When going back to an old favorite, you can’t help but hope for the best. Some games are timeless classics, and some can only live in the time they were made. In the worst case scenario, you get a tinge of nostalgia and a few hours distraction. In the best case, you get a time warp that recalls everything you loved about the experience. The SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD Switch port can provide that time warp with ease. Even eight years after its original release, this is still one of the best open-world crime games around, made better by the Switch’s portability. Welcome back to Steelport.
Starting off right where Saints Row 2 left it with the Corporate Warfare DLC, Saints Row: The Third sees the popular purple gangbangers in a position of power. They’re multinational celebrities that sell merchandise and star in commercials. Bank heists are mere promotional events to keep up their brand. You play as The Protagonist, the fully customizable and fully voiced leader of the Saints. You end up robbing the wrong bank, bringing on heat from an allied Syndicate of gangs from the next city over. You’ve already taken down one city, it’s time to take over another.
Or at least, that’s what Volition wants you to think. One of the best parts of Saints Row: The Third is just how far it’s willing to go to surprise the player. There’s an entire setup and multiple missions structured like the past games in the series, and they only exist so that the game can pull the rug out from Saints Row veterans. If you’ve somehow gone this long without taking over Steelpoint, just rest assured that this game goes places.
Saints Row: The Third Switch Review | Some asshole is in my pool
Outside of the story, Saints Row: The Third is a fully featured open-world crime game. It has excellent third-person shooting and driving tuned for fun rather than realism. Side activities take advantage of this, ranging from various shooting galleries to blasting apart as much of the city as possible. There are also diversions ranging from car surfing to holding up the local liquor store. It’s a packed city, and it’d be hard for any one player to experience everything the game has to offer.
In fact, it would be downright difficult for a new player to even find all the systems that Saints Row: The Third has to offer. It’s assumed that you’ve played the first two games in the series, so systems like character upgrades or taking over the city to get more and more money are only briefly touched upon. Several diversions don’t have markers on the map at all, you just have to seek them out or stumble across them. This certainly inspires a bit of exploration, but it can be overwhelming to a player going in cold.
A few technical limitations from the old days really stick out when going back to Saints Row: The Third. Perhaps this is a stylistic choice, but there’s no fast travel system. Late in the game, you’ll have plenty of options for zipping around the city, but it would have been nice to have early on. Worse than that, there’s no way to replay story missions without starting a new campaign. The story missions are the reason to play The Third, so it’s disappointing that they can’t be recalled at will once you’re finished. These problems were in the original release and they haven’t gotten any better with age.
Saints Row: The Third Switch Review | Saints Row: Drive By
Portability is the biggest “new” feature for this version of the game. Ported by Deep Silver’s Fishlabs, the Switch version runs about as well as you’d expect. This is a 2011 open world game, after all. On top of that, The Third always had a little more jank than its competitors. Certain moments with large explosions push the hardware to its limits, but you won’t run into too many performance issues while docked or portable. But there are quite a few graphical sacrifices and frame rate issues while you’re on the go. It’s nothing that stops you from enjoying a few side activities on the bus, but it’s worth noting.
There are a few places where the Switch version simply busts apart at the seams. This is the first Switch game I’ve played that frequently crashed on me. Things always seemed to be a little more off the rails than the PC version I’ve played previously, with more bizarre AI behavior out on the streets. Going into certain menus at certain times seems to lock the game up, with your only option being a restart from the home menu. Considering that you can’t start missions from checkpoints after quitting out, this can make for a frustrating session especially if you’re playing through a mission with a sniper rifle.
Saints Row: The Third Switch Review | Rise of the puckish rogue
Outside of porting issues, the game still technically holds up in other areas. Saints Row 3 was never a looker, but the cartoony character models match with the over the top tone of the proceedings. The Switch port does lose a few nice touches in the translation. Some rounded edges are a little more jagged and the frame rate is never where it could be on other platforms. Perhaps most disappointingly, the character’s mouths no longer move in-game when they’re speaking. It’s a fine trade-off if you want to play Saints on the go, but it’s no replacement for the PC version.
What holds up better is the soundtrack, a glorious mash-up of ’80s tunes, death metal, and classical music. The radio stations get repetitive long before you finish the game, but the musical cues with certain songs throughout the campaign make it all worth it. Plus, there’s an Adult Swim-branded station hosted by Killface from Frisky Dingo. It’s a very 2011 inclusion that will bring back a lot of memories for a specific range of players.
Saints Row: The Third Switch Review | Trail Blazing in Steelport
It’s hard to really dig into what makes Saints Row: The Third so special without just giving up the goat. The surprises are still worth keeping for new players or returning players that have forgotten. Volition made a glorious commentary on open-world games by going in the complete opposite direction of its direct competitors. While Rockstar outputs challenging and punishing simulations, the Saints Row franchise still just wants to sit back and hang out. The masterful character work and slowly building absurdity prove that this game isn’t just a joke, even if it does have a giant purple dildo bat in it.
GameRevolution reviewed Saints Row: The Third on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.