THE WASHINGTON POST – A lot of Saints Row fans hold the third one in higher regard than I do. For me, the game felt a bit confused, too busy with distraction work, and the crude humour was already cringe-inducing back in 2011.
So I played Saints Row: The Third Remastered with some trepidation. Remasters, after all, have an uneven reputation. Sometimes remasters improve the game by adding more frames of animation and higher resolution graphics. On the other end of the spectrum, remaster shows how little work can be done, with the developers barely touching the game’s textures.
Imagine my surprise when I booted up the Saints Row remaster to see brand new textures, particle effects, advanced screen space reflections and effects that bathe the city of Steelport in a warm orange and purple vaporwave hue.
The third Saints Row is the weird one of the four games.
The third game had developer Volition taking the story to ludicrous levels. “We feel that the franchise found its voice and recognisable look (in this game),” said Lead Art Director for Koch Media and Deep Silver Nikolay Stoyanov, the current publisher for the series.
The Washington Post asked Stoyanov if any of these graphical upgrades provide hints for Saints Row 5, which has been in development for more than a year. Studio Sperasoft, known for collaborating on big projects like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, created this remaster, but are not involved with the sequel.
“It was an obvious choice to give (Sperasoft) the challenge, leaving Volition to focus on their day jobs,” Stoyanov said. “But of course, each project yields learnings that can help with other projects. With this remaster, we wanted to fully tap into the advantages that the current generation of hardware lends us in terms of world density.”
We’re not just talking about touching up some images here and there. Sperasoft might have undersold this as a “remaster”, as it almost fits the definition of a full, fat remake. There are more characters and cars in the Steelport streets than ever before. All the character and weapon models have been remade from scratch.
“We had to pay close attention to the look of its characters and setting to not lose the recognisable look and vibe,” Stoyanov said. “To achieve this, we familiarised ourselves on the existing marketing images from the original, which are still present in players’ memories, and reworked the main story characters to fit those looks.”
Sperasoft’s approach is notable in that the game tries to match what our mind’s eye remembers about the game.
“Every part of the vehicles was fully remastered,” Stoyanov said.
“Some custom rims received a complete redesign to make them more modern. The materials, colours and decals of the cars now respond better to the various lighting conditions.”
The game’s new global illumination lighting system is the remaster’s star. Everything in the city bounce light realistically, making the different times of day look even more striking.
The new remaster looks better than its original PC edition, and the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X versions. Otherwise, the game is really the same. The same cheats, the same tricks still work. Playing the game in 2020, your mileage may vary. The game is still a non-stop parade of mini games, which felt like lazy game design even when the game first released. But after recent epics like Red Dead Redemption 2, it was refreshing to play an open-world game that’s more interested in being a video game than a long, personal and stressful odyssey.
Open-world gaming really hasn’t been the same since we last saw the Saints. It’s about time they came back to show us what we’ve been missing.
In the meantime, Saints Row: The Third Remaster reminds us of the fun we used to have.