals may not be bleeding edge, they still do enough to give the aging Saints Row: The Third a new lease on life. Hell, the game actually runs all the way up to 4K resolution without issue, and it doesn’t look like a muddy potato thanks to the work Sperasoft put in. The game itself hasn’t changed, but it really didn’t need to.
Like that old Honda Civic you repainted and sold off this remaster shows its age in many ways, but at the end of the day it still runs the same as it did when it first came off the assembly line. I may have wanted more out of Saints Row: The Third Remastered, but it’s still as much a blast to play today as it was in 2011, and now it’s prettier to boot. I mean, we still get to shoot down a wildly more futurist version of the AWACS, a platform I personally fly on, which is always good for a grim laugh. Grumbles aside, what more could I ask for?
- This article was updated on:May 26th, 2020
Saints Row: The Third Remastered
- Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
- Published By: Deep Silver
- Developed By: Deep Silver Volition, Sperasoft
- Genre: Open-World Action-Adventure
- US Release Date: May 22nd, 2020
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "I may have wanted more out of Saints Row: The Third Remastered, but it's still as much a blast to play today as it was in 2011, and now it's prettier to boot. Grumbles aside, what more could I ask for? "