Saints Row: The Third Remastered Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
Comparisons between Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto are inevitable and, more often than not, the entire key to their success.
Saints Row arrived in the great shadow of Grand Theft Auto, struggling to find a unique selling point to pull gamers away from Rockstar’s monolith and towards their scrappy young upstart. The franchise’s big break came in 2008 when GTA IV presented a darker, more sombre (and criminally underappreciated) take on the series and fans needed an injection of manic fun again; which is where Saints Row 2 landed at the exact right point in time. Suddenly Rockstar’s OG was facing serious completion on the streets and it would be five more years before GTA V. In 2011, Saints Row: The Third landed on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to fill the gap before Rockstar would emphatically reclaim their throne two years later and would serve as the last time Saints Row was on top before the series lost its way and much of its heat.
Now, the current generation gets to relive (or discover for the very first time) the Saints Row pinnacle with a new remaster.
The visual polish the game has received here puts many remasters to shame. The janky textures and poor draw distance have been replaced with a truly modern look, if you had never seen the original Saints Row games then you would be convinced this game had been built for the current generation of consoles. Character animations remain stuck in the previous era, however, but the stiffer basic movements fit Saints Row’s more arcade-fuelled ethos quite well so it is an issue that largely works itself out while you play.
The city design of Steelport is impressively scaled in terms of a distinctive skyline and the spruced up lighting effects make the world pop the eyes but in terms of layout and granular design is often a little character-less on street level. It is not as easy to differentiate between areas to work out where you need to go as it is with Rockstar’s sandboxes but, as will become clear, immersion is not really the point of Saints Row.
Navigating the city is similarly short of the GTA standards as the driving still feels clunky. This is largely due to the camera insisting on snapping back to a forward position whenever you release it, something that you cannot actually turn off, only set it to a delayed return which only seems to make things worse. Thankfully, precision driving is never too integral to the action in this series. It feels more like a means of getting from A to B.
Shooting is serviceable, although lacking in weight, and while a lack of snap aim and covering mechanics differentiate it from GTA, they are definitely missed during certain moments. The series leans into a more arcade-style and it is never more apparent than here, how engaging you find that will depend entirely on your preferences.
Melee combat is solid, very inventive, and definitely a step above its competitors. The use of a more cinematic, QTE approach during key sequences makes for something more dynamic looking and livens up the moments where a gun is not an option. You can also grab enemies and use them as human shields before hurling them away like Uncle Phil would throw out Jazzy Jeff, which can be very funny when you are by an open window or in front of a mob of enemies that need bowling over.
This is where Saints Row: The Third truly excels, and where it holds up the best: That sense of mischief. GTA V definitely brought the classic franchise back to its maniacal roots, and GTA Online only grew bigger and sillier, but it will never reach the heights of sheer lunacy that Saints Row: The Third has to offer.
It starts with the character customisation, which is incredibly detailed and loaded with great visual gags. While GTA offers vividly detailed characters built to suit the writing, Saints Row lets you choose literally everything about your characters aesthetic. You can design a character that suits the personality of the lead or you can make them look diametrically different for the extra laughter factor. At the game’s core is the desire for you to have fun in whatever way you want. For my playthrough here, I basically made Ric Flair and the concept of the Nature Boy as a crime boss alone brought me a lot of solid laughs.
The writing is not remotely as funny or intelligent as GTA but the sight gags and the general care-free approach to just about every moment of action ensure it is every bit as entertaining as it was on release, giving away any of the craziest concepts would be doing any new players a disservice. They need to be seen to be believed, and even then you may struggle to believe.
The remaster comes with all the DLC pre-loaded and accessible immediately after your tutorial missions are completed, which is a really nice touch and opens up your options for mayhem early on. Once you leave your crib for the first time, your map is littered with choice, from activities to businesses to buy to gang activities, and that’s not even getting to the litany of crazed cinematic story missions open to you from the jump. If you enjoy what Saints Row: The Third is serving up early on, the game’s full content will feel like a buffet.
If Grand Theft Auto is the smarter, nihilistic, chain-smoking older brother then Saints Row is the hyperactive younger sibling who just got into the family’s sherbet supply (or any other energy provoking powders that you may have access to, I’m not judging) and loves to run into walls for fun. Saints Row: The Third is that kid at their most endearing, entertainingly off-the-rails, so prepare to get a lot of dents in your walls.
- PlayStation 4
- Xbox One