Let It Snow
I am a bit of a sucker for Christmas cheer. I’m not a fan of everything about the holiday, but the songs, the decorations, and the weather bring out a certain comfort in the season and make Christmas almost feel like a particular emotion as opposed to just a time of year. A truly great piece of media based around the holiday doesn’t just have some a few holly wreaths and elves scattered around, it evokes that seasonal warmth, and despite being about a carefree gangleader who mows down waves of enemies with SMGs and dildo bats, How the Saints Save Christmas has that.
We join the Third Street Saints as they’re making their yuletide preparations aboard their ship, but it seems The Boss is just not feeling it. Tragically he/she has grown up with with a complete apathy for the holiday. However, this looks set to change when a cyberpunk version of Shaundi (complete with robot arm and terminator eye) arrives from a future ruled over by an evil version of Santa Claus known as Clawz. She explains this monster was engineered by Zinyak through trapping Santa’s mind in his simulation, forcing her to come back to team up the The Boss and save Santa from his oppressive techno-prison.
Compared to the first Saint’s IV mission pack, Enter the Dominatrix, HtSSC is a little lighter on content, containing only three missions compared to EtD’s five and coming in at a not much over an hour of play time, but it’s of a more consistently high standard. This time around the designers do a great job of creating a balance between solid sections of running and gunning your way to victory, and more atypical tasks involving superpowers and vehicular combat. In general there’s less repurposing of parts from the main game and this DLC is soaked in higher production values and an endearing style. It feels heartwarming to be able to walk into a toy factory and see all the attention and detail that’s gone into filling it with shelves upon shelves of teddy bears and building blocks, and the Christmas Steelport isn’t just Steelport with some snow, it’s lovingly decorated and adorned with festive bric-a-brac. One particularly nice touch is the soft purple haze over the city which helps give Steelport a more enclosed and cozy atmosphere. The game’s various renditions of popular carols also help create a strong festive feel.
The DLC considers maintaining this atmosphere on an equal priority level with the zanier and more surreal elements that you often find in the game. Of course you still have your powers and you’ll see plenty of gleeful nonsense and silly combat scenarios trotted out, but Santa and your character’s developing emotions about the holidays are played very straight. It’s something that works to bring across that intoxicating sense of Christmas spirit and creates a funny juxtaposition of human warmth and sincerity against gun violence and bizarre, otherworldly events. The story pulls bits from all sorts of classic Christmas media, from The Grinch to Charlie Brown, and this is mostly welcome or at least inoffensive. There was only one time I thought it overstepped the line into briefly just pointing to a tired TV show joke for easy laughs, and while it does make the plot a little predictable, it works to conjure up a certain nostalgia.
In addition to the main story HtSSC also adds two new side mission types to the game: “Naughty and Nice” and “Genki Holiday Special”. The former repurposes one of the late missions from the HtSSC campaign into its own minigame which is not particularly overwhelming or underwhelming, but Genki Holiday Special feels much lazier, essentially just consisting of Genki Ball with moving targets and objects like Christmas Trees and Menorahs to throw around.
As in most of the Saint’s Row adventures side missions are not the strong point here, and you can probably tell where this story is going, but How the Saint’s Save Christmas is a piece of DLC able to warm even the coldest of hearts. With a devotion to presenting environments and a story full of character, and a handful of diverse gameplay tasks, Volition have created a downloadable treat that can make it feel like Christmas any time of the year.