The Saints are going to hell with the latest standalone expansion in the franchise. Even without having to splash the cash on the main game to play it, is it worthy of a purchase?
I had high hopes for the journey of Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington into the depths of hell. Not only am I a fan of all previous Saints games (yep, even the ultimately boring original title did good for me), but as a standalone title, it should be something that brings new fans to the series; perhaps even getting them involved in the older titles on Xbox 360.
Unfortunately if you find yourself playing Gat out of Hell prior to any others in the series, you’ll most probably leave it right there.
Let me however set the scene.
Needing a husband for his daughter Jezebel, Satan has dragged the President of the United States into hell. The Saints aren’t overly happy about this and so after a little play with a dodgy ouija board, decide to send in self-confessed destroyer Johnny Gat and the lovely, but ultimately a little-bit-nuts Kinzie in to rescue him.
Set in a world much smaller than that found in Saints Row IV, hell includes some familiar faces, familiar powers and familiar missions. In fact, whilst we are looking at a completely separate game from its predecessor, it really wouldn’t have hurt to come in as a brand new included expansion to Saints Row IV. It is that samey.
Thankfully though that means the superb super powers that we were allowed to get to grips with previously are back, with Gat and Kinzie having acquired some rather lovely angelic wings to help them get around. Initially these present a bit of a rough ride but much like the gliding in SRIV, once you’ve managed to upgrade your powers even slightly, you’ll quickly find yourself whizzing around from pillar to post with the greatest of ease. The flight system is indeed a joy to use and comes in real handy when taking on some of the new, but instantly recognisable activities that are dotted around hell. The wings are also a huge help when going about collecting the mammoth number of collectible clusters and tomes that are dotted around the world. They are also great for helping get yourself out of the stickiest of situations with a quick jump and blast away from demons and archdukes is sometimes the way to go when the usual weapon route just doesn’t cut it.
Which to be fair, isn’t that often. For the weapons that have been thrown our way this time round are quite frankly brilliant. As always, the standard pistols and SMGs are set up and ready to roll, but find yourself a comfy place to sit and the Armchair-A-Geddon is perhaps the greatest weapon I’ve yet to see in a Saints title. It’s powerful, perhaps too powerful once fully upgraded, but sums up the Saints style perfectly. Include all manner of other hellish tools and you’ll find dishing out justice in the strangest of ways is immensely pleasurable. Collect enough of the usual clusters and cash and you’ll have the chance to upgrade all your weapons to devastating effect.
Another big inclusion this time round is the addition of new arcane powers, all of which can, like your weapons, be upgraded. Blast and Stomp are back but this time are flanked by the ability to summon some lovely little imps who will happily help out their master in battle. Send them on their way and you’ll quickly be casting an envious eye over at Overlord from a few years back. They may not be as controllable as the minions from back then by there’s a sense of joy that hits every single time you use them, and get them upgraded enough in order to become walking time bombs and hell just won’t be able to cope with the power that comes with them.
So, the weaponry is great and the flying is great but I do however have an issue with the way the game has been set up. Basically, to keep you busy, we are looking at a whole set of mini games and mini activities rather than a long well thought out campaign although thankfully the usual Saints Row humour is present and holds together the strangest of stories well. Throughout your short trip to hell, you’ll happily acknowledge the arrival down under of Vlad the Impaler and perhaps one other character you need to help out, that of Blackbeard the pirate; but when you first come across the worlds most famous bard, Shakespeare, you really will be wondering what the hell went on in the storyboard sessions back at the office! They do however all eventually find a place and without them and their loyalty missions, Gat and Kinzie would be sitting back twiddling their fingers wondering which of the collection of mini games to tackle next.
Of which there are tons, although like the rest of the game, are not necessarily new ideas.
Hellblazing makes the most of your new found wings, seeing you take to the skies to race through checkpoints in order to achieve the highest medal, most cash and largest xp boost you can. It works well but harking back to SRIV and Re-Elected, find myself much preferring the on foot, jumping races that were present there. The fraud activities are once again included, this time seeing you take control of one of the many ‘husks’ that populate the underworld, giving you the chance to throw him/her/it into as many cars (yep, you get cars in hell as well) as possible. It works exactly the same as the fraud activities of old and are again a highlight this time round.
The same can’t be said for much of the rest though. A newcomer in the minigame world sees you playing a game of King of the Hill by yourself. It’s strange and doesn’t come with either an awful lot of strategy or much else really, instead turning into a ‘stand in this space, run to the next space, stand there and repeat’ scenario. I give the devs credit for trying to bring something new to what would otherwise be a stale repeat of IV, but this one just doesn’t work.
As doesn’t much else with the negatives having much more of an effect then they should. And when I say negatives, I mean glitches. Of which there are a ton. Visually we’re looking at the exact same graphics as those found in Re-Elected, and lets be honest, they weren’t exactly great then, but when those same visuals inexplicably see Gat stuck in between buildings and enemies hiding under the streets of hell unable to get out, you’ll quickly see why they bring such a negative impact. None are absolutely game breaking but there will be at least one, maybe two and possibly three points in your five hour experience when you’ll need to be jumping back to the main menu, hoping and praying that the autosave has been your friend.
There is also very little character customisation on offer with our favourite shops now replaced by the odd ammo station. The Saints are well known for going all out with wild wacky outfits and paying the odd visit to a plastic surgeon to suit their current mood but down in hell, we get the choice of playing as standard Gat or standard Kinzie and that comes as a bit of a downer. We want customisation, no matter how small it is!
All in all then, when five minutes of a Disney style musical is one of the major game highlights, Gat out of Hell turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. Yes it’s been thrown out there as a cheap standalone title that will hopefully drag the odd few franchise newbies into a sale, but for the hardened Third Street Saints who were eagerly anticipating something exciting, hell just doesn’t bring it. Finding an online friend to play through the campaign with may just be the saving grace but if you’re looking for a proper Saints experience, go back and jump in with one of the previous titles first.
You’re on a mission to save your boss’ soul from the devil himself, but you may just find yourself being dragged down whilst you do it.