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Saints Row: The Third Remastered PC Review

Saints Row: The Third is somehow almost ten years old. As absurd as that seems to me, it needs to be taken into account that players of this edition of the game are possibly experiencing it for the first time. As a huge fan of the game back in 2011, my main concerns are these: is Remastered representative of the game I fell in love with, and does the humour, which masterfully traversed that fine line between being tinglingly transgressive and just offensively ignorant, hold up in 2020? This review will concentrate on those things, and for a more in depth review of Saints Row: The Third itself, please check out our review of that game.

It’s easy to assume that Saints Row: The Third Remastered is a straightforward affair. A new coat of paint and nothing more. And- uh… It is! It’s almost uncanny how much it is just that. The way it controls, down to the smallest twitch of the player model, the physics-ignoring toy car vehicle manoeuvring, and the floaty ragdolling, feels eerily familiar if you’ve played it before. Why eerie? Because on the surface, this makeover is significant, and in a way it lends so much convincing life to scenes that the video gameyness of Saints Row is startling.

Because the underlying game here may be simple, but it’s also very playable. In some ways it always was a more playable Grand Theft Auto, regardless of whether or not you liked its rejection of that game’s elaborate animation systems and physics engine. The player avatar turns on a dime, goes where you want, and dives through any and all windows of a car just to get to the steering wheel in a timely manner. There’s no waiting around for realism, or for the main character to figure out where to set his foot – it’s all snappy and arcadey and video gamey, and that makes the basic act of playing Saints Row a good time even in these current less-than-great times.

To say that what’s been put on top of it is a ”coat of paint” is of course a criminally reductive way of describing what is a staggering overhaul of the graphics. And yet, it somehow looks ”like you remember” – immediately usurping your memory of how everything used to look. If you start comparing it to the old game side by side, however, it’s fascinating how thorough this effort is. I was sent a list from the developer detailing every new bell and whistle, and it is long and substantial. I won’t get technical here, but suffice to say, no stone was left unturned into a shinier, better looking stone.

But how does it come across in a climate where the divide between tongue-in-cheek irreverence, and hurtful, sloppy ignorance is quickly made apparent and even more quickly called out. Back in 2011 I was surprised that the writing in The Third felt so intelligent and endearing. It’s completely fair to half-expect the game with the giant purple dildo sword and ”whored mode” (derived from Gears of War’s ”Horde Mode”), to be made by tactless morons. But it really, truly isn’t. In fact, it is frequently downright sweet. And I mean that in the sincere sense of the word.

That said, it has moments where its age is showing. For instance, many NPC barks if you wear women’s clothes as a male character veer towards ”what the hell is wrong with you”, which is really unfortunate when the series has always – albeit sometimes inadvertently – felt surprisingly progressive. Qualities that are retained here to a large extent. Playing The Third as any non-male presenting character, the game’s actual narrative gives you zero guff, and as the boss of the Saints you are every bit the death-and-gravity defying Fast & Furious-esque hero no matter what wild and wonderful combination of clothing or appearance options you create. It’s genuinely quite lovely.

There are three male voice options and three female ones, but, although preferences vary of course, Laura Bailey and Troy Baker give some absolutely excellent performances in this game. The writing is on point, frequently being genuinely witty and other times being cleverly dumb, and it has the voice talent to make the words on the page pop. You chuckle from the delivery just as much as the writing, and many of its comical beats in and out of cutscenes feel classic now.

But, with very little having changed about the underlying game, there are no frills here to make the package worth it as something other than a prettier way to play the game from nearly ten years ago. Only, what’s in here isn’t a perfectly accurate representation of what that initial experience was like.

You see, when The Third released, and for the majority of its life until THQ went out of business, it featured a robust server based backend for its character creation. You registered on a website and it let you save and archive your meticulously designed crime bosses. That encouraged you to make tweaks to your character during a playthrough, or even create brand new ones to swap out. Most importantly, it allowed you to tweak your character without fear of ruining it and not making your way back to what you had before.

With the death of THQ, servers were shut down, and you were stuck with the one character you had stored locally. Changing it meant undoing any previous efforts, and I had all sorts of hideous attempts to recreate Hatsune Miku that were lost. With this re-release, and in a way the signalling of a re-commitment of sorts to Saints Row, you would think this functionality would be back as well, but it’s not. The ability to back up your character and create a second one is simply gone from the menu entirely. This hugely limits your freedom to experiment and shuts off an avenue of the game that was a big part of its appeal.

Furthermore, this game comes with all of the DLC that was released for Saints Row: The Third, which seems like a good thing at first glance, but the way the DLC was originally integrated comes with some caveats if this is your first time playing. It still responds to it as freshly-installed DLC, and pops up a notice when you start the game proper, saying ”this and that and so and so is available!”. Having this happen in the opening moments of the game means that many of the first couple of missions and activities you are made aware of are essentially post-main game content. For new players unaware that this was once DLC, it’s very likely that the first thing they engage with presupposes that you have seen much of the main game and its storyline already. Not ideal at all, and at minimum spoiler-adjacent if not outright spoilers.

And hey, the mounting absurdity of Saints Row: The Third was deliberately crafted, and none of its later game lunacy was originally telegraphed by the beginning of the game. The DLC gives you immediate access to plenty of outlandish vehicles and weapons, and when you can just walk to your garage, 10 minutes into the game, and drive off in any number of wild machines, it steals a lot of thunder from the moments when those elements are eventually introduced. The comical effect just isn’t there, and players of this edition will probably feel non-plussed.

As a GOTY edition explicitly collecting all of the released packs on the same disc for prosperity, it makes sense. As a way to let new players experience Saints Row: The Third – for someone who was, maybe, even too young when it came out originally – it’s somewhat diminished by these confusing distractions.

Okay, so, what do we actually have here? Well, at this time there really is no way to experience Saints Row: The Third the way players did back in 2011, no matter which version you play. An option is to buy the original version of The Third and play it without the avalanche of DLC content washing over you at the start. You’d still be missing the character database stuff, but at least you’ll let the game play out as intended.

Another option is to buy this edition of the game and simply deal with the way a bunch of cats jump out of bags super early. It looks better, and the console release supposedly runs infinitely better than any of the last gen versions did. Maybe the experience of playing that original game is too precious to me, and nobody who comes to it now would care either way.

But speaking from my heart, I maintain that this is, in a number of ways, a compromised version of Saints Row: The Third that the new coat of paint doesn’t really make up for. However, if you were fortunate enough to play the game back when it first came out, especially when it was working fully, this is a very pretty way to look back at it.

P.S: When I played the review code, I had a number of technical issues with the game. There was tearing in cutscenes with or without VSYNC enabled. The character creator was very inconsistent, giving erroneous results from my colour swatch selections, as well as having trouble remembering my slider settings when making adjustments elsewhere. Audio issues abound, also, especially with engines making the wrong sounds randomly. Doing some research into the issues online, it seemed like some of them are common and others aren’t. Hopefully patches address lingering problems.

7 out of 10