While the original Saints Row drew plenty of criticism for its lack of originality, the franchise has grown over time to become one of the most creative open world titles on the market. From bats that double as sex aids to a full-blown Matrix rip-off, Saints Row found its niche in the absurd, and by and large, fans have been receptive to its new approach.
In keeping with that theme, Volition has just released Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, a standalone expansion that builds off Saints Row 4’s concepts but takes them to new extremes. Principally, this new DLC gives players ultimate freedom and power, and asks them to embark on a mission that is goofy even by Saints Row standards.
As the name implies, Gat Out of Hell casts players as the Third Street Saints’ main lieutenant Johnny Gat. After a brief flirtation with death, Gat has returned to the Saints’ crew, but his reunion is short lived. While toying with a mystical Ouija board, the President of the Universe – the player character from past Saints Row games – is whisked off to Hell to marry Satan’s daughter Jezebel. Not pleased with his boss’ current predicament, Johnny heads into hell to shoot the devil in the face.
That premise alone would make any Saints Row fan smile and is sure to help move plenty of digital copies. Unfortunately, although Gat Out of Hell is a standalone product, it is very much a DLC add-on for Saints Row 4. By that we mean the story functions like an epilogue to the past game, and only takes about 2-3 hours to complete. And what story is there is told in very short cutscenes, many of which lack the trademark humor of the series. The story is funny enough, but it doesn't have quite the same punch as past games. Volition goes for it, there's no question about that, but for some people many of the jokes will fall flat.
The core gameplay loop of Gat Out of Hell should be plenty familiar to Saints Row 4 players as well. To defeat Satan, players will enlist the help of several Underworld inhabitants – easily the best cameos in the game – and after gaining their allegiance, they will complete a series of loyalty missions for each. However, while loyalty missions in SR 4 were uniquely crafted levels and experiences, Gat Out of Hell’s only ask players to complete a handful of the DLC’s standalone open world missions. It makes for a fine distraction, but there’s far less creativity at play here than in any past game.
Most of the missions are hellish riffs on Saints Row staples as well, from Fraud to Trailblazing. The demonic makeover given to each mission does them feel slightly unique, but completing more than one of each type starts to wear thin. Saints Row: The Third landed on some really great open world mission concepts, but seeing those same ideas re-used for a third time diminishes their entertainment. The missions are a great excuse to play around in the world, but they don’t have the type of pull that fans might hope.
Where the game most shines is in the design of its open world, which is bolstered by some cool traversal mechanics and enemy variants. Since the setting affords a no-holds-barred approach, Volition has once again outfitted players with some truly outlandish powers. Using the cracked halo of Satan, Johnny Gat can super sprint through Hell and even sprout wings for prolonged flight; in essence, he becomes a demonic super hero. It's certainly a shame that the destinations (the missions and cutscenes) aren't always worth the trouble, but flying around the underworld is easily the best part of the game.
Alongside the traversal options, Gat is also equipped with a few superhero-esque abilities like a super stomp and an energy blast. He can also call forth minions to do his bidding, like tiny imps that run up to enemies and then explode. Like in SR 4, each of Gat’s powers can be upgraded through the robust upgrade tree, making each ability stronger or more viable in battle. Once again, there are some familiar elements to the powers, but as a whole they bring enough variety to the table to make the combat feel less mindless.
Weapons, on the other hand, are not nearly as creative as past options, with only a few feeling like cool variations on established tropes. The Armchairmageddon, for example, puts players into a recliner and gives them heavy machine guns and rocket launchers to work with, but that’s the height of Gat Out of Hell’s inventiveness in the weaponry department. Most of the rest of the guns are straightforward options, albeit with demonic twists, that lack any real personality. The machine gun might shoot fire or the SMGs might send out locust, but many of the guns function as if they are firing bullets. And as a result, the gunplay takes on a very similar complexion to any other Saints Row game, albeit with slightly less panache.
Similarly, while the minions of hell are all creatively designed, most feel like re-skinned versions of past Saints Row enemies. There's the general grunt, the more aggressive captain, the hulking enforcer, and giant mini-bosses, only each one has a demon facade. For that matter, the AI behind each of the enemy types doesn’t encourage much strategy; most players will get by just fine using bullets and their powers in a straightforward fashion. It’s actually pretty mindless when you get down to it, but playing around with the powers is fun enough during the short playthrough. Not enough for a full length game, but those who mainline the experience, and pepper in a few side missions, will find themselves plenty engaged.
Fans looking for reasons to come back to Gat Out of Hell, however, will find a cornucopia of collectibles, alongside the opportunity to replay side missions for better scores. That’s really where Gat Out of Hell does Saints Row the best, in its ability to deliver hours of extra content for those who want to continue to play in the world. You can upgrade your powers further, seek out tiny story nuggets in collectible audio clips, or just zip around the city causing havoc - there are lots of options to choose from, even if they aren't very fulfilling.
Even so, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell is a tremendous value when viewed as a DLC add-on for Saints Row 4 and it looks and plays better than ever on current-gen. This is not Saints Row 4.5, even if there is a new open world and story. Rather, this is a re-purposing of the main game's mechanics and mission concepts in support of a new frame work, and there's really nothing wrong with that. As a fan, it would have been nice to see more of a story and mission variety - something to inject a little more personality into the world - but what is there makes for a fun mini adventure. Gamers looking for a new Saints Row sandbox to play in will be plenty satisfied with Gat Out of Hell.
Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.