A Blast from the Past Review
FBT returns to Boss a remastered Steelport
Watching that Saint’s Row reboot trailer made me angry. A Disney Kids show, a worse Agents of Mayhem, a sell-out, an abomination – call it what you will, just don’t call it Saints. I mean, I know I’ll end up buying it, but I also know I won’t like it. I hated it so much I had to dig out SR3rd just to get that taste out of my mouth. I need the taste of Saint’s Flow.
SR3rd wasn’t a GTA clone, it was us when we free-roamed GTA. No other game let me explore my inner cartoon criminal like SR3rd – it's my yardstick whenever I step into a free-roamer; will it let me ride a broomstick? Can I add kneecappers to my car, do wrestling moves on passing Mascots or have Burt Reynolds on my speed-dial? No? Then jog on.
I can’t believe it’s a decade old. SR3rd’s self-aware comedy style is everywhere now (except in the reboot it seems). Is it still relevant? I’ll be gutted if SR3rd has aged out. But the Remaster gives me an opportunity to find out if it’s still the Boss.
Still a Blast?
Let’s get this out of the way. I dislike Remasters. They rarely take advantage of contemporary GFX beyond chucking in some RTX sunbeams and they don’t fix issues, update missions, tidy up or add actual replay value. They just slap on ‘remaster’ to keep a franchise alive while the Developers come up with something new. And SR3rd is no exception.
Somehow this Remaster makes SR3rd look older. Now when Shaundi and the Boss are falling from the plane, it’s like they forgot to CGI in the background. Couldn’t spring for a new skyline? It looks flatter, less shiny too. Couldn’t see your way to adding in a little nod, a hint, a snippet of audio from the cockpit when Zinyak kidnaps Gat? For some reason Shaundi has darker hair, Pierce looks 12 and everyone is over-processed, like the Saints have their own IG Filter. Apart from some reskins here and there, this is awful. And then you play it.
Unforgivably, all the bugs are still there – including the infamous bug that stops your car from making any sounds which ruins driving. Or they stick in first gear, wheelspin endlessly, or shift through gears while you’re at a standstill. It’s a terrible remaster, and the only satisfaction I get is I got this free from Epic Games. I’d be pissed if I bought this. Literally the only improvement is the load screen images. Shocking and cynical cash-grab.
But we’re not here for the Remaster, we wanna see if SR3rd is still the OG. I’d forgotten the opening scenes, where it’s revealed the Saints have gone corporate, become celebrities with their own energy drink, clothing stores and a movie in development; they even have legal and PR departments. No sooner has that ‘reorientated’ me into how out-there SR3rd is, when the Saints all dress up in oversized outfits of Johnny Gat as a ‘disguise’ - including Johnny himself; this opener, with us dangling off a vault being choppered out of the bank as SWAT try to take us down while asking for an autograph is the ultimate surreal scene-setter.
Turns out the bank is a front for ‘the Syndicate’, a conglomerate of gangs who demand the Saints join. The Saints naturally refuse and, naturally, firefight inside, outside, and then skydive through the plane as it crashes; landing penniless in Steelport, the Boss angrily promises to rebuild the Saints and take down the Syndicate. Even a decade after release, those set-pieces are better than most modern games’ endings, let alone starters.
Freed to take over the city, we go completely berserk. Drive on the wrong side, hit peds, jump through car windscreens, do wrestling moves on peaceful NPCs, take out rival gangs, buy up the town, do insane side missions; all the time indulging in wanton destruction, which you’re awarded for, and the XP unlocks in ways that make everything madder. The biggest challenge is actually trying to out-do its silliness, and you will fail; SR3rd has always got something more insane up its furry sleeve.
Still, SR3rd’s borderline misogyny is as subtle as a three-foot purple dildo. We throw a party with ‘hookers and strippers’ which turn out to be Assassins, as if that in some way justifies it - I can’t really critique that because I outfitted my Saints crew as Penthouse models which made it harder to work out who the enemies were… but a mission to free sex workers trapped in shipping containers is risible; we’re only doing it to damage the Syndicate, and we either sell them or put them to work for long-term benefits. If it’s intended as satire of GTA’s sexism it doesn’t pull it off. We’re loveable scallywags, not sex traffickers.
That aside, there’s method in its madness. Almost all the activities are linked to the overall plot, even giving an irate tiger a lift... and the plot is thrilling. I hadn’t noticed how well constructed SR3rd was; it’s easy to get lost in the sheer absurdity of it all, but there’s a solid game here as you engage in a turf war that The Boss gleefully treats like a playfight.
Ahh, the Boss, TB, our outrageous avatar, who our own gang calls insane, foolhardy, easily distracted... harsh but fair. This guy or gal is the absolute God of free roaming. In most games we learn, grow, or at least stay on topic, but The Boss? At one point we impersonate a military leader to infiltrate the base - any other game would have taken this seriously, had us deal with multiple choice answers to get past checks, but no. TB treats it like a lark and greets their second in command with ‘hello... you’ because we didn’t pay attention to names.
It’s actually TB’s team that suggests all the plans, and they have to sell it to them with promises of heavy gunfire. I’m sick of worthy heroes; TB just indulges whatever whims cross their addled mind – TB is easily one of the best anti-heroes in gaming, and the gang is equally off-kilter; Piece, a self-absorbed guy more interested in fame and his chess set (which constantly gets knocks over) and hot-but-dangerous Shaundi start rebuilding the Saints by finding folks the Syndicate crossed; Kinzie, an ex-FBI agent with an BDSM Daria Tumblr-alt.geek persona; Zimos, a pimp using an auto-tune mic to speak who we rescued from an S&M club where he was being used as a pony; Oleg, a huge, trussed up naked guy who offers to help if we free him (which elicits a "the last time a big naked dude said he could help me, it did not end well" from Pierce); and Angel, a disgraced Luchador who sends us on insane self-improvement missions. Time to bring down the Syndicate.
The structure of SR3rd is normal - save this, find that, protect them etc., but how we do it is certifiable. One mission has us bailing out of (another) aircraft, having a NOLF-style mid-air firefight, falling into a passing tank and having a mid-air tank fight as well, before crashing and exploding toxic gases which cause a zombie outbreak; we’re then asked by Steelport’s mayor to clear the zombies out. Just a day in the life for the Saints.
This is still the SR I remember. It’s gotten better with time, free-roamers have become weighty and over-serious RPG-lite. It is a parody but also a legit game than knows you better than you know yourself. Those GTA snobs who dismissed SR3rd as a ‘dildo-waving GTA clone’ can stay in their lane. I’ll be in the other lane driving a pearlescent pink limo dressed like a Furry and firing a shotgun that attracts sharks.
The last time I saw a trailer greeted as divisively as Saint’s Row Jr. was when they gave Sonic human teeth. Everything about it is wrong. But everything about SR3rd is right. Maybe not morally right, but if you’ve not played it before, buy the original immediately and be prepared to yell "Burt fuckin Reynolds?!"