The Saints Row franchise has been getting steadily more and more insane since its debut back in 2006, graduating from the original ‘definitely-not-GTA’ sandbox crime of the first title to balls-out insane, wish fulfilment, power fantasy by the fourth game – including becoming Super-President, fighting aliens and shooting pedestrians with a dubstep gun.
The latest instalment continues this unabashed shark-jumping; Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell features the leader of The Saints being dragged into hell, forcing Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington to go in after him. The developers also boast a ‘talking gun’, a ‘full-length musical number’ and the chance to ‘shoot the Devil in the face’ – so it’s pretty clear the level of seriousness and maturity we can expect from this particular Saints outing.
We had a chance to get a hands-on with Gat Out Of Hell at London’s MCM Expo this weekend, and it’s absolutely as insane as it sounds. The demo drops you into the body of Johnny Gat with the simple objective of causing as much carnage as humanly possible (like you weren’t going to already). The Hell map is totally new, and is around half the size of Steelport. It’s got a great aesthetic, both visually and thematically, and the fantastical setting allows the creators to put in awesome stuff like floating islands and a huge Gothic castle. There’s also multiple billboards for the Ultor Corporation (ten points if you can get the reference). Naturally, what with it being Hell and all, everything is lava and brimstone, and the skies are replaced with swirling purple storm clouds – it’s like a Judas Priest album cover come to life. It’s awesome.
Speaking of game features that are ripped straight from a 13-year old Slayer fan’s notebook, the transport system has also had an overhaul. Rather than driving around everywhere like some kind of peasant or even, god forbid, walking, Johnny Gat now has giant-ass burning angel wings. This is presumably to make up for a lack of readily available fighter jets in the netherworld, but we’d take a 12-foot wingspan over our own F-16 any day.
Flight uses up the stamina bar in the same way as sprinting –which incidentally now leaves a trail of fire – and the mechanics are fast, manoeuvrable and heaps of fun to use. The map is built with verticality in mind, and features plenty of skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, platforms and other aerial obstacles for you to mess around with, as well as the obligatory piles of collectibles. While the map is about half the size of the previous game’s, it looks like developers Volition have packed in about the same amount of stuff, and there seems plenty to do. The city doesn’t feel empty in the least.
Of course, that could just be all the demons. Oh yeah. There’s demons. Within minutes of starting the demo, we found ourselves firing a gun that shot plagues of locusts at a gang of demons driving horned monster trucks, one of whom – we shit thee not – was wearing a popped-collar, frat bro polo shirt and cargo shorts. There’s a whole range of enemies to brutalise, from cannon-fodder zombies, to imps, to black magic wizards; all of whom can be slaughtered in a variety of horrible and entertaining ways.
Sure, it’s not perfect. The version we played had a few especially irritating bugs, most annoyingly the blood-sucking imps that glitched out and refused to be shaken off. But it’s not meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be fun. The Saints Row franchise is the summer blockbuster of the gaming world: big, dumb explosion parties that you can just switch your brain off for, and by this metric, Gat Out Of Hell delivers in spades. The flight controls are an absolute blast to use, the art style is really engaging, everything looks great, and if the casino we flew past bearing the name ‘Golden Showers’ is anything to go by, it’s still got lashings of typical Saints Row humour. It’s being billed as an ‘expansion’ to Saints Row IV rather than an out-and-out sequel, and with a price point of only $20, like the game itself, it’s kind of a no-brainer. After our play through of the new Saints Row title, we can only say one thing…
Go to hell.