Saints Row The Third Remastered (2020) Review: Back in the Steelport Groove

  • Saints Row The Third Remastered
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Developer: Volition (original game) / Sperasoft (Remastered)
  • Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Epic Games Store exclusive)
  • Release Date: May 22, 2020

While updated re-releases of older games have been around for decades, they seem to really have kicked into high gear in the last two generations of video game consoles. Publishers, always looking for new and exciting ways to make a quick buck, have noticed they can sell you games you already played years ago on an older system. These re-releases used to be called “HD remasters” but that term is no longer widely used because most games being remastered these days are from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation and were thus already running in high definition (720p or thereabouts) on original hardware. As such, they’re usually called “remastered” or “definitive” editions now.

The quality of these remasters tends to vary quite a bit, largely depending on the amount of care and effort (not to mention money) poured into them. Most publishers seem satisfied with bare-bones remasters with increased rendering resolutions and maybe a few other tweaks here and there, but there are also developers whose entire business model is centered around high quality remasters of classic games. The best-known of these studios is Bluepoint Games, whose PlayStation 4 port of Shadow of the Colossus is closer to a full remake than another HD remaster (Bluepoint’s also responsible for the PS3 remaster of SotC) of Team Ico’s PS2 classic.

The Saints Row series, Volition’s open world gangster story turned super hero sim turned complete nonsense (I’m sorry, but this is the most concise way I can describe the progression of the series from its GTA clone origins to Gat Out of Hell), is no stranger to re-releases. Saints Row IV has been remastered for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One early in the generation (with later releases on PC and the Nintendo Switch). Saints Row IV: Re-Elected by High Voltage Software was a lackluster release in many ways. While it did at least render at 1080p and manages to run at 60 frames per second on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, that was basically the extent of the upgrades and Re-Elected is generally seen as a disappointment.

The game’s predecessor, Saints Row The Third, was released on the Switch in 2019 (not earlier this year like I originally stated) and the results were far from impressive, so when the Saints Row The Third Remastered release for the PS4, Xbox One and PC was announced it largely flew under the radar. The May 22 release date arrived to a similar lack of fanfare, because why would anyone care about yet another low-budget and low-effort remaster?

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Well, uh, that was unexpected. As it turns out, Volition and Remastered developer Sperasoft have gone the extra mile with this one. All assets have been reworked or recreated in higher detail. Vehicles, character models, environments, everything. The lighting model has been completely overhauled, with an all-new HDR implementation as an option. There’s volumetric fog, light shafts, screen space reflections, temporal anti-aliasing, improved ambient occlusion, all that good stuff you’d expect from a modern release, and it looks tremendous especially in motion.

Without looking at the original version of Saints Row The Third, you might not realize how massive the visual leap actually is because the new assets are extremely faithful to the original art design, but make no mistake — this is a major upgrade in terms of presentation. It really is night and day, but because the art is so faithful to the original game it’s easy to forget how that original release actually looked instead of how it looks in your memories. I particularly like the changes to the character models, as the plastic look and dead-eyed stares of the original incarnations were always rather unpleasant. You certainly won’t mistake this for a new game released in 2020, but the improvement is tangible and, if nothing else, it sure as hell looks a lot better than Agents of Mayhem.

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Content-wise, there’s nothing here to write home about. This is still the same game from 2011 and includes all the old DLC without any new additions, so if you’ve played Saints Row The Third for hundreds of hours there’s nothing new here except maybe for some DLC you didn’t get the first time around. I always found Saints Row The Third a rather disjointed experience due to the various cuts made to the storyline, and while I would have loved to see some of that planned content restored I realize it was never within the scope of this project. This is just Saints Row The Third, exactly how you remember it through your rose-tinted (purple-tinted?) glasses.

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That is not to say this release is completely without caveats. I haven’t tried the console versions, but on PC I’m noticing a certain lack of polish in certain parts of the game. I’ve had one crash to desktop in ten hours of gameplay, as well as some odd glitches and bugs that certainly don’t ruin the game but should’ve been ironed out and hopefully will be in an update sooner or later. For example, in the original game your phone would display a notification whenever you can collect your hourly income from your properties, but in Saints Row The Third Remastered this notification does not appear on top of the Cash icon and you have to click it to see if your money has come in. Not a big deal, but rather irritating.

