Written by Chris Norris-Jones
It's hard to imagine what developer meetings must be like now for Saints Row. They have to just be constantly asking themselves “Well, where do we go from here?” From a series that started off as a paint-by-numbers copy of Grand Theft Auto, it has since made us President, given us super powers, even blown up the Earth. How far we've gone from the streets of Stilwater.
And now, we're in Hell. Because where else could we go? The Saints' boss has been kidnapped by Satan, to be wed to the daughter of the Big Man in Red. So it's up to everyone's favorite antihero Johnny Gat to kill every denizen of hell and get him out.
From the minute the controller was in my hands (mouse and keyboard wasn't available, sadly), Gat Out Of Hell felt familiar. Within moments I was barreling through Hell like I was back in Steelport. Your superpowers are intact from Saints Row 4, so you can still leap into the sky and run along the ground at incredible speeds, with the only major change being Johnny's newfound angelic wings.
Did I mention Johnny Gat now has angel wings? Because of course he does. And with them he has a limited ability to flap into the air to gain some altitude, creating an increased focus on diving and using your momentum to pull you back up to travel further distances. Think Mario's cape in Super Mario World.
The flying feels fast and smooth, like you have complete control over Gat the entire time. More importantly the all new, more vertical world of Hell felt fun to weave in and out of, like it had been designed from the ground up to better incorporate flying. This was something Volition Creative Director Steve Jaros said was a focus for the design team, telling me that “before in Saints Row Four we experimented with flight, but the city itself wasn't designed for flying. It didn't really feel so good, and leaping made more sense. Now, we were able to design the city to cater to flight.”
Speaking of the world, the map itself is broken out into four distinct districts, with a specific boss said to be in control of each. I was told that Vlad the Impaler was one, with Shakespeare, the bard himself, being another. Each area will have a variety of activities, all of which look to be either recreations or tweaks on previous Saints Row favorites. I got to play through a checkpoint flight race, and a combat mission which was to end with me facing off against a towering sword-wielding demon, but my time ran out before I got a chance to take him on.
While I didn't get to witness anything to do with the story, I was told that the method for unlocking story missions and eventually completing the game was through gaining experience and leveling up Gat. Either through activities, finding collectibles, or even just randomly shooting the various damned of Hell, if you feel so inclined.
The shooting felt predictably like previous Saints Row titles. You still hold down B to pull up a weapon wheel, and select from an assortment of weapons ranging from “interesting” to “crazy.” They all looked to have an underworld-inspired theme, and in my brief time I got a chance to use the demonic impaler, a sort of semi-automatic crossbow, and the Armchair Mageddon, a slow moving recliner containing both machine guns and long range missiles. They both felt how you would want them to feel, though the Armchair Mageddon was a bit too slow for my liking.
The enemies also fit the locale, as I got the chance to take down an army of gun-toting demons, as well as a couple flying, spell-wielding monks and dozens of tiny imps. With the largest issue I've had in previous Saints games being the lack of depth of opponents, Gat Out Of Hell's infernal opposition may address this problem.
My thought walking away from Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell is that it does feel very much like an expansion, but from my (albeit limited) time with it, it's one I'll be excited to play. It seems to be sticking true to the previous formula of Saints Row 4, while adding in some interesting tweaks and quirks that you can only get from the new infernal locale. I'm told there will be a musical number, for example.