|Developer: Volition||Released: May 22.2020 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)|
|Publisher: Deep Silver, THQ, Koch Media||Reviewed: PS4|
(Distributor provided review copy.)
One of the most memorable moments in the Saints Row franchise comes very early in THE THIRD, the… well, the third game in the series. Your character, The Boss, has to take over a highrise in the center of town. In this case applying as much swagger as humanly possible; meaning jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting into the middle of the party guns blazing. All to the tune of Kanye West’s 2010 hit song “POWER”. A decade later, it remains an intoxicating and hilarious moment in a game filled with ludicrous setpieces.
Like the song, Saints Row is easy to like, at least initially. It’s quick to pick up; the pacing is great; and there’s constantly a hook or two that’ll pull you along for the ride. The catchy riff still gets mimicked today simply because it’s such a recognizable tune. But the moment you actually stop and listen to the lyrics, you start noticing the seams holding it together. They make very little sense, and the 14(!) credited writers often end rhymes with repeated words in a single verse. It’s a stellar exercise in nonsense; worth a hundred repeats on the power of chutzpah alone.
Saints Row is still a GRAND THEFT AUTO clone at heart that powers through by being utterly charming. The story sees the Saints fight for control of a city besieged by rival gangs. At stake being nothing less than the risk of facing a life of anonymity and shame. Apart from The Boss, they’re led by Shaundi; a drug dealer turned business magnate, and Johnny Gat; a sociopathic serial killer somehow beloved by the universe and everyone who meets him.
Gat is especially an oddity who goes from a mild curiosity in the second game to something the developers believe is an all time beloved icon. This is expanded in the sequels, including the expansion pack GAT OUT OF HELL. It doesn’t make any sense, but you either go with the joke or don’t.
The Boss is entirely what the player wants them to be. Everything from gender to physical details is up for modification, and it’s one of the funnest aspects of the game. Want to be a genderfluid wizard who only gargles like a zombie? Have at it. For a series so invested with masculine posturing, this is a surprisingly progressive attitude. At least in this regard, the game doesn’t punch down.
Arguably not all of the late-aughts attitudes have aged as gracefully. There are more than enough groan worthy gags that probably never worked even upon the original release. The running joke about Shaundi’s sexuality and prolicitivy is particularly grating; and there’s an unfortunate tendency for the game to aim for the lowest common denominator. It’s more thoughtless than intentionally mean: one of the weapons in the game is a big, floppy purple dildo. Why? It looks funny.
As a remaster the game is a fair, if not altogether successful effort. Certain things look great for their age, but a lot of the more obvious issues haven’t been touched. The controls on consoles are still clunky, and the game can’t run over 30fps at a resolution higher than 1080p. On a PC these problems are moot, as the mouse and keyboard combination offers much higher responsiveness. The game still looks good thanks to its cartoonish visuals, but less than expected from a tenth anniversary edition. This might just be us being spoiled by the FF7 Remake, which set a standard for all re-releases this year.
Quibbles aside, SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD is a lot for the price, and still a very fun game to play. There’s a dedication bordering on obsession to make everything as wacky as possible; which is either the best or worst thing ever, depending on who’s playing. But it’s never boring or stale, not even after ten years of doing its own thing.
That’s gotta amount for something.