Thursday 29 January 2015

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell

Over the years the Saints Row series has had a bit of an identity crisis. Originally released on the Xbox 360 back in 2006, the original Saints Row was essentially a Grand Theft Auto clone, and not a great one at that. Saints Row 2 followed the same formula, but Saints Row: The Third took a new perspective on the series. For The Third developer Volition decided to turn down the “gangsta” feel to the series and ramp up the weirdness, thereby setting it apart from Grand Theft Auto. It worked and The Third was an equally refreshingly bizarre and batshit insane take on the series. Saints Row IV pushed all of that even further, and though I certainly thought that entry wasn't nearly as good as some might say, it was a fun game that spun a great sci-fi story. But since The Third I've felt that some of the wackier aspects of the series have started to muddy the water in terms of gameplay. For instance, while in the virtual world in Siants Row IV I found that using various superhuman powers- abilities you get early into the game- almost entirely negated the use of cars. So as this next game in the series pushes the crazy envelope even further than Saints Row IV did, the question is- does it go too far?

Developed by Volition and out now on Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC comes Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, a game that is an improvement on Saints Row IV, kicks up the weirdness a few notches but also manages to make it all fit in with the game. Technically a standalone expansion of Saints Row IV, Gat out of Hell places you in the shoes of series favourite Johnny Gat, a dude whose previous wise words of wisdom include “You can never have too many guns” and “Let's kill some shit!”. From being featured in the first three games, being killed in The Third and subsequently coming back from the grave in Saints Row IV, the character this time finds himself in Hell, naturally. Sometime after the events of Saints Row IV “The Boss” and his/her crew use a ouija board which opens up a portal to hell. The Boss is pulled in and forced to marry Jezebel, Satan's daughter. However, before the unholy union can happen Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington also venture into hell in order to rescue the leader of the Saints. Featuring a bizarre cast of characters that even includes William Shakespeare and Blackbeard, Gat out of Hell turns the WTF up to 11.

The game takes place in Hell. However, this isn't some barren wasteland of despair and pain, as instead it's called New Hades; a bustling lava surrounded city that comprises of 6 open-world districts. Beyond the unique setting gameplay remains, well, kind of the same. The big difference however comes in the form of missions, because in Gat out of Hell there isn't any. Instead of a typical mission structure your goal in the game is to fill your “Satan's Wrath” meter, in order to draw the devil himself into a one-on-one fight. You fill your Satan's Wrath meter by completing certain objectives and activities around the city, such as causing as much damage to the city as possible, flying through markers, catching falling souls as they descend into oblivion and, of course, doing stunt jumps in various vehicles. Do enough of these and Satan sets his sights on you. It's a pretty short game as I completed the entire thing within 10 hours. The lack of real missions here is disappointing as much of the appeal, humour and charm of the series came through during some of the more fantastical missions it had on offer and the cut-scenes that accompanied them. There are still cut-scenes that propel the story forward, but it just isn't the same.

So without missions to bring structure to the game, the open-world of New Hades and the antics you get up to in it are the key to enjoying Gat out of Hell. Much like Saints Row IV, your character is able to unlock and perform various superhuman abilities. But on top of ones that already appeared in Saints Row IV, the big addition to the mix in Gat out of Hell is the ability to fly. Though you could merely glide in Saints Row IV, Gat out of Hell lets you grow wings and take off into the sky. It adds a great sense of freshness to the formula, and you'll often find yourself using this ability as your main way of getting around New Hades. As expected weapons are just as crazy, with frog launchers, a gun that blasts locusts at foes and an armchair armed with two Gatling guns being some of the better ones in your arsenal. Needless to say, through the varied and diverse abilities, weapons and bad guys on offer here, Gat out of Hell is much more batshit insane than Saints Row IV was... but it works.

Though I've never been a huge fan of the games, Gat out of Hell brings the series to new and interesting territory. However, much like Saints Row IV it does ultimately push the series beyond the point of no return in the weirdness department. The days of playing Saints Row and primarily using cars as your means of transport is gone I guess, as with Gat out of Hell the series has morphed into something new entirely. It's not a bad thing really, but I would have loved to see the series stay a bit more grounded, as once you can grow wings, fly up into the air armed with a frog launcher and fight winged demons, well, it's kind of hard to be impressed by anything that isn't that over-the-top.

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell isn't perfect, but it's still a hell of a ride and gets 3/5.


Denis Murphy

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