Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell
360, PC, PS3. PS4, Xbox One
We never thought the phrase ‘ugly as sin’ was meant to be taken literally, but High Voltage Software – contractor on this standalone Saints Row IV expansion and best known for another hellish excursion, The Conduit – has other ideas. Gat Out Of Hell is a disgusting-looking game in many more ways than are tonally appropriate, with blocky character models, muddy environments, miserably low-detail vehicles, and a skybox and lava textures seemingly borrowed from an N64 title. Any notion that detail has been sacrificed at the altar of performance evaporates when the first big battle causes the framerate to tank, and while there’s a commendable sense of speed when a fully upgraded Johnny Gat soars through Satan’s skies, sharp turns can change that in an instant. Saints Row games have never been technical high-water marks, but this is a new low not only for a series but an entire generation of hardware. If this is Hell, you can keep it.
We, however, have business to attend to first. Gat, the darkly demented star of Saints Row 2, and Kinzie, the tech wizard who carried SRIV, have descended into the inferno to rescue the President of the United States, who is sucked into Hell after a Ouija board is whipped out at a party. POTUS, it turns out, has been kidnapped by Satan, who wants the SRIV protagonist to marry his songstrel daughter, Jezebel. Gat and Kinzie – either individually or together in online co-op – wreak havoc across the underworld, levelling up and filling a meter denoting Satan’s grumpiness in the hope of luring him out, by which point they’ll be so tooled up that they’ll kill him with rockets in a few anticlimactic minutes.
It may differ from SRIV in setup, and certainly in technical execution, but Gat Out Of Hell’s structure is almost identical to its parent. Along the way, you make friends – Vlad the Impaler, Blackbeard, Shakespeare, for some reason – and must first rescue them from some hellish predicament – Blackbeard’s ship is overrun by imps; Shakespeare’s nightclub, The Tempest, by winged demons – then complete loyalty missions to earn their trust. These, as in SRIV, are multipart quests that send you gambolling about the map completing activities, some of which have been crudely reimagined for their new setting. Ragdoll physics sideshow Fraud is here called Torment Fraud, where you fling a lost soul, rather than the protagonist, in front of a succession of oncoming vehicles. SRIV’s checkpoint foot race, Blazin’, is here called Hellblazing, and set in the air. Others are new. Extraction, with its three control points, plays out like a one-man game of Domination; Salvation has you soaring through New Hades streets to save falling souls before they hit the ground, increasing a score multiplier by stopping others from being raised into Heaven. Pledge Rush, in which you melee magically spawning polo-shirted fratboy demons into portals for points using a spiked paddle, is simply terrible. Generally speaking, any mission that uses the traversal mechanics is enjoyable, anything based on the woolly gunplay is tolerable, and just about everything else is awful.
Gat’s and Kinzie’s toolsets are similarly modified versions of those in SRIV, the most transformative of which is the ability to flap your wings, turning SRIV’s gentle downward glide into something closer to full flight. Weedy at the outset, it’s delightful once you’ve upgraded your stamina and flap count and can zip about the place at roaring speed. Even this is undermined by the introduction of spires that shoot endless homing missiles at you until you reluctantly drop down to terra firma and destroy them, though they’re cleared quickly enough. Gat Out Of Hell is at its best when you’re high in the sky, too far away, and too busy managing pitch and velocity, to pay heed to the horror show below.
The four powers mapped to the D-pad can summon imps or turn enemies into stone, with further elemental tweaks unlocked via sidequests. The new weapons – swarms of locusts and frogs – play to the theme, too. It’s what you make of it, but we’ll take a rocket launcher over a gun that fires exploding frogs about six feet in front of you any day. An RPG/sniper/shotgun combo will, once upgraded, see you through the handful of hours it takes to knock Satan from his throne. High Voltage was clearly working to a tight budget. This miserable-looking world is also an empty one, not only in NPC and vehicle density, but also in feel. There’s no licensed music, and the drably moody studio soundtrack that takes its place is set almost apologetically back in the mix. Gat and Kinzie are quiet too, SRIV’s incidental in-world quips scaled right back and the few that remain used with wearying regularity (Gat’s “Fucking collectibles” wasn’t even funny the first time). Cutscenes are a rare sight, the bulk of the storytelling handed off to narrated illustrations. And while we wouldn’t normally lament the absence of cinematics, here it strips away much of what made SRIV a success. With the bulk of the cast left behind and the protagonist unseen, this is a lonely, unfunny game. The new supporting cast should remedy that, but they’re reduced to mere quest-givers. SRIV’s loyalty missions were about gathering the team for a final assault; here, fill up that Satan bar and it’s time for the final battle, Shakespeare and co simply vanishing.
SRIV was once planned as superpowered DLC for Saints Row: The Third, its then-publisher THQ turning it into a full game out of respect for the concept’s potential and fear for its own finances. It’s hard to imagine similar discussions ever taking place in the Deep Silver boardroom about Gat Out Of Hell. This is an ugly, throwaway cash grab – a quickly planned, poorly executed expansion to a game, and a titular protagonist, that deserved an awful lot better.
Gat Out Of Hell is at its best when you’re high in the sky, too far away to pay heed to the horror show below