Remasters can be an extremely valuable thing. Sometimes they’re the only way you can re-experience a classic. They can revitalize an aging game into the modern era, making it feel new again by polishing a handful of blemishes. I can think of so many games that so desperately need this sort of update. Saints Row: The Third is not one of them. Yet publisher Deep Silver is making Saints Row: The Third Remastered anyway for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
In a web conference, the team promised the game is going to be gorgeous. To be fair, it truly is — the lighting and rendering tech implemented by Sperasoft and Volition is incredible. Except this is all The Third Remastered seems to offer. There’s an increase in NPC numbers so at least your mayhem will last a bit longer, and you might bump into a traffic jam every now and then. That’s apparently it.
If the original game’s visuals had aged poorly, that’d be one thing, but in reality — Saints Row: The Third doesn’t look bad anyway. Its cartoonish aesthetics would benefit more from some improved animations, but not by giving Pierce and Shaundi more realistic bump mapping. And if you don’t know what a bump map is, most of what The Third Remastered offers is likely going to fly over your head.
This remaster has the opportunity to offer the sort of exclusive edge to make it well worth the asking price, like Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD with its control tweaks and Assassin’s Creed III Remastered offering gameplay enhancements. Instead, it may be a missed opportunity. For instance, there is no local split-screen co-op option despite how that would be an obvious improvement for such a co-op-centric game. When asked during the conference about the lack of split-screen co-op, the developers actually came across surprised and said that the graphics of the remaster are just too demanding. That’s fair, except for the fact that maybe players would have preferred that option to higher-end graphics.
When another journalist asked about why they skipped the first two games, the presenters answered that The Third is the most popular entry in the series. Reports vary on this, with its 3.8 million sales during its launch window, but then THQ president Jason Rubin tweeted that the game was approaching 5.5 million lifetime sales before the THQ Humble Bundle in 2012. As far as I’ve been able to find, it was never confirmed if this number was sold through (bought by consumers) or simply sold in (to stock retailer shelves).
The launch sales numbers do easily top THQ’s humbler expectations for Saints Row 2 back when it underperformed. However, numbers on Saints Row IV are more elusive. Deep Silver simply stated that sales were “very strong,” with VGChartz estimating (and it must be emphasized that it’s only an estimate) 3.21 million total sales combined among PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, not accounting for the game’s multiple ports and re-releases. It’s worth noting that when Saints Row IV came to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch, it never had The Third Remastered’s level of fine-tuning, instead presented as is.
That’s fine though, as the third and fourth entries have close graphical parity and art style. That just means it would theoretically make even more sense to bring their predecessors in line with the current aesthetic, updating Saints Row and Saints Row 2 from their more “realistic” art direction. Now would be the perfect time to revitalize those games for a fresh audience, with over a decade of engine and design improvements each would benefit from greatly. It’d help the franchise distance itself from more-poorly-received spin-off Agents of Mayhem by going back to its roots, presenting the tetralogy under a cohesive artistic vision for the first time.
Notably, there are no plans for Saints Row: The Third Remastered to release on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, aside from the hope that their backwards compatibility may be harnessed to access the title. It may be a gamble to expect people to purchase the game when new hardware is on the horizon and the original game may be purchased for cheap on PC.
All in all, there’s nothing that warrants Saints Row: The Third Remastered. Yet the developers updating, rebuilding, and re-optimizing the entire game display an earnest love for the IP, sharing heartfelt stories during the conference. They’re eager to keep the brand relevant in the interim before the “next game,” as they referred to it, is revealed sometime in the future. It’s unfortunate that passion is being spent on a project with perplexing priorities.
It’s not a bad game and the graphical upgrade is beautiful, but it’s so much effort for no clear reason. Saints Row has always pushed the limit, trying something new and bold with every step forward. People play Saints Row for the crazy-yet-endearing characters and whatever new bonkers action is in store. Realistic reflections on handguns might be a hard sell.