I’ve spent the last week playing Saints Row on last-gen PS4 and Xbox One systems – and honestly? It’s really not that bad. The fundamental technological issues remain: the glaring shadow pop-in is back – and actually a bit worse here. The buggy NPC animations and physics return too. Of course, the 60fps target of the PS5 and Series X versions gives way to something worse – a sub-40fps frame-rate or even sub-30 in stress-test scenarios. Performance is still unlocked too, when a 30fps cap really would have made a positive difference, but I went into this one with low expectations, which the last-gen versions comfortably exceed.
Similar to Xbox Series S, the wealth of performance mode variations seen in the Series X and PS5 releases are gone. There are no graphics toggles of any kind. On top of that, ray tracing features are absent, of course, but that’s fine. There seem to be fixed pixel counts on all systems with no obvious dynamic resolution scaling, but what is interesting is how the HUD overlay actually does seem to change res. It’s very, very odd. In-game DRS can’t be entirely ruled out, but the game looks consistent in terms of image quality, with only the flickering HUD giving any sense of a resolution change.
Looking at the qualities of the last-gen versions, you’d expect Xbox One X to deliver the best rendition of the game – but that’s only partly true here. At least in image quality, you’re getting a very decent turn-out here at a native 2560×1440, up from the less than stellar 1080p on PlayStation 4 Pro. The One X’s 1440p also trumps Series S’s full HD output – but quality settings are dialled back (particularly in terms of foliage density) and the unlocked performance level is actually worse than the PS4 Pro experience. With that being the case, there’s no real ‘winner’ here in terms of the last-gen machines as while the One X looks significantly cleaner, frame-rates can hit a 24fps nadir – Pro is smoother overall, if far from the smooth and consistent in its delivery.
Can last-gen consoles handle Saints Row? Well, so far we’ve seen that the enhanced machines lose a little detail and a big chunk of performance compared to their more modern counterparts, but rough frame-rates aside, it looks similar with only minor tweaks to settings. On the base machines, however, developer Volition has to cut deeper. Interestingly, the vanilla PS4 operates with the same rendering resolution as the Pro – full HD 1080p – but grass density takes a hit, shadow draw distance is pruned back noticeably, while shadow quality itself and indeed effects quality are of a much lower resolution. It comes as no surprise to see those same compromises are also deployed on Xbox One S, which also sees pixel counts drop to 1536×864, making it the blurriest version of the lot.
Perhaps the biggest issue with base PS4 and Xbox One is the frame-rate. Performance hovers at the 30fps line on the Sony machine, wavering just over and under all the way through. Sometimes the variance is by two to three frames per second, but it’s always around that number. The fact it stabilises around 30fps does again suggest DRS may be in effect but 1080p comes up in every single pixel count. So, one theory is that maybe there’s a dynamic nature to the visual settings themselves – to ambient occlusion, post effects and more – similar to how Elden Ring works.
It’d certainly explain how, and why, the frame-rate clings to 30fps, almost like it’s being guided to that 30fps mark and it would also explain how it does this without a 30fps cap too. Cutscenes however, can see performance tank to a low of just under 20fps. Performance results are unexpected with Xbox One though, which actually runs slightly better than PS4 in many areas, by anything up to five frames per second. Even with its resolution deficit, there’s the sense that there’s more going on here than meets the eye, bearing in mind the higher performanc level on the least capable last-gen machine.
All told, Saints Row isn’t a disaster on any of these four older systems, despite the inconsistent nature of the game running on the newer, far more capable machines. PS4 Pro offers the smoothest frame-rate of the bunch, while Xbox One X has the best image quality – but even the base Xbox One S turns in a frame-rate often above 30fps. The visual cutbacks are glaring, especially on base PS4 and Xbox One, but all releases are playable – and would benefit still further if performance was capped at 30fps with even frame delivery as opposed to the unlocked frame-rate seen here.
As I said, I went into this with low expectations and to be clear, this is hardly the ideal way to play the game – but it’s not radically off the mark when stacked up against the current-gen renditions we looked at previously. Beyond the resolution upgrade, the better draw distances and improved shadows, the game is comparable and the new consoles aren’t exactly delivering a generational improvement. What we’re seeing in Saints Row is a project clearly built with older PS4 and Xbox One-based limits in mind.
With Saints Row’s bugs and lack of polish alongside the visual quirks present on every system, the game looks and runs better than you’d think on last-gen hardware. Even so, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend any of the last-gen versions. Mostly, I went into this expecting the worst – especially on base Xbox One – but it turns out that all four consoles run Saints Row well enough and there are clear ways for the developer to whip this game into shape, beyond bug fixes (did we mention a 30fps cap?). There are issues here, but they are not insurmountable – so I remain hopeful that further updates could yet transform the fortunes of this game.