Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell

360, PC, PS3. PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Deep Sil­ver De­vel­oper High Volt­age Soft­ware, Vo­li­tion For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

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

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