May 26, 2020

Saints Row: The Third Remastered Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $39.99
We Recommend: $39.99
  • Developer: Deep Silver Volition, Sperasoft
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Genre: Action, Shooter
  • Released: May 22, 2020
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Reviewed: Windows

Remasters are becoming nearly as common as standard releases, with developers and publishers looking for opportunities to update their games from the previous generation to look and perform better on modern hardware (and perhaps just looking for a more palatable way to suggest that players repurchase a game they already own). The actual quality of remasters vary drastically across releases, with the bare minimum effort being support for higher resolutions and marginally up-scaled textures, and the absolute top end of things being just shy of total remakes. Most games fall somewhere in between, or perhaps re-implement an older title in a newer series release’s engine, and generally are serviceable in that they allow you to keep playing a game from a previous generation that might no longer be accessible. Then, there’s Saints Row: The Third Remastered, which, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is one of the best remasters I have ever seen, and actually feels like a proper utilization of the term. It is truly a remarkable, notable improvement over the original game’s presentation in nearly every aspect, and frankly it is a joyful way to return to Steelport after all these years.

In 2011, Saints Row: The Third saw the franchise truly come into its own and turn the open world crime genre on its head, proving that there was ample room to fill in the wake of the Grand Theft Auto series’ steady march toward self-seriousness and realism (even in the face of its own brand of heavy-handed satire). In a way, Saints Row: The Third could be seen as the bizarro doppelganger from an alternate timeline in which GTA continued to veer further into silliness and outlandishness after GTA: San Andreas. Except of course that Saints Row largely prefers self awareness over self seriousness, and in Saints Row: The Third, the series achieved the video game equivalent of a Summer action comedy blockbuster, holding absolutely nothing back, and prioritizing fun and irreverence above almost all else. It was an exciting disruption at a moment at a time when high drama was the hot pursuit of so many other games, as it gave us a look at how much silly, outlandish fun could be had in a game with a AAA budget that was unafraid to put its giant purple dildo bats front and center in its marketing push. To say that I remember my time with Saints Row: The Third fondly would be an understatement.

The thing is, the original console releases of the game were OK at best, and the PC version of course still functions, but has a lot of problems on modern hardware. I know this because I re-installed the original release on my PC for the purpose of comparison, and while I was able to play a few of the same missions in both versions of the game, the original release has strange issues with performance, lighting, and textures, and it even soft locked on me on multiple occasions. As such, the prospects for revisiting Saints Row: The Third today have been less than ideal up until now.

By contrast, from the moment you launch Saints Row: The Third Remastered, it is clear and evident that some work was put into creating this release of the game. The entire menu system and background videos on the title screen are completely new, running in crisp, ultra-high definition (up to 4K!) and signaling early on that you’re in for something special. Sure enough, as the game launches into its first scene with Pierce shooting his Saints Flow commercial, the ensuing bank heist, and absolutely bonkers plane escape sequence, your eyes are being constantly assailed with “wow” moments, which is a thing I would not have expected to be writing.

How much better does Saints Row: The Third Remastered look? As a brief summary, the lighting model has been completely reworked, the engine sports loads of enhanced post-processing effects, textures have been remade and enhanced across the board, new & more realistic materials are used on physical objects, character models have been totally rebuilt in higher fidelity, and all of the effects have been redone in rich detail. Plus, all of this has been done while maintaining the game’s original art style, and the end result is a game that looks, feels, and plays like the hyper-real, semi cartoonish experience you remember, but is of such a drastically higher quality level that you would swear the entire thing had been completely remade from scratch. Looking at the two versions side by side (or in quick succession) the difference is stark and immediate.

More impressively, the remastered game not only looks light years better than the original release, but it outperforms the original even running on Ultra settings. I’m sure some of that can be chalked up to the performance improvements present in the DirectX 12 API on Windows, but credit should also be given to the quality of the work on display here from Deep Silver Volition and Sperasoft. The fact that the remaster can run in 1440p on a GTX 1080 at about 90-100 frames per second on Ultra settings, where the previous game tended to fluctuate between 60 and 80 on the same configuration, is a testament to how damn good this thing really is.

There was one thing that struck a weird chord with me, though. In the grand scheme it doesn’t matter that much, but given how much richer and more realistic the art for the supporting characters’ faces are (Shaundi, Pierce, Johnny Gat, Philippe Loren and the DeWynter sisters, etc), it’s a bit jarring to me that the custom faces for the main character (you know, The Boss, whom you play as) don’t look quite as good under scrutiny. I’m sure it’s somewhat to do with the challenge of supporting a custom character creation system and making sure that the results look decent regardless of the player’s choices, but there is a noticeable difference in quality that for me almost became distracting. Next to your crew members, your character’s face simply looks janky by comparison, and it does a surprising amount to break the spell cast by the rest of this update.

Ultimately, this is still the same Saints Row: The Third in terms of story and game play, though it does include 100% of the content from Saints Row: The Third: The Full Package, meaning all of the original game’s DLC is available to you from the jump. The visual upgrades the game has received are truly amazing, and are well worth making the journey back to Steelport whether you’re a long time fan or a newcomer to the series. While I did really enjoy how absolutely bonkers Saints Row IV was, Saints Row: The Third is truly the essential title in the series, and being able to experience it at this level of quality is a strange, unexpected gift. If Deep Silver is looking to set the standard for what remasters should be, they have absolutely thrown down the gauntlet in terms of what players should expect going forward.

An Epic Games Store code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes