Saints Row has been, by far, one of my favorite ongoing sandbox series for the past generation of game development. Starting way back with the first Saints Row on my Xbox 360, while it still had the blade dashboard, all the way up to Saints Row IV and it’s absolutely over-the-top silliness, it’s always been a joy to explore the worlds of Stilwater, Steelport and any other crazy concoctions in-between. When I attended the Volition panel back at PAX Prime to find out that the next taste of Saints Row would be set in Hell, well, I was needlessly excited to get my hands on it.
Gat Out of Hell takes place after the events of Saints Row IV with the gang throwing a birthday slumber party for Kinzie. Using a ouija board during the celebration, you quickly find out that it is cursed when it spells out the name “Jezebel” before a portal magically opens and rips The Boss character you’ve played as for the past four games into Hell. Naturally, Johnny and Kinzie go into Hell to get the boss back. Upon arrival they are greeted by Dane Vogel, a bad guy from Saints Row 2, who tells them that Satan is planning on marrying The Boss to his daughter Jezebel. It’s now up to them to stop this accursed wedding before it is too late.
For all intents and purposes, Gat Out of Hell feels just like Saints Row IV with a new setting, some new powers and tons of new guns. Mechanically, the biggest difference I noticed was the new ability to fly with a pair of angelic wings that essentially are an iteration on gliding from your superpower kit of abilities. What is very different is the way that these things are packaged and delivered in this side story adventure.
“One of the things that is tricky is that when we knew we were going to be doing the stand alone thing we couldn’t take away superpowers, right?” said Steve Jaros, now former creative director of Volition. “We started going through different options and scenarios and we were thinking of different stuff and the image that kind of popped up is that there is this iconic issue of Captain America where he is punching Hitler in the face. So wouldn’t it be awesome to have Gat punching Satan in the dome, right? That is Johnny Gat punching the devil and that is how badass he is. That was the impetus, this idea of Johnny Gat punching Satan in the face.”
This location is one of the keys to making the experience work. Jaros made it clear that this is an expansion, not Saints Row V. You are on a specifically crafted story in a new setting meant to take you away from some of the core hallmarks of the series. For example, you can’t create your own custom character to star in the story (though you can import the look of your character from Saints Row IV for the scenes he or she shows up during the game), there are no massive set pieces and homies are non-existent.
While this may sound discouraging for some, what I got to experience was pretty fantastic. There are still items to collect, flying races to tackle and several other fun and bizarre missions to take on. One such instance put me in a scenario where I needed to purge a bunch of frat demons out of a castle they were inhabiting. Using a spiked frat paddle I got to send demons wearing polos soaring into hellish portals to rack up a high score. It made me laugh and reminded me of the best hilarious moments from the previous game.
Even more entertaining, was the games variety of weapons. Saints Row has gained a reputation for its exotic selection of weapons after adding items like the Penetrator and the Dubstep Gun, so it was great to see the design direction the team got to take with the Hell setting. Exploding frogs and swarms of locusts were just a few of the weapons I was able to use, but none were as fun as the first of the ‘seven deadly sin’ weapons I was able to get my hands on.
Sloth is a chair with mini-guns and rocket barraging missiles that you can slowly roll around in to cause havoc. Being a lazy demon slayer in a la-z-boy was spectacular, bringing a smile to my face almost immediately. While the rest of the seven deadly sin weapons weren’t available for show, Jaros did confirm that there will be zany items like a gluttony gun that covers your foe in cake frosting and attracts NPCs to literally consume your target.
Despite all the wacky weapons, goofy mission and awesome superpowers, the thing I came away most impressed with is Gat Out of Hell’s tone. This is a game that is essentially trying to parody Disney movies and fairy tale literature by smashing it into an open world shooter set in Hell that stars space gangsters. It reminds me of some crazy mash-up story that I’d create with friends while talking over beers on a Friday night.
“Tonally this game is based on Disney stuff, it pulls a lot of inspiration from that. Like the first thing you see on a load screen you see this ornate book. When you hit start for a new game that book opens up and its like the beginning of Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella where [there’s] illuminated text, and storybook and Jane Austin narrates ‘Once upon a time blah blah blah blah blah…’.” Jaros continued saying, “So you kind of have these little tropes and along the way we bring in other old faces and historical people that we try to tie together in a fun little package.”
Thankfully, I won’t have to wait long to get my hands on this new piece of the Saints Row series. The expansion pack will be available for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC on January 27, 2015. If you’re anything like me, you just can’t wait to go to Hell.