Grand Theft Auto might not be on Switch but now it has the next best thing, or does it?
It’s a long time since anything has been heard from Saints Row. When original publisher THQ went bust in 2013, Saints Row IV was almost finished and ended up being released by new owners Deep Silver. But since then they’ve done surprisingly little with it, beyond a couple of expansions and risible spin-off Agents Of MAYHEM. A new game has, apparently, been in development for years but nothing has ever been seen of it. Whether this remaster is meant to imply an annoucement is imminent we don’t know, but its quality is not a good omen.
If you want a GTA clone that doesn’t play things straight then Saints Row has always been the obvious port of call. The Saints Row series started off as a brazen clone but got gradually more fantastical with each new game. In many fans’ eyes Saints Row IV went just a bit too far and so that is presumably the reason why Saints Row: The Third has been picked for this new Nintendo outing.
Or maybe it’s simply because Fish Labs, the developer behind this port, couldn’t get Saints Row IV to work on the Switch. Despite the third game being an eight-year-old Xbox 360 title, this runs like a dog when docked and is still far from acceptable in portable mode. The Switch may not be a powerhouse but considering the miracles worked for games like Doom and Wolfenstein II this is not much short of a disgrace.
If you’re the sort of person that thinks the best bit in GTA is running over pedestrians in a tank – and there’s nothing wrong with that – then Saints Row is, in theory, the game for you. But tanks are small beans when you can instead batter people to death with a dildo, fire mind-controlling octopuses at them, or suck them up into a mobile human cannonball launcher. Saints Row: The Third is so un-serious it’s positively wacky, and therein lies one of its many problems.
Despite playing things for laughs in terms of gameplay the first two Saints Row games had very nasty-minded plots, full of lots of distasteful gangster posturing. This had been toned down considerably by the third game, but it still left you with a bunch of unlikeable, inexplicably angry, thugs as the main characters.
The game tries to portray them as loveable rogues but the dialogue is so horrendously forced and badly written that it only helps forge a new appreciation for Rockstar’s work on GTA. There are vague attempts at satire – your gang has become a global brand with its own merchandise and fans – but it fails to hit even its own easy targets with any power.
The real problem is the design of the story missions themselves, which manage to make even the most outrageous scenario utterly banal. An escape from a BDSM dungeon on a rickshaw-riding gimp? A zombie outbreak? A Tron style bike ride inside a computer? Hovering jet fighters that shoot lasers from their nose cones and a giant flying aircraft carrier? It’s incredible how thoroughly dull and predictable the game manages to make such imaginative concepts.
Part of the problem is the staging, as original developer Volition always seem to focus on the most boring aspect of a mission. Want to take over a night club by gunning down every gang member inside? Tough, you have to have a fight in the stock room outside. Want to escape from being auctioned off as a Taken-style sex slave? Good, because the game won’t bother to show you the actual auction bit.
Despite all the sniggering sex talk, fart grenades, and celebrity cameos (ranging from Burt Reyonlds to Tomonobu Itagaki) the game is hopelessly conservative in terms of both game design and its willingness to shock. Absolutely nobody is going to be offended by anything in this game, which comes across about as controversial as a village fete – and rarely any more exciting.
You can’t damn a game purely for the timidity of its creators, but you certainly can in terms of the core gameplay problem: the absurdly dull combat and unengaging gunplay. Although Saints Row initially rose to fame as ‘GTA with decent controls’ nothing has changed since then and considering 75% of the game consists of nothing but shooting brain dead goons that’s a real problem.
The irony of the game’s performance on the Switch is that it was never a very technically advanced game and really shouldn’t have been a problem. But not only are the graphics noticeably simplified from the original but when trying to run in docked mode at 1080p the frame rate takes a nose dive and the game can become almost unplayable. It’s not as bad in portable mode but it’s still far from acceptable for such an old, unremarkable-looking game.
The only benefit to being on the Switch, apart from a whole bunch of DLC, are the new multiplayer options, but they don’t come anywhere close to excusing the poor performance and banal gameplay. The best thing we can say about Saints Row: The Third is that the character creation tool is still top class and has arguably never been beaten. Everything else was rendered obsolete long ago, in what is the least essential port the Switch has ever seen.
Saints Row: The Third – The Full Package
In Short: A terrible port of a game that is very much showing its age, and has no business being repackaged at anything close to full price.
Pros: A fun line in highly destructive vehicles and genuinely imaginative weapons. Excellent character customisation.
Cons: Instantly uninteresting combat and a timid refusal to be controversial, that runs completely contrary to the game’s supposed ethos. Awful script and bland story missions. Awful port.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Fish Labs and Volition
Release Date: 10th May 2019
Age Rating: 18
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