Saints Row: Gat Outta Hell
As a Saints Row fan since the very first game, I numbered among the few who weren’t screeching for Johnny Gat to come back. Don’t get me wrong: his gleefully homicidal nature and extremely low amount of fucks given endeared him to me immediately, and I was glad to have him by my side right until his death. But that was the thing. His death served a purpose, drove the Boss for revenge in the third game and ultimately made them reflect on what was truly important; by the time the fourth game rolled around and we’d graduated from celebrities to superheroes in virtual reality, a guy who was really, really good at killing didn’t serve much of a purpose any more.
Then, in answer to the fans, Gat was back. Looking at Gat Out of Hell, the standalone expansion to Saints Row IV, the dedication to carnage and spectacle has never been clearer. Diving into Hell could not have been more tailor-made as a setting for Johnny to wreck shop. With Saints Row IV already turning the dial to 11, Gat goes past this and straight to 666.
It’d be annoying, really, if it weren’t so damn fun. Gat Out of Hell strips away everything that isn’t in pursuit of that elusive fun, rarely giving you a moment where you’re not doing something enjoyable. Ordinary missions have been cast aside for a more open-world experience, leaving a minimal, yet functional plot: having caused more death and destruction than anyone else in human history, Satan chooses the Boss to marry his daughter and rule over Hell – whether he likes it or not. Objecting to this, Gat and Kinzie (it’s her birthday) follow him in, where they meet characters new and old to help them overthrow the Big Bad himself.
As one might expect for an expansion, Gat Out of Hell is much shorter. Everything you remember from Saints Row IV is here once again in a smaller, neater package. Indeed, many activities and abilities have been outright ripped from the last game, given a coat of hellish paint and thrown in whole. There’s a lot of ‘more of the same’, but it’s in the details where the differences (and the devil! Hahaha…I’ll see myself out) are found. Your super-powered glide is now a pair of wings, allowing you to weave and swoop through the hellscape in an entirely new dimension. The only truly new power is your ability to summon demons to fight alongside you, coming in flavours chittering Imp, growling Tower, and roaring Titan. Your Shield power is now an Aura instead, expanded from just setting dudes on fire into all-new possibilities brimming with holy power. All of these abilities feel as visceral and enjoyable as the last time around. Good thing too, considering the sheer amount of sidequests which boil down to ‘kill more demons’.
Activities too have been given an infernal boost, many taking advantage of your new wings. Hellblazing is a winged race through the sky, Salvation tasks you with catching falling souls, and Spires dot the landscape to fire missiles at you until you take them out. On the ground, Mayhem and Insurance Fraud make their returns, tweaked for Hell’s opportunity to blow up/get blown up by even more stuff. Unlike certain other games (hello, Far Cry) which give you a handful of activities 100-plus opportunities to do them, Gat follows the Saints Row lineage in never outstaying its welcome. Most activities get an Easy-Medium-Hard set of levels, then they’re done. Collectibles either earn you backstory or unlock new, strong powers, eliminating the need to collect for collection’s sake.
There is, however, one serious problem. It’s a problem that started to grow in the third game and was a massive drag on the fourth, brought on by the urge to go bigger and bigger, crazier and crazier, and leave behind the grim-faced gang warfare of the first two iterations. It’s the Family Guy fatal flaw: a reliance on pop-culture references instead of actual story and jokes. The power of Saints Row has always been its colourful cast of characters and their interactions with each other, the commentary coming in subtle, understated ways.
By the time Saints Row IV rolled around and the Boss was a virtual-reality superhero, story and genuine humour had become incredibly light on the ground. Missions were extended sessions of self-aware shenanigans instead of actually having a point, made all the more heartbreaking by how dead-on hilarious the jokes were when they broke away from recreating movie scenes and focused on the actual endearing characters they had built up. In the pursuit of fun, Saints Row somehow removed the clever backbone of the whole affair that had kept the Saints popular when so many GTA folks before them had been completely forgotten. Seriously. Name five GTA characters that aren’t protagonists – I challenge you.
By eschewing traditional mission structure and focusing itself, Gat Out of Hell brings this right back to us. There’s still not much story to be seen, but the small cast of characters each get their time in the limelight instead. Anyone who came in from the Third, however, will find this a double-edged sword: while a longtime fan will rejoice at seeing Dane Vogel make his return, everyone else is just left scratching their heads, wondering why this Dex fella is getting such a hard time. Gat Out of Hell bears the burden of Saints Row IV before it in that manner. If you haven’t done your homework for the last eight years of Saints adventures, then too bad for you. Be confused.
Is that enough hell references? I think that’s enough hell references. Hell yes.
- Massive slew of powers and weapons to cause havoc with
- Clever writing and sharp sense of humour
- A free-roaming departure from the usual formula
- Lots of callbacks for the fans
- Still light on story
- Very short
- Lots of callbacks for the fans
Anyone expecting a game with the size and scope of Assassins Creed or Skyrim will be sorely disappointed. Gat Out of Hell knows precisely what it is: a romp through Hell with a gun-toting maniac, a pair of wings, and two dozen weapons ripe for the killing with. With Gat and Kinzie at the helm, it’s very hard to get bored. The ride is short but thrilling and packed to the brim. It might not last you long, but it’ll give you one hell of a weekend.