I'm flying out of the belly of a giant mothership. Haddaway's cheese-tastic 90's house classic, "What is Love" is blaring, and I'm being told to do a barrel roll. Based on the insane events leading up to this moment, I knew I already liked Saints Row IV, but now I love it. This is one batshit crazy game, with a very strange sense of humor that's working very well for me. I keep having to stifle my laughs so not to disturb my partner, who's asleep in the other room.
I hadn't played a Saints Row game up to this point. I'd always written it off as a poor man's version of Grand Theft Auto, and had never made time for it. Well, it seems I was mistaken – at least, this version is far from being that. Indeed, I'm having a lot more fun with this than I did with GTA V. Sure, they're different games in terms of their approach, but even so. Saints Row IV has got its hooks into me, whereas I just didn't like the characters of GTA V that much, and some of its missions felt a little mundane and dull. Plus SR IV is packed full of things I didn't expect. Yes, its reputation preceded it somewhat, but even so, the game is choc-full of surprises.
But before I go too far, let me give you a quick overview of the premise. The player takes the role of the President of the United States. Not a run-of-the-mill President, fortunately, but a former gang boss, wise-cracking kick ass who leads from the front, toting weapons and using his or her fighting skills and super-powers to right wrongs and bring justice to the world – mostly down the barrel of the gun.
If this sounds silly, then yes it is. And it gets even crazier when you consider the plot, which draws its inspiration from The Matrix, Independence Day, and other such alien invasion sci-fi classics, and puts you on a mission to save the world. The long and the short of it involves traveling around the game's open world environment completing quests, finding items and engaging in a variety of creative activities (most of which use the game's diverse mechanics – like super-jumping, floating and running at ridiculous speeds – to great effect). Much of that might sound like typical open-world stuff, and it largely is. But it's played against a backdrop of Fun, with a capital "f".
The game knows it's ludicrous, and celebrates it. Whether it's with knowing self-referential statements, breaking the 5th wall or simply making fun of itself, SR IV is filled with classic moments of dialog, and hilarious situations. Early on in the game, you get thrown into a "nice" prison, which is basically an idyllic version of a small 50's town, complete with sitcom canned laughter track. As you mosey – literally – around the place, you have to figure out how to escape, which involves a rocket launcher and a heaping of highly satisfying wanton destruction. It's absolutely ridiculous, but it's so much fun. And that's pretty much the game in a nutshell. It goes places where games don't normally go. It's a true comedy. It makes you laugh, and indeed cackle with glee. Like when your completely nude hero (or heroine, depending on your sexual bent) ends up in a shoot-out with a bunch of aliens. Funny, weird, unexpected. That's what this game is all about.
What I like about SR IV's structure is that it lets you dip in and out of the storyline as and when you want. Feel like bouncing around the city for an hour or two collecting stuff? You can go ahead and do that without feeling like you should be doing something else. The story is there, but really, Saints Row IV is a true sandbox game with a myriad things to do. Everything seems to be treated equally. There's no pesky people telling you to go do things, or to get on with something else. In Saints Row IV, it’s your playground, and you play it your way.
Basically, quests, side quests and challenges all feel integrated into the game in a way that's natural. Even the tutorials are extremely well executed, giving you the opportunity to use whatever new gameplay mechanic you've just learned in a safe environment before you unleash it on the game proper.
The game's only weakness - and it's not much of one - is its visuals. They're fine, but they do feel rather last generation, which is understandable considering the game is basically an upscaled version of a last gen game. Some textures lack fine detail and finesse, and human models sometimes have that weird overly white teeth effect where you get odd flashes when they talk. It's not terrible, and ultimately it doesn't really detract too much from the game – but nevertheless, don't buy SR IV expecting super-spiffy HD Remastered graphics on a par with the recently madeover GTA V.
Also be prepared to run into occasional glitches, such as pedestrians getting hung up on stuff, or cars doing odd things. However, there are also deliberate glitches in the game, such as parts of models disappearing, or wall textures rearranging themselves. The funny thing is that it all ends up working together to create the right illusion of a simulated world that's not quite functioning correctly. Like when you crash into the back of another car and you either drive right over it, or knock it flying down the road. In a way, it's a stroke of genius: turning any glitch in the game into something potentially funny, rather than having it sticking out like a sore thumb as it would in any other game.
Ultimately, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is a terrific game. Its weak visuals are the only downside of an otherwise bumper package of goodies. As well as the main Saints Row IV game, you also get the Enter the Dominatrix DLC, a heap of new weapons, vehicles and clothing options, 15 new homies to recruit and six new superpowers. Plus there's the Saints Row IV: Gat out of Hell expansion – a standalone item that comes part and parcel of the Saints Row IV: Re-Elected package.
Gat out of Hell continues the mad tone set in Saints Row IV, but instead of following a sci-fi, Matrix-esque theme, it's set in New Hades, an all-new city that's about half the size of SR IV's Steelport. The game's objective is to rescue your own Saints Row IV character (pulled from your SR IV save, assuming you have one) from being married off to Satan's daughter, Jezebel. That obviously means you're not controlling your presidential character from SR IV, but instead you can choose between Kinzie Kensington and Johnny Gat.
The game follows a similar design structure to SR IV in that all missions and activities feel very open, and the path through the game can meander as much as you'd like it to. There are new superpowers, and this time out you're also able to fly – a tricky mechanic that takes a little time to learn before you can soar gracefully above the smoldering city. SR IV's XP system has also been swapped out for "Satan's Wrath," a meter that gets filled up as you piss off Old Nick by completing challenges and quests. The more you fill it, the more the story is opened up, and the more of Satan's attention you command.
While it does feature much of the hallmark humor and general zany repartee of SR IV, Gat Out of Hell isn't quite as consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Instead it relies more on amusing details and clever, humorous touches that are more grin-inducing than laughter-provoking. That's not to say it doesn't have its funny moments – it's just that it doesn't constantly hit you with a barrage of bonkers jokes like SR IV does.
While many of its activities boil down to being similar to SR IV, New Hades is definitely a very different place and the game has a different, darker and more sinister feel. Given a choice, I think SR IV is the better game – it's more tightly designed and written – but Gat Out of Hell is still a lot of fun in its own right.
To be clear, I'm reviewing both games as a package – which is available for $49.99. Should you want to buy either game as a standalone item, you can do just that. Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is the cheaper option at a pretty fair $19.99, whereas Saints Row IV: Re-Elected is a slightly more expensive, but still very reasonable $29.99.
If you already have Saints Row IV, I don't think it's worth upgrading to the current generation version unless you're mad keen on getting your hands on its DLC gear and Enter the Dominatrix add-on. But Saints Row: Gat out of Hell definitely deserves a purchase. It's a fair bit smaller than SR IV, but even so, it's still packed with plenty of things to do, and features some great pop culture moments. Plus there's even more death and destruction this time around, and who doesn't want more of that?
Feels a little more last-gen with a minor buff than current generation. Decent, but not outstanding.
A terrific musical score and top-notch voice acting make this an absolute joy to listen to.
Given its complexity, the developer has done a good job of making it easy to navigate around the game.
With a pair of meaty stories to get through, plus a myriad side quests and challenges, both these games offer plenty to keep you busy.
A ludicrous, crude, outrageous, laugh-out-loud barrage of jokes, bullets, madness and mayhem. The visuals are occasionally weak, but as a package, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected and Gat Out of Hell showcase just how fun an open world game can be.