You've got to give credit where it's due - against all expectations, the new remaster of Saints Row The Third isn't just good, it's very special indeed. After the disappointment of the Switch conversion, PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One users get the deluxe treatment: there's carefully updated, more detail-rich artwork, a totally revamped lighting model, a switch to physically-based rendering, temporal anti-aliasing/upscaling and a profound improvement in performance. If you're gaming on Xbox One X, much of the game can even play out at 60 frames per second. Short of a full-on Bluepoint-style remake, you aren't going to get much better than this.
Let's get the basics of out of the way first. All of the new features delivered by California-based Sperasoft for this new release are present and correct on all console platforms, with the only notable differences coming from rendering resolution.The vanilla Xbox One and PlayStation 4 operate at native 1080p, while their enhanced equivalents bump the pixel count to 1440p. Out of the box, the game runs at a capped 30 frames per second, with correct frame-pacing, backed by a nice motion blur implementation that gives the impression of a very smooth level of performance overall. All versions are typically locked, with only Xbox One S occasionally dipping beneath the target.
However, curiously, the options menu gives users the choice to remove the frame-rate cap, allowing the game to run as fast as it can. For the base machines in particular, it's not something we can recommend as the variance in frame-rate adds too much inconsistency to the presentation. Similarly, for PS4 Pro, the game typically lurks in mid-40fps territory. However, Xbox One X makes a pretty good fist of hitting the top-end 60fps - and can stay like that for prolonged bouts of play, with only a clutch of dropped frames. Push the game really hard in traversal - especially during the night - and it can dip beneath 50fps, but overall, this is a compelling way to play (and it's not difficult to imagine a full, locked 60fps on Xbox Series X back-compat).
It's all a far cry from the original version of the game on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, where performance wasn't particularly impressive at all - with the Microsoft machine by default operating with near constant screen-tearing. The default 30fps on its own is a huge improvement, and even when Xbox One dips beneath the target, it's still a night and day improvement over the original game. Already, a compelling case is growing for a Saints Row The Third remaster purchase - comprehensively addressing the original's frame-rate challenges already makes it a better game. But that's just the beginning.
There's a level of care and attention here that goes above and beyond expectations. To begin with, there's a native resolution UI and menu system (that is rendering at 4K on the enhanced machines) which makes a great first impression. Dipping into the game, I was immediately struck by how clean it looked - Sperasoft uses temporal anti-aliasing and upscaling for a very stable and consistent presentation with very little shimmer. TAA can result in some blur so the developer also gives you access to a user-configurable sharpening filter. Post-process elements like film grain (which again, you can disable) operate at native resolution, so again, 1440p rendering looks a lot better in practise than you may imagine.
Then there are the content upgrades. The developer doesn't seek to change the game as such - it's Saints Row The Third as you remember it - and that's kind of the point. Go back to the original game today and it doesn't really hold up (the Switch version emphasises this somewhat) but the PS4/Xbox One remaster is far more successful because the artwork has been revamped. For starters, it's more geometrically dense, with much higher grade artwork. Environments are revamped with both primary and secondary characters possessing much more detail.
The scenes are more dense, using more props. A system called LSTV (large scale texture variations) is used to eliminate the 'tiling' effect when looking across vistas. On top of that, there are more cars and people wandering the city streets - another way in which overall density is improved. Vehicles are remade, weapons are improved, particle effects are better, with improved lighting.
In fact, just in general, the remastered lighting system looks a lot better, augmented by an impressive HDR implementation. The new global illumination system is radically transformative, simulating light reflection and bounce while ambient occlusion is taken care of using a mixture of pre-computed AO 'baked' into the artwork in combination with SSAO and ambient obscurance. Even volumetric lighting is implemented along with support for post-process effects including depth of field, blur, LUTs, chromatic aberration and the aforementioned film grain. You'll also notice a substantial upgrade to reflections too, with both planar and screen-space varieties used.
Suffice to say, it's still Saints Row The Third - but with a top to bottom revamp that ensures that the game looks good on modern displays while at the same time importing a huge array of today's rendering techniques that iad in retaining the feel of the original game while helping to bring it bang up to date. Add in the impressive performance modes and it's pretty much the complete package - a superb example of a genuinely great last-gen release that transitions beautifully across to today's hardware.
And with so much focus on Sperasoft's comprehensive upgrades, it's perhaps worth remembering that Saints Row The Third as a game is superb fun and as much as we enjoyed its sequel, it's this particular outing that's our pick as the highlight of the entire franchise. It's a game that deserves the care and attention it has received and perhaps this kind of technological and monetary investment is indicative of efforts to re-invigorate the franchise? Hopefully that's the case, but in the meantime, this is a remaster we can recommend wholeheartedly.