REVIEW / Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell (X360)

 

Saints Row IV is one of my absolute favorite games.  In fact, I named it as my favorite game of 2013 on my old blog.  Some disliked just how silly the series became and how far it had fallen from its roots, but to me Saints Row IV was unique.  It mixed the open-world crime theme of Grand Theft Auto, the open-world superhero theme of Prototype, and the bizarre humor of Borderlands.  I spent countless hours with this game, and I even bought the season pass before any of the DLC was announced.  This ended up being a mistake; as amazing as the game was, the DLC was dull and boring.  When Deep Silver announced a standalone expansion, I hoped it meant they were going to get back to what made the base game great.  And while Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is a fun game at first, and while it is much better than the base game’s DLC, there is still something lacking.

 

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The expansion takes place shortly after the main game and its DLC.  On the spaceship where the Saints now reside, a portal to hell opens up and swallows The Boss (the customizable main character of the series).  Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington follow suit, and they find themselves in New Hades.  The rest of the game has them fighting their way through Hell to save The Boss from Satan.  It’s a perfect setup for the series, and it’s done pretty well.  New Hades is a brand new open world, which is something not even Saints Row IV had, and there are enjoyable characters throughout.  Friends and enemies from throughout the series show up in the underworld, and for the price, the world is big enough.

Unfortunately, the world is also fairly empty.  There are a few major landmarks, but because it’s Hell, a lot of what makes an open world fun is missing here.  There are very few unusual points to explore, no entertaining civilians (just shambling husks), no radio stations, very few interesting vehicles, and no clothing stores.  This didn’t have to be the case; Saints Row IV took place in a computer simulation, so there was little reason for any of the things listed to be present.  The developers could have fleshed out New Hades into an actual city and nobody would complain.

 

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Fortunately, the mechanics remain enjoyable.  Most of the powers from the main game return, along with the standout addition of Angelic Flight.  Despite the name, this is more like gliding, but it’s a lot of fun regardless.  As before, you can upgrade your powers, and eventually you can get closer to actual flight.  This is the best way to get around, but that’s where the problem of the relatively empty world comes back up.  Without much to explore or collect in the game, there’s no reason not to just fly from mission to mission.

This was an issue that many had with Saints Row IV: if you can run faster than any vehicle, why bother using them?  For my part, I didn’t mind switching between running and driving; many of the vehicles were very cool, there was good music on the radio, and it was easier to explore the city that way.  One might notice that none of those reasons are present in this game.  As such, it just makes more sense to fly everywhere.  And while the flight mechanic really is a lot of fun, a successful game needs more than that.

 

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Because this is a standalone expansion rather than a full game, these issues could be forgiven if the missions were fun.  But really, there are very few story missions, and they generally boil down to “shoot everything in the room.”  The lines and cutscenes are funny, but not enough to make these missions less boring.  It’s a shame, because Saints Row IV set itself apart from other open-world games by having story missions so entertaining that they could pull you away from just exploring the world.

The meat of this game is the challenges, and they get old fast.  Completing these challenges helps you get Satan’s attention, and after that meter reaches a certain point, an event will happen.  The challenges are what would be extra side missions in a full game: run over this many people, win a race, survive for this many minutes, etc.  These should add to the game, not make up the majority of it.

 

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There is fun to be had, at least for a little while.  Again, the flight mechanic works quite well, and there are plenty of demons to fight.  The trademark Saints Row humor is present and effective.  For the first few hours, the game is decent enough.  But after the first musical number, it just becomes tedious.  There’s enough to do, but none of it is all that interesting.  To progress to the story parts, you need to repeat a bunch of activities and scour the world for things that aren’t marked on your map.  Even the combat is problematic; there aren’t that many weapons worth using, and it seems harder than it should be to hit enemies.  You don’t get nearly enough reward for the tedium.

In a way, the reason for all of these issues is that Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is an expansion.  If it was a full game, it would certainly have a more fleshed out world and a full story.  It’s disappointing that the developers didn’t save this idea for a full sequel that could do it justice, and it’s difficult to judge a game by what it is when it’s so clear what it could have been.  But even as an expansion, this game is lacking.  Standalone expansions of open-world games can work; the last generation had some prime examples.  The most successful ones are just as full as the main game, but much smaller.  They have everything the original game had, just less of it.  This one, on the other hand, is hollow.  Fans of Saints Row IV should think hard before picking up this expansion.  If you enjoyed the game mostly because of the superpowers and humor, you might like this expansion.  But if you enjoyed the story missions and exploration, you should probably just find the cutscenes on YouTube.

 

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