I loved Saints Row IV. In fact, you can read all about how much I loved it here. There have been some who've lamented the series' descent into full-blown comedy madness, but Saints Row IV was supremely entertaining on a moment-to-moment basis. Crucially, its design was just as wonderfully constructed as its jokes -- it was all interwoven in masterful fashion, a beautiful, anarchic sandbox that was glorious to dip into, with some outrageous mission design, and a host of activities and mischief to get up to in between.
Now it arrives on PS4 and Xbox One with a barely noticeable spit and a polish as Deep Silver try to cash in on the remastering that's papering the cracks of new-gen until greatness arrives in the form of new stuff, and with it comes a new standalone expansion pack called Gat Out Of Hell, available digitally for £14.99 or as a pack-in for the aforementioned £30 remaster Saints Row IV: Re-Elected.
I like standalone expansions. At worst, they provide a little taster of the main event at a discounted cost. At best they provide new ways of appreciating the original game. Sadly, Gat Out Of Hell doesn't really do either of those things.
As the title suggests, you're not playing as The Boss this time around, instead you take on the roles of returning characters Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington. Basically, Kinzie's birthday celebration goes wrong and through a rapid and bizarre sequence of events, The Boss gets kidnapped by Satan and forced to marry the Devil's daughter, Jezebel. Johnny and Kinzie resolve to go rescue him, and through an even more bizarre sequence of events they manage to open a portal into Hell where they meet a familiar face. The plan is simple: attract Beelzebub's attention by causing around New Hades and gatecrash this diabolical union.
As crazy setups go, it's actually pretty good, and if you laughed at Saints Row IV, you'll probably laugh at this too. But where the original game made you part of the joke, blending these ridiculous scenarios into gameplay-driven set-pieces and main missions that were all vastly different to one another, Gat Out Of Hell does it all through cutscenes. In fact, in sort of does away with main missions completely and instead focuses its 5 - 7 hour runtime around the open-world minigame staples that we've seen time and time again.
The repetitive nature of these minigames didn't really matter in Saints Row IV because they were just little things to dip into in amongst larger, more grand exploits. Like delicious onion rings, they were there to be sampled in between big, juicy mouthfuls of the meaty main course, and taking control of Steelport. What we have in Gat Out Of Hell, however, is just a big plate of samey side-content.
Thankfully, New Hades is actually a bit more interesting than Steelport, and it's designed around a gameplay feature that is simple but dizzyingly effective: the power of flight. Early on, Johnny Gat gains access to Lucifer's broken halo, and thus the fallen angel's wings. Flying is stamina-dependent, of course, which is a little annoying at first, but it isn't long before you're soaring about, swooping here and there to gain momentum, and hoovering up upgrade clusters that can be spent on prolonging your wing-assisted hangtime.
But you don't really want to be paying £15 for that privilege, really.
It's not just the lack of meaningful, compelling mission content; everything that made Saints Row IV special is gone. There's no character customisation, no turf warfare, no ways to pimp your rides, and no cribs to deck out. The weapons are largely recycled or uninspired, and those that aren't (like the grenade launcher that spits a plague of explosive homing frogs) seem to be pre-order DLC items. The 7 Deadly Weapons, which include the armchair Gatling gun, are rather entertaining, but that wears off pretty quickly. The little side-missions and objectives, or Diversions as they're called here, that pepper the game are plentiful, but we've seen them all before. Survival and Mayhem are copy and paste jobs, and Torment Fraud is just a reskin of Insurance Fraud where you throw yourself into the road and try to manipulate the wonky ragdoll physics to rack up as much damage to yourself as possible. The Diversions dealing in flight are the best by a long way, plucking falling souls out of the sky, and racing amongst the high rise towers and fiery furnaces of New Hades can be thrilling. But such thrills are short-lived.
Gat Out Of Hell nails the atmosphere, of course, and I don't want to spoil any of the gags here except to vaguely say that some of the characters you meet in the underworld are pretty amusing, with one or two little surprises thrown in there. But that's it for surprises here. Even the final boss fight against the Devil is pretty underwhelming.
There are caveats, of course, and the price tag is a big one. Gat Out Of Hell is only £14.99, and it does kind of provide part of the Saints Row experience. You will get a taste for the humour and the combat and the bitty content that normally slips in alongside larger setpieces. But the fact is that you can get Saints Row IV for far less on last-gen platforms and PC and the "remaster" is underwhelming to say the least; Gat Out Of Hell is not a game that'll win any awards in the looks department. In many ways, it's a £15 demo for Saints Row IV, with all of the best bits taken out.
- Flying is pretty cool
- Some amusing character cameos
- Unleashing a plague of exploding frogs is wonderfully entertaining
- Core action is fun in small doses
- But combat mechanics have never been the series' strong suit
- Lacking pretty much everything that made Saints Row IV great
- Samey and short unless you go Gold Medal chasing
- Grim aesthetic and last-gen production values make everything look a bit rubbish
The Short Version: Gat Out Of Hell is a £15, bite-sized Saints Row-lite experience. Go into it with those expectations and you'll probably be fine. But if you don't care about playing last-gen material on new-gen platforms, give this a miss, do yourself a favour and pickup a copy of the original Saints Row IV for under a tenner.
5 – AVERAGE: Average games are exactly that. Neither good nor bad, some clever ideas have probably been marred by patchy execution, or strong mechanics let down by a lack of scope, new ideas or ambition. Often reserved for the completely unremarkable, the realm of the apathetic, you'll also find games here whose good and bad qualities basically cancel one another out.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PC
Developer: Volition Inc.
Publisher: Deep Silver