In Gat Out of Hell, the joke feels like it's on us
|Box Art N/A
|Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One
|Publisher Deep Silver
|Release Date Jan 20, 2015
Since the release of its comparatively down-the-middle first entry, Saints Row has thrived by taking itself progressively less seriously. In Saints Row IV alone, it blew up Earth, transformed into a 16-bit brawler and made its lead the first super-powered President of the United States.
It was subversively irreverent, but always laughing with its audience, never at them. But in the standalone Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, Volition may have taken the joke too far.
The big new power is the ability to fly with expansive angelic wings
Here's the admittedly pretty amazing premise: The President is dragged into Hell because Satan is convinced he's the only one despicable enough to marry his daughter, Jezebel. His best friends, reincarnated gangster Johnny Gat and computer whiz Kinzie Kensington, follow him to underworld capital New Hades to get him back.
They're met by Saints Row 2 antagonist Dane Vogel (charismatically voiced by Jay Mohr) who hopes to further his business prospects by helping Johnny and Kinzie to ... well, to kill The Devil.
Vogel's biggest contribution to the cause is a magical halo, which grants Johnny or Kinzie (you can flip between the pair at will) the same superpowers as The Boss in Saints Row IV (save for telekinesis, which has been replaced by the ability to summon creatures to fight by your side).
Summoning is fine, but the big new power the halo grants is the ability to fly with expansive angelic wings. The ability to soar through the city, the most notable omission from The Boss' road to godhood in Saints Row IV, is the biggest draw of Gat Out of Hell, and it's spectacular.
Flying actually takes a little skill, as you'll stall if you go too slow, you have a limited number of wing flaps and all flying uses up stamina. But rather than hemming the player in, these limitations really help to make zipping through the sky a little more believable and grounded, for lack of a better term.
It also helps that New Hades is built from scratch to make flying around it a joy. After the recycled environments of Saints Row IV, it's great to explore a new area, especially one with so many perches to land on and brimstone tunnels begging to be flown through. New Hades looks great too, a blend of unsettling industrialism, sleaze and good old fashioned occult imagery.
New powers, a new environment to tear up — the pieces for a great expansion are there. Unfortunately, Gat Out of Hell is a much better playground than a game.
Co-op feels unnecessary when everything is already so easy
Vogel's plan to thwart Satan is simple: Kinzie and Gat need to cause so much havoc that Beelzebub feels compelled to handle them himself. They do that by finishing side missions, which fills up a "Wrath" meter and eventually triggers a boss battle. "Side mission" is actually a misnomer, as there are no "main missions" to speak of. You screw around in Hell until it's time to kill The Devil. That's the game.
Volition attempts to add a little structure by providing denizens of Hell (Vlad the Impaler, William Shakespeare, etc.) to win over by completing certain activities, but their contributions don't go beyond a brief cutscene and a bit of voice over. They're not adding a lot of flavor.
The activities themselves are all over the place. Some are recycled (survive attacking enemy hordes, get hit by cars to earn cash), some are well-made (the flight races are genuinely pretty thrilling), some are just weird (like Extraction Facilities which have you controlling three points simultaneously, sort of a one-man/woman version of Call of Duty's Domination mode).
You can invite another player into your world at any point, but don't expect it to substantially affect the experience. There are no co-op activities and Gat Out of Hell is already so easy that there's little use for a partner.
By about the middle of the game, my Gat and Kinzie had become so immensely powerful, armed with a screen-wiping holy stomp and unlimited rocket launcher, that finishing most of these activities was little more than a formality. After four hours I had finished half of the side missions and earned enough wrath to trigger a limp battle with Satan. After another hour, I had finished the 100 percent of the activities.
I don't intrinsically have an issue with five hours of game for 20 bucks. But when I spend the first half of that time wondering when the real game starts and the second half grumpily accepting that this is the game, it becomes a lot harder to accept. Gat Out of Hell doesn't feel like a padded five hours, it feels like five hours made of padding.
Gat Out of Hell also drops the ball on delivering the maniacal, anarchic humor I love the series for. There's one genuinely inspired sequence, and Volition put the whole thing online over a month ago.
There are some fourth-wall breaking gags about the inanity of Gat Out of Hell’s structure, but they’re in violation of what I ineloquently call the Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard Rule: Joking about bad game design is funny only if you’re improving on it. Gat Out of Hell doesn’t.
In Gat Out of Hell, the joke feels like it's on us
There are some really pleasant components in Gat Out of Hell, but they never gel into something cohesive and worthwhile. Volition has built a franchise by thumbing its nose at everything from the gaming industry to political correctness. But this is the first time it feels like the joke is on us.
Saint's Row: Gat Out of Hell was reviewed using a pre-release Steam key provided by Deep Silver. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews