Once upon a time, Saints Row was tipped as the ‘new’ Grand Theft Auto, with its sprawling urban open-world and a big focus on gang warfare – and while it didn’t take long for us to realise developer Volition didn’t quite have the pedigree of Rockstar, once the series started embracing its over-the-top action and violence, it really came into its own. Whether you liked its slapstick silliness and purposefully offensive humour or not, Saints Row: The Third perfected that formula and made for one of the best virtual playgrounds of the previous generation.
And here it is, bold as brass, on Nintendo Switch as Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package. It’s one of those games you never expected to be remastered for a new generation, especially this close to the end of the current one. But Koch Media has been plunging deep into the recesses of its IP archive, and it has revived Volition’s best crack of the open-world whip. The result is a proper little sandbox, full of races, side-activities and collectables. Steelport may not be the most thrilling of urban locales, but there’s just so much to do amid its soaring skyscrapers and sprawling highways that you’re unlikely to notice.
Much like the previous entries, Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package follows the continued rise of the fun-loving titular faction. Starting out as nothing more than a bunch of gang bangers in the first game, Johnny Gat and co are now a media empire with some serious clout. However, their rivals have also grown in power and confidence, and when a heist goes awry the Third Street Saints find themselves suddenly forced to start again with nothing more than some purple clothes, a handful of guns and a whole lot of bad intentions. It’s a neat way to show you just how many fun toys you can eventually earn – ranging from guided missile-launching drones to armoured VTOL aircraft – as you slowly rebuild your status.
You can design your own character, including a choice of four voices that are fully represented in cutscenes and in-game chatter. There’s even a zombie voice, which still makes for laugh-out-loud moments when your character is slurring their way through a heated conversation or gurgling along to a song while driving between missions. Saints Row's characters aren’t as well realised as Grand Theft Auto's, but the attention to detail in ambient conversations and character reactions shows just how far the series had come by this point. You’ll get access to a lot of costumes and clothing items thanks to the raft of included DLC, and you can buy more with in-game cash from various stores across the map.
Much like every other open-world game out there, Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package is inundated with side-activities to complete when you’re not hanging off the side of a skyscraper sniping members of the Morning Star gang or skydiving into a gunfight to the sounds of Kanye West. What makes this extra content so enjoyable is just how silly it is. For instance, you can play Insurance Fraud and turn on ragdoll physics as you launch yourself into oncoming traffic in order to rack up the biggest claim.
Or, perhaps, you’ll take on Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, an insane cross between a Japanese game show and an instalment of Saw. Want to make money while dodging traps and killing people dressed as colourful mascots? Of course you do, and Genki’s side activities never fail to entertain and challenge in equal measure. It’s all throwaway, much like the game itself, but it refuses to take itself seriously in the way the Watch Dogs or Mafia games often do, and that sense of comedic self-awareness makes Steelport more of a playground than most other sandboxes outside of Rockstar's finest.
You can really tell this is a game from 2011, though. The gunplay can sometimes be a little unsatisfying as hitboxes are intermittent at best and some guns are so woefully underpowered that until you upgrade them they almost feel useless. There are still way too many escort missions with difficulty spikes that can occasionally take the fun out of the experience. Oh, and those brutes are just as ridiculously fast, despite being built like tanks. You can tell no changes have been made to Saints Row: The Third's mechanics, just technical changes to make it fit on Switch.
There’s still no means of manually taking cover, so it’s either a case of crouching behind something high enough or simply standing behind a piece of scenery long enough to set up your next shot. Then again, this isn’t really a game that wants you to catch your breath; instead, it wants you to leap into every gunfight with a rocket launcher and a dildo-shaped baseball bat. Sure, some of the mission checkpoints are a little unfair, but considering Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package rarely repeats itself or runs out of barmy ideas, some sins can be forgiven. This is, however, a game that revels in its comedic approach to sex and violence, and some missions – such as one that requires you to get a sex change – might offend more contemporary sensibilities.
As a port, the Nintendo Switch version of Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package looks and runs really well – especially for a game as old as Skyrim. The frame rate only ever stutters during cutscenes, and runs super-smooth during actual gameplay. Draw distances are solid and there is some pop-in here and there – especially when you’re gunning down a highway on a souped-up motorbike or cutting through the air in a VTOL. There’s quite a lot of motion blur employed when you’re skydiving or putting the pedal to the metal, but most of the dynamic lighting effects and texturing have been retained. Yes, it’s a seven-and-a-half-year-old game, but it still looks rather good on Switch.
Furthermore, there’s now support for co-op, including local play and online sessions. Whether you’re running through the streets naked shooting a gun that fires mind-controlling octopuses or going on a rampage with a purple-branded tank, Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package only gets better with a friend causing equal amounts of destruction in tow. And with three full-story expansions and over 30 DLC items all as standard, it lives up to its new subtitle.
While no one expected it – and we dare say that no one asked for it – Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package revives an often forgotten open-world adventure on a new console generation, complete with a huge amount of cosmetic and expansion DLC. While it's showing its age mechanically (and in terms of taste), in visual terms it’s a robust sandbox filled with outlandish activities, hyperactive ideas and the kind of diverse mission design most open-world titles fail to fully realise. With support for both local and online co-op, this version of Saints Row’s best outing is a steal. We might not ever get a Grand Theft Auto on Switch, but this is probably the next best thing.