Many dramatic improvements since launch!
Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
When Saints Row: The Third came to the Switch last year in a port made by Deep Silver Fishlabs from Volition?s original code, it was a total mess.
Yes, it contained all of the content from the older versions of the game, and most of the graphical effects?but the performance swung around wildly whether you played in docked or portable mode. The game felt like it was about to shake itself to pieces and crash. This was disastrous since the game is built around fast, responsive action. It was rightly criticized by launch day reviews, and no one held out strong hope that the game would ever be in playable shape.
Saints Row: The Third?s stylish menu transitions are still some of the best ever in a video game. Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
Fortunately, in the months since release, and in the run-up to the just-released Switch port of Saints Row IV, all of the issues have been smoothed out. The game received several patches, and now includes a user-adjustable dynamic resolution mode. With this turned on, the game will drop below its 1080p docked/720p handheld resolution when needed in order to keep the frame rate at 30 frames per second. The frame rate is also unlocked, meaning you?ll often see performance above the 30 fps target.
When combined with numerous other small tweaks and fixes, the result is a phenomenally more playable port. Controller response is much faster than on launch day, and it?s fun to play even the most challenging action moments now. It?s one of the biggest turnarounds I?ve ever seen, and an impressive investment of time and money considering it?s a conversion of an older game. It went from something I couldn?t stomach for more than a few hours, in spite of the original being one of my favorite games, to one of the better classic ports available on the Switch.
The game?s many action-filled challenges are now playable thanks to a vastly improved frame rate. Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
Saints Row: The Third is a goofy open world action game with a fairly traditional mission structure. You?ll create your own character, pick from one of 7 unique voice performances, and explore the skyscraper-filled city of Steelport taking on main missions and optional side challenges, while upgrading yourself through a skill tree. All of Volition?s games take place in the same fictional universe, but much of the story here stands alone, though you will get some additional narrative satisfaction if you?ve played their other games.
Controls are snappy and responsive, closer to what you?d expect from a traditional third person shooter than an open world game. You?ll spend a lot of time running, fighting, and blowing stuff up, and all of it handles well on the Switch. They even took the time to implement proper HD rumble, which is used to great effect during the game?s stylish menu transitions and many action sequences.
You can fully customize your character at any point during the game, not just the beginning. Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
If you?re looking for a GTA-style game on the Switch, this is probably your best bet. It even retains the online co-op mode from its original version. It?s a funnier, lighter, and much more energetic game than any of Rockstar?s recent efforts, and all of that humor and fun really shines through now that the game has an actual working frame rate.
You?ll still see some small frame rate drops during the heaviest action moments, but they?re over in the blink of an eye. The graphics look a little rough and aliased even when running at their highest resolution, but this was always part of the aesthetic of the game and not necessarily a technical failing of this new port. Saints Row: The Third has a rough-hewn, softened, highly textured look to many of its assets, and it?s the sort of aesthetic that I miss in today?s aggressive pursuit of higher resolutions and detailed lighting in place of all other things.
The game has great reflections for 2011, and a surprisingly-robust vehicle destruction system. Smashing a car with a tank dynamically remains a highlight. Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
Saints Row: The Third features a large city, expressively animated characters, and faked reflections that still manage to impress me even a decade after the game?s original launch. The most impressive visual trick is the amount of different animation on display. Your character has two sets of animations: one while moving normally, and a sillier one while holding the sprint button. The Boss is far more agile and versatile than the typical video game character, and this lends the game a personality that makes me willing to forgive the rough look of the city.
Graphical effects also shine here, with a full implementation of depth of field, extensive bump mapping, and tons of particles during explosions. You won?t mistake this for anything newer than a 2011 game, but it was a 2011 game that pushed the Xbox 360 and PS3 hard.
The game?s many cutscenes are filled with expressive, cartoon-like animation. Nintendo Switch screenshot taken by Alex Rowe.
If you love over-the-top wacky action, and you?ve never played this game before, then the Switch version is the perfect place to jump in to the franchise. If you loved the original versions of the game, and were put off by the bad performance at launch like I was, that?s no longer an issue. This now looks and runs about as well as a game of this size, chaos, and scope could on the Switch, and the only way it could look better would be a dramatic reworking/remaking of the assets a la The Witcher 3 port.
I?m so happy that the bad issues here weren?t overlooked. It would have been easy, and honestly expected, for Deep Silver to push this out and just move on. But they spent the resources to take care of the many problems, and turned one of the worst Switch ports into one of the best. It makes me hopeful for more back catalog games on the Switch, and for the future of the Saints Row franchise. The story has enough of a through-line that I still hope they?ll bring the first and second games over to Nintendo?s platform someday. The first game in particular could benefit from some conversion work, as it?s never had a home other than its original 2006 Xbox 360 release. It?d be awesome to play every entry in the series on the Switch.
If you?re looking for on-the-go open world action mayhem with a fun story and lots of great shooting, Saints Row: The Third should top your list. It?s also a great reminder that game studios can still truly care about their products, even when it?s just a re-release of an older title.