What would you get if the Fast and the Furious producers decided to turn their hand to a videogame franchise? I’m pretty sure it’d be Saints Row. What started out as a genre clone that didn’t take itself quite as seriously as others soon became an over the top action-fest with ridiculous stunts, weapons and story that entertained as much as it asked you to suspend your disbelief. Pretty much like the movies then. In our opinion the best in the series was before things got all superpower-y and had drifted far from the original concept. Again, pretty much like the movies. It’s great news then that Saints Row The Third Remastered has arrived in a new form with its contempt for slow-paced realistic open worlds, it’s disregard for sensible activities, and its opinion that everyone and everything is open to lampooning. Do the nips, tucks and upgrades keep Volition’s focus on cartoon violence and smutty jokes relevant though?
Quick recap – Johnny Gat is dead ‘cos it’s set before we knew there’d be a Gat Out Of Hell, and the Third Street Saints haven’t been Re-Elected to save the world from an alien invasion/computer simulation because Enter The Dominatrix was still planned DLC at this point. The mismatched family of gangsters have been promoting their brand as lovable crimelords and it’s drawn the ire of the Syndicate who force the team into a confrontation that results in them crashing in the town of Steelport where they decide to make their new home. It’s a spectacular start with little time to draw breath and take in what is actually happening. Maybe that’s a good thing because given the flimsy preposition it won’t hold up to much thinking about. Equally, it builds and defines Saints Row The Third Remastered’s world as well as acts as full tutorial to the core mechanics so that once that bit is done it’s left to you as The Boss to explore and conquer.
It’s familiar territory as far as open world action games set in cities go, and it all feels second nature even if you’ve never tried one of the series before. The main difference to the norm though is that the story itself is largely progressed by completing activities around the various districts to gain control of them from the incumbent gangs. Once a handful of establishing missions are out of the way it’s over to the map to locate every property that can be bought and every activity that’s unlocked and start the systematic takeover. Hit the requisite point in dominance and it’ll trigger the next true story element, usually in the form of a bombastic assault by the entire gang. Nicely, there are choices to make that have an impact on the play area, if not actually the story, and usually the set-pieces are a lot of fun. The way Saints Row The Third Remastered pushes the pace of the story missions is excellent, though the way it slows for the grind of activity completion can leave you feeling a bizarre combination of being overwhelmed and having to deal with the repetition. Once the intro to a task has been done, the only difference in them is that more appear, and they get harder.
That said, there’s a huge variety in what is actually available. Riding at high speed with a tiger to impress it before it mauls you, running and gunning around a faux Japanese-style gameshow that glorifies death, being a pimp, ripping off insurance companies, levelling the environment with tanks and gunships, streaking to frighten the local populace… and this only covers part of the map markers. Delve into the mécanisme du jour mobile phone and there are loads of other requests from the Saints to deliver on; tonnes of upgrades to earn and buy with the levelling system; and challenges for being a general all-round ass to everyone and everything. The original game was built on providing the tools to wreak havoc in a city with little to no consequence, and removing as many constraints to fun as possible. It’s obviously still here in the updated version – along with access to all the DLC missions, weapons and outfits from the start – but it does show its age a bit and can be clunky and un-intuitive when put side-by-side with what we’ve had in the intervening years. There’s a huge amount of 3rd person gunplay too that highlights the lack of refinement that we’ve come to appreciate since the original release. It works well as long as you don’t mind the awful weapon wheel, the lack of quick weapon switching, and the constant need it seems to have to keep you unarmed.
There are no gameplay updates, that much seems clear, so what has happened in Saints Row The Third Remastered to warrant the re-release? Aside from the cynical part of us that thinks it’s simply because we’ve seen a lot of other Volition games over the last couple of years *cough* Red Faction Guerrilla *cough*, it’s probably more that there’s a massive graphical overhaul been done. It wasn’t a bad looking game at the time, but it was clearly mid-last gen, now it’s definitely been brought up to date. There’s a laundry list of exactly what’s been beautified that goes from 4K and HDR implementation to physical model improvements via increases in traffic and pedestrians, with a stop off at VFX enhancements. It looks good, let’s just say that. It’s a massive undertaking to make the changes to the original game that they have, but it still brings some of the issues that were present in the original. Not being able to walk past or over objects 6 inches high, everything spawning off camera behind the character, and a connection with server loss ending up with trophies being disabled. The latter here means basically you can’t use rest mode if you want to go for the achievements, and it’s not clear why that wasn’t fixed.
One of the good things about the overhaul though is that it really shows off the customisation that the game always had going for it. Given the number of outfits available, the attachments to the character models, the vehicles and multiple changes that can be made to them, and even the crew look and feel – it’s represented in all its glory in Saints Row The Third Remastered. My favourite absurd weapon of all time, the Shark-o-Matic looks stunning in this latest incarnation as a shark breaks the concrete surface and devours enemies. Even the notorious “sex appeal” option in the character creation makes a return and never fails to make you feel a little cheap and nasty when you tweak it. That actually may be one of the things that’s not translating well in the post-#MeToo era – it can feel quite sexist in objectifying the female NPCs (and The Boss if you pick that gender), and there’s not quite enough done with the male side to balance it out and force it into satire. Of course, it can be argued that it’s a product of its time, yet that’s only a short nine years ago, and probably highlights more how quickly things have moved on in the medium and culturally since then.
The infantile and crude humour is ever present and doesn’t feel quite as dated as some of the other parts. It appeals to the childish side of me so it raises a smile, and I’ve found it hard not to enjoy beating enemies with a giant purple wang whilst dressed as a Victorian gentleman and shouting “F&*% off chavs!”. If you’re wondering why, then that’s because the Whored Mode (their name, not mine) is back. It’s a simple survive the horde affair, though the rounds are quick and scenarios varied enough to provide some pure delight. Half sized people dressed as cans of Saints Flow attacking you whilst a mega-size one lurks at the back is a sight to behold. Then there’s the co-op mode too where the full campaign and all activities can be done with a partner. I was about to type “at the time this was quite unique”, but then realised there are less co-op open world games now than there were last gen, so having the chance to team up and take on the Syndicate with a friend in drop-in/drop-out co-op is actually still a novelty. It’s also how two of the team here earned the platinum for the original release because it’s such a simple blast causing mayhem and helping each other out.
There we have it, another instalment of the Saints Row series gets a remaster, and with these coming in reverse order there’s every chance we’ll see Saints Row 2 as some point in the future. I’d rather not though. This one, Saints Row The Third Remastered, is a cracking update of the pinnacle of the series, and with some accidental mad logic Deep Silver have released the updates in the right order. It’s not perfect, it never was and never will be, but there’s a charisma to the game that comes from the bonding of leads, the crazy ancillary characters and the OTT action that punctuates their relationships. From the blatant rip offs to the subtle homages, it delights on multiple levels whilst never attempting to be too clever or tricksy. A lick of paint might not hide all the cracks, but it does makes it feel fresh again.
A PS4 review copy of Saints Row The Third Remastered was provided by Deep Silver’s PR team and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £30.