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Some shop interfaces also seem bugged, especially the Friendly Fire gun store where it seems like the UI background fails to render properly. This would be less of a problem if it didn’t cause the weapon upgrade prices to appear in red text on a red background. The issue is less pronounced when HDR is enabled, but it still shouldn’t happen in the first place.

When you’re doing the Trailblazing activity, which involves riding a flaming ATV around Steelport, the protagonist continually screams as if they were on fire. I mean, they are on fire, but they’re also wearing a protective suit and not actually taking fire damage, so they should not be screaming during this activity. Or at least I’m quite sure they shouldn’t, and didn’t in the original game. Those screams are actually kind of horrifying when you have to listen to them for several minutes straight.

There are also various AI glitches I’ve noticed, but I can’t say for sure whether those are new to this version because Saints Row AI has traditionally had more than a few issues. Activities such as Trafficking can be a pain to complete because the AI driver always manages to get stuck on geometry and Austin Powers itself in narrow alleyways, and any Saints Row mission that requires AI companions to quickly get in a vehicle is considered a form of torture in several countries.

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Most crucially, the menus feel laggy. Everything takes a split second longer than it should, and sometimes it feels like my button presses aren’t registering. It’s oddly sluggish, and this menu lag definitely needs to be addressed in a patch because it is easily the biggest problem with the Remastered release at the moment. I can just about deal with the other wonkiness, but the menus have to be fixed for this release to truly feel like the definitive version of the game. It’s frustrating, because they got so close.

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I’d also like to see some more graphics options to tinker with. As it is, there’s no setting for texture quality, just texture filtering. I can’t quite hit a locked 60 fps at 1440p maxed out or even with shadow resolution dropped to medium (although it is so close to a locked 60 it doesn’t ruin things for me), and the graphics options that are there are rather vague or limited so there’s not that much room to tweak things.

Another strange omission here is the cutscene v-sync toggle from the original release, because the in-engine cutscenes are now locked at 30 fps and feature constant screen tearing unless you force v-sync in the Nvidia Control Panel or another similar program. Why not keep the option in the game? You still have the gameplay v-sync toggle! Very odd.

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Despite its flaws, Saints Row The Third Remastered is one of the more ambitious remasters in recent memory and the new presentation does have a transformative effect on the experience even though you can still tell from the underlying design that this is a game from 2011. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending €40 or your regional equivalent on this remaster until the most notable issues are fixed, but if you’re a fan of Saints Row The Third you should probably give this one a shot at some point because Steelport has never looked this good or felt this atmospheric.

Again, I don’t know if the console versions exhibit the issues I outlined (Digital Foundry certainly didn’t mention anything about lag in the menus when they covered the console versions in a video that single-handedly sold me on this re-release), but consider yourself warned if you choose to pick this one up on PC. Speaking of which, Saints Row The Third Remastered on PC is currently an Epic Games Store exclusive, which I know will be a deal-breaker for some. Hopefully, the game finds its way to Steam and/or GOG sooner or later and gets a patch or two by that point.

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In some ways, Saints Row The Third Remastered is the definitive version of Volition’s open world classic, but as has been pointed out the overall quality of this release is not quite there yet. The game itself is as fun as it always was despite the disjointed story and a few incredibly frustrating side activities (Heli Assault and Guardian Angel sucked from day one and continue to suck as long as the concept of sucking exists, and Snatch is entirely too difficult in Saints Row The Third). I personally prefer the tone and certain other aspects of Saints Row 2, but The Third is still a solid game in its own right and holds up better gameplay-wise than its predecessor.

As for the future of the Saints Row series, Volition has announced they’re working on a new Saints Row title but no other information has been released. In addition, they managed to locate the Saints Row 2 source code and immediately announced a forthcoming re-release of Saints Row 2 for PC (as a free update if you own the game on Steam), because now they’re finally able to fix the notoriously poor PC port that was outsourced to one of CD Projekt’s now defunct subsidiaries. The SR2 update will be released “when it’s done” as it’s not exactly a high priority for Volition, but it is in good hands as it’s being worked on by Saints Row 2 modding gurus IdolNinja (who works full-time at Volition as a Sr. Community Developer) and Minimaul of Gentlemen of the Row fame. It’ll be fascinating to see what Volition’s cooking up for us, but at the very least we can all be relieved Agents of Mayhem didn’t kill the studio.

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