Saints Row’s so far 14-year existence has seen the series develop incredulously since it began. What started out life as a self-referential open-world game built to rival Grand Theft Auto has become a ridiculous, superpower infused series in which you play as the President of the United States. In 2011, Saints Row: The Third was released and became the most successful instalment of the series with over 5.5 million copies sold. In this age of remasters, it seemed inevitable that this would become the next AAA title to go under the knife.
Set 5 years after the events of Saints Row 2, the 3rd Street Saints have become their own massive multimedia conglomerate, with fingers in all sorts of pies from filmmaking to merchandising to property ownership. Set in the fictional city of Steelport – a departure from the previous two games’ Stilwater setting – you control your own heavily customisable character as the leader of the 3rd Street Saints and their quest to wrestle Steelport domination away from rival gangs, the Morningstar, the Deckers, and the Luchadores.
Plot in a game in which your main melee weapon is a giant sex toy feels superfluous. It’s merely there to service the cacophony of action you’re going to experience in Saints Row: The Third. I highly doubt you’ll have much of an attachment to any characters on an emotional level and toss them aside like the ragdoll NPCs you’ll run over incessantly. Saints Row lives and dies by its gameplay; truth be told, it leaves a little to be desired.
Starting with the shooting mechanics, my initial impressions were my dismay at how clunky the shooting is. Saints Row has always been a shoot first and ask questions later type series, so it feels somewhat problematic when this mechanic isn’t quite as sharp as you’d expect. The lack of accuracy when it comes to the sights and zooming in boils down to more than simply my own, historic gaming inaccuracy (as my current Warzone teammates can attest). In the first hour or so of the game, a sequence of one bombastic set-piece after another, the aiming felt sluggish and tiresome, combined with enemies taking what felt like an age to be shot down (seriously, how many bullets does a scantily clad gang member need to be taken down?), rendered it a frustrating experience. I upped the sensitivity shortly afterwards which improved it slightly, but similar issues remained.
A real bugbear in my early progress here was, for some reason, the Apocalypse Genki time trial. What effectively is an obstacle course in which you earn money for shooting weirdly dressed enemies, various signs for time, money, and health bonuses, and dodging fire and electricity traps should have been more fun that it was. The gun gameplay was infuriatingly inconsistent, some enemies going down in 1 hit, other enemies taking 4 shotgun blasts and a painfully slow reload later to be downed. I enjoy these time trials in games but having to start them over and over again becomes irksome beyond belief.
Mercifully, I had much more success when it came to driving around Steelport. The massive selection of vehicles I had at the beginning of the game was almost overwhelming, but I quickly found myself a favourite with the Nyte Blayde which allowed me to fill the searing Burnout Paradise shaped hole in my life. Driving around the city, earning XP for completing classic Burnout challenges of performing near misses in combination as you scream along the motorway, playing the world’s fastest game of chicken as you earn XP for driving into oncoming traffic, and racing around the airport to maximise powerslide potential was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Saints Row: The Third.
Driving around the open-world and taking out gang activities seemed to be more of what Saints Row should be like. Tear around a corner, torpedo dive out of a car at full speed, and running around taking out 10-20 gang members to take over their territory was much more successful for me. And yet, the immediate aftermath of that, in which you are chased by the world’s most tenacious police force until you lose them for a long enough time or get to the safety of your crib (many of these can be purchased around the city as you progress, so this long trek home does get shorter thankfully), frequently became a chore. In the early game, having to make the journey to the same area of the map to lose your notoriety level became quickly repetitive, though I did appreciate the difference between Saints Row’s notoriety level compared to Grand Theft Auto’s Wanted level as it changed depending on which gang you had been fighting.
With the selection of story missions that you access through your phone (a system this franchise pioneered back in 2006), it became abundantly clear that Saints Row excels the sillier it becomes. When you’re simply running and gunning through warehouses or streets, it’s fun in the short term but it becomes quickly repetitive. The best version of this was a penthouse takeover that was soundtracked by Kanye West’s Power; a necessary jolt of energy in a mission type that was used multiple times already by that point.
The silliest and most fun I had playing Saints Row: The Third was getting stuck into the Trouble With Clones DLC content, in which a teenager has cloned legendary gang member Johnny Gat and it only gets sillier from there. You’re sent across the city trying to hunt down this Hulked Out version of Johnny; one mission is an epic car chase in which you have an infinite supply of rockets and you must blow up anything and everything in pursuit while your AI drives you to safety (albeit absolutely terribly and led to numerous deaths as it got stuck in alleyways, against walls etc.). This was really fun despite the AI troubles, but most crucially it showcased the best quality this remaster has which is its commitment to sheer and total destruction.
As far as the remaster goes, the graphics have seen a nice upgrade since 2011 but it does remain a step below the current generation of graphical quality. To compare it to a similar beast, Saints Row can’t compete with the impressive Grand Theft Auto V on that front, though you could argue Saints Row does have a more cartoonish visual style. Further, I had some troubles with HDR on this remaster. I had to turn the brightness up to max and I still had trouble whenever it was night-time in Steelport.
All told, this is a decent remaster that has a lot of content for you to get stuck into considering all the DLC content that has been added. My enjoyment of the game definitely increased the more I played as I got used to the Saints Row way of life (truthfully, I wasn’t really enjoying it until I met the Johnny Gat clone, at which point I realised what game I was playing), and I’m looking forward to diving into the game further. I have many reservations about the shooting in the game and it will continue to be my biggest gripe, but I wouldn’t say it’s enough to ruin your experience as many other aspects of the game pick up the slack. As I said earlier, the game is at its best when it embraces the ridiculousness. You’re sure to find plenty of that in Steelport.