Player freedom is often touted as something of a plus, being able to choose a direction, an activity, a mission, or customise your avatar as you see fit. Saints Row The Third, which originally launched in 2011 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, wore this freedom on its sleeve - literally. Being able to customise your Saints leader with shiny metallic skin, some comedic heft, and garish clothing, and then have them walk around pants-less (with accompanying pixel-blur) in the city of Steelport set the tone for an over-the-top open-world action game quite unlike any other.
Perhaps, said walk was had while wearing a vibrant teal jacket and thong combo.
A series that was born as a riff or take on the sort of life-of-crime antics found in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series finally came into its own. Saints Row The Third is an experience that drops all pretence of realism, the digital city of Steelport is presented as a sandbox of colourful, comic, and juvenile excess.
“Saints Row The Third is an experience that drops all pretence of realism, the digital city of Steelport is presented as a sandbox of colourful, comic, and juvenile excess."
Saints Row The Third Remastered brings the fan-favourite back with a shiny coat of remastered paint, one that includes an impressive new lighting engine, updated character models, and fancier special effects. It makes the last-gen spandex-wearing avatars firing off rockets at gang vehicles and police cars look a little more current.
For the videogame scholars out there, this is the entry that introduced the dildo-bat, a floppy and bright purple melee weapon shaped like a sex toy. In that it is a sex toy you can use to beat up members of rival gangs. Or stand there hitting the bonnet of a supped-up cop car. Which really, tells you all you need to know. The over-the-top and comic tone of the third Saints Row game from developer Volition is fun pure and simple. Crass, sure – but the democratic approach to most of what you see and do is refreshing.
You can (and should) dress up your fellow Saints NPC “Homies” in gimp suits, which makes their encounters against cyberspace goths look nothing short of hilarious. And when you team up with a real-world homie to tackle missions and activities in co-op, it borders on brilliant.
Being able to play an open-world action game in co-op hasn’t become the norm in the years since Saints Row The Third first hit the scene. From the perspective of this release being a remaster of an existing game – this feature alone quietly makes it a must-play in 2020. Especially if you’re on the lookout for some co-op fun.
It’s when played alone that a sizable portion of the mission design and activities show their age, offering little in the way of variation and often showcasing the sort of aged design where you need to game the game in order to progress the, err, game. See: frustration born from difficulty that will have you call bullshit as you struggle to target a large truck’s tires or protect a homie from the vantage point of an attack chopper only to have their vehicle explode because enemy AI deals exclusively in cheap tactics.
Tackled with a friend the above fades into the background and becomes a minor speed bump as you drive around looking for the next gun store or casino to buy. With all missions and most activities accessible from your digital smart-phone this paves the way for progression that lets you use cash to upgrade all aspects of your character. From bullet and explosion protection to upping the damage on your favourite SMG. To the point where it gets a nice little incendiary passive that inadvertently sets you (and your co-op partner) on fire more often than you’d care to mention.
“When you team up with a real-world homie to tackle missions and activities in co-op, it borders on brilliant."
There’s a ‘own the city’ meta game here that is simple and works wonderfully; cash gets you more cash to buy properties and get even more cash. There’s even a superhero-like approach that sees your arsenal and abilities grow to the point where you’ll have no issue dealing with five-star gangs, a coordinated police response, or a new super-villain. The story follows suit, presenting comically over-the-top gangs and high-tech security firms to do battle with and wrest control over the streets.
The action here isn’t so much a depiction of life as a criminal as it is running a gang empire in a Looney Tunes world of excess and silliness. Regarding the remaster effort applied to the 2011 release what you get is strictly visual, with the occasional buggy missions, a few crashes, and glitches remaining intact. On the visual front the new lighting engine is weirdly impressive, with the weirdness coming from a sort realistic Reshade filter you might find on a GTA PC mod. Where nights are pitch-black with streets lights, headlamps, reflective surfaces, and depth of field effects bringing a 4K HDR cinematic quality that sits alongside the cartoonish tone.
In the end Saints Row The Third Remastered is a reminder that the style of action seen in Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown can find a cartoonish and juvenile middle-ground. A place where the concept of gangs and friendship is both comic and grounded. A place where player freedom lets you make your mark on the world with style and a distinct lack of grace. With the fourth Saints Row leaning ever more into the absurd, thanks to a plot that deals with alien invasions and virtual realities, Saints Row The Third Remastered is arguably the series at its best.
What we liked
Still features one of the best and most versatile character creation and customisation tools
Over-the-top, comic, juvenile, and fun
Great co-op action
Often hilarious action
New lighting engine and the overall remaster effort is impressive
What we didn't like
Mission design, especially when play solo, feels dated