Saints Row IV cranked the bombastic franchise's signature absurdity all the way up to 11. But if you thought that developer Volition had already found the maximum setting for its manic open-world action game you would be wrong as, with Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, they prove that the dial goes all the way to 12... or at least 11 and a half.
(First) dance with the devil
Gat out of Hell features the eponymous Johnny Gat as he literally descends into hell to save the President/God-Emperor-for-life of Earth (your character from Saints Row IV) after he/she is taken by Satan to marry his daughter Jezebel. Loyal to the end, powerhouse Johnny and FBI intelligent agent turned Saint Kenzie Kensington unthinkingly leap into the afterlife to retrieve their leader.
Once you are through the short introduction, it is completely down to you how you approach the game. The menu and map screen lay out all of your currently available missions and objectives, and you can do them in any order you fancy.
This open format is explained by the fact that Gat's "plan" is to piss off the Devil so much that the dark lord will invite them to the President and Jezebel's wedding (to be honest, I am still not sure how that is meant to work). Once there he intends to shoot Satan (and he is very specific about this) in the face and rescue his boss.
You can play as Johnny or Kenzie, with a multiplayer option also available in case you want to ransack the city with a friend. It's good to team up too, because Gat out of Hell is at its best when you are creating unbridled havoc, which is always easier to do with a partner.
As a smaller spin off title, Gat out of Hell takes the Matrix-like mechanics of Saints Row IV and re-imagines them as heavenly powers acquired from Satan's cracked halo. Initially these abilities are limited to a super sprint and angelic flight (which sees the hero sprout wings), both of which facilitate rapid and entertaining locomotion around the city. However, these powers are quickly supplemented by four others that can be earned by visiting allies - both old and new - in the world.
I started by visiting returning cast members Kiki and Viola, twins who now run private security in hell. After defending them from a hostile company take over (by demons wielding automatic weapons), they gave me the "blast" ability. This allowed me to shoot magical projectiles from my arm to turn enemies to stone - a particularly devastating power against flying demons who shatter as they hit the floor.
While the blast is certainly handy, my personal favorite power is "stomp" - acquired from M.C. William Shakespeare. This ground-pounding power sends everything around you flying with concussive force – something that becomes increasingly effective as you level it up with orbs collected from around the city.
The speed at which you earn these skills means that you quickly go from zero to unstoppable, removing any fears that players returning from Saints Row IV may have felt under-powered starting a new adventure. After this hell is your oyster, as your powers open up the open-world.
The range of missions available means that the gameplay never gets dull. In fact there is enough variety in the tasks to ensure that you never have to do the same thing twice - whether you are taking over Satan's real-estate, collecting orbs in speed challenges, committing 'Torment Fraud', or taking part in any of the other devilishly entertaining escapades.
Go to hell
Gat out of Hell's story is revealed in the form of a fairytale story book. Within it pages, Johnny is portrayed as a man that is going to heaven for his selfless dedication, and to hell for his brutal means of enforcing this loyalty. It is a nice backing to the story, which gives the narrative plenty of excuse to jump around whenever it sees fit by turning the page.
Hell is actually very similar to the city of Steelport - the location of the last two Saints Row games - but with enough hell-fire and brimstone to ensure it has a uniquely demonic twist. This includes floating platforms, new areas of the city, a sea of lava (?), and twisting subterranean pits for you to plunge through as you try to find all of the game's many collectibles.
In keeping with this tone, the people of this satanic city have been replaced by shambling soulless corpses who are ruled over by a collection of demons who act as the devil's police force. It is a nice touch that brings just enough new material to make Gat out of Hell feel like more than just a re-skin, but its single note nature does have the ironic effect of making the world feel a bit dead.
While the base game will feel familiar to fans, the jokes and humor will not. Sat playing the game in the middle of Softonic Towers, I found myself laughing out loud multiple times at whole section of story. I recommend paying especially close attention to the opening Ouija board scene and the impromptu musical numbers.
Hellishly good fun
As a stand-alone product, Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is a tad short for the price, but it manages to be a fast-paced, entertaining experience throughout. It sheds the slow build-up of most open-world games, instead throwing you into a sandbox of total mayhem, and a story laced with one liners, to keep you constantly smiling.
Seen in the context of the series, however, the view is somewhat different. Though it has an entirely new look, the base gameplay is very much a re-tread of what went before in a world that feels (comparatively) lifeless. That said, considering the ridiculous corner the franchise has now painted itself into, this proves a fun conclusion for the Saints in their current incarnation.