Saints Row IV took the Third Street Saints to their inevitably insane conclusion. The franchise started as a more lighthearted GTA clone, found its wacky identity with the sequel, went further with dildo bats and celebrity cameos in 2011’s Saints Row: The Third, and threw superpowers in the mix two years later with the fourth entry. Fans started the series by drinking 40s to gain health, but by the end of IV they were controlling the President of the United States as he befriended Rowdy Roddy Piper and sprinted up the sides of skyscrapers. Going forward, Volition would have to amp up the craziness even more and freshen up the setting if they wanted to keep the franchise from going stale. They've done just that with Gat out of Hell, but it still fails to reinvigorate the series thanks to nearly identical gameplay.
Volition goes light on story in this stand-alone $20 title (which also comes included with the new Re-Elected edition), with only a handful of cutscenes propelling the action along. For the first time, you won’t be playing as the protagonist “boss” character,” as he or she has been sucked into hell via a magic Ouija board. Once there, Satan hatches his plan of marrying the boss to his daughter Jezebel, and it’s up to Johnny Gat and Kinzie to stop the unholy matrimony.
Rather than a traditional progression of missions, Gat out of Hell has players completing diversions and causing general chaos in an effort to raise the level of a meter called Satan’s Wrath. Once certain milestones are met on the meter, a cutscene is triggered. The game turns into a musical at times during these scenes, which didn’t do an awful lot for me.
While the storyline is a bit bare-bones, the game does include scaled-down versions of many of the franchise’s trademark features. An assortment of health, ammo, and damage bonuses can be purchased using currency earned by completing objectives and taking out enemies. This cash can also be used to upgrade your weapons, and Gat out of Hell introduces several unique ones based on the seven deadly sins. One of my favorites was the greed weapon that shoots diamonds and rewards you with currency, and another was a recliner (representing sloth) that shoots miniguns and missiles.
Superpowers return from IV, and they’re upgraded by collecting orbs that float around hell. Most are repeats (blast, stomp, aura) with some new elemental powers, but summon is exclusive to Gat out of Hell. Depending on which variant you use, it allows you to recruit imps to your side, make towers explode out of the ground, or produce a giant demonic ally.
For all of the elements that are successfully brought over from the game's full retail predecessors, there are several long-established features that are missing. Since you’re playing as either Gat or Kinzie, you don’t have any wiggle room when it comes to your character’s appearance. This extends beyond your face and physical build, as the myriad clothing stores and options from the past are nowhere to be found in hell. One of my favorite things about previous games (The Third in particular) was the ability to pull out an in-game cell phone and have one of your fellow Saints deliver vehicles to you. This isn’t an option in Gat out of Hell, but it’s not a terrible loss considering there’s no real reason to drive around since it’s so easy to sprout demon wings and fly across the underworld. Other omissions are made, such as the ability to upgrade a home base or switch between radio stations, but I wasn’t particularly surprised considering the smaller scope of the game.
One of the more concerning elements of Gat out of Hell is a variety of technical issues. I played on the Xbox One, and the framerate would frequently drop if I was flying around while there was a lot of activity on the screen. In addition, it’s not uncommon to see awkward animation glitches and collision detection issues. On one occasion, the game suffered from a hard lock and I had to restart the system.
Collecting orbs, leveling up your character, and being surrounded by Saints Row’s brand of wackiness is still a lot of fun, even if Gat out of Hell doesn’t live up to the experience of the full games. On the surface, it seems like it might have a wider variety of activities than it does, as early missions have you hunting down characters like Vlad the Impaler, Shakespeare, and Blackbeard in an effort to make them join your fight. Once you’ve met them, however, their “missions” are simply a collection of diversions that are already found in the open world. These are still fun to do, but I would have liked a little more in the way of traditional story missions.
Gat out of Hell isn’t particularly long, as the core story can be completed in about two hours. I continued playing after the credits rolled and am currently at the seven hour mark with a 92% completion rate, but you probably won’t have much of a reason to put that much time in if you don’t have a high tolerance for flying around and collecting hundreds of orbs. If you’re looking for a new collection of Saints Row activities in a new setting, Gat out of Hell is just that, so it can be enjoyed if you go in without expecting a significant upgrade to what’s been seen numerous times before in the series.