Playing Saint’s Row: Gat Out of Hell, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the game was a little undercooked or somehow unfinished. Then I realized why it seemed that way: Compared to similar games, it is.
In most open-world games, including the previous Saint’s Row titles, you’re set free in an expansive environment and left to explore it at will. Despite all that apparent freedom, the games are always structured around a series of main missions that act as the spine of the game. Completing these missions moves the story along and allows for various kinds of progression.
Gat Out of Hell discards the whole idea of primary missions. Instead, pretty much the whole game is made up of side quests you can tackle in just about any order you want. These quests seem arbitrary and usually have nothing to do with one another. In another game, this might be a bad thing.
You play as one of two protagonists (you can switch anytime) who have traveled to Hell on a mission to save their boss and “shoot Satan in the face.” To do so, you complete quests for a handful of influential damned souls, including William Shakespeare and Blackbeard the pirate. The idea is to cause such a cumulative disturbance that Satan is forced to come out of hiding to deal with you himself.
More than nearly any open-world game, Gat Out of Hell offers players a sandbox, a playground, an open environment filled with fun stuff to do. You can collect items, fight demons, play crazy mini-games and simply explore the lava-infused environment.
In other words, you’re encouraged to turn off your brain and enjoy the crazy freedom this game gives you.
The key to this freedom is flight. In just about every open-world game, you experience the world from the ground, and the quickest way between point A and point B, besides teleporting via fast-travel, is to hop in a car and drive. In all of Gat Out of Hell, you might climb behind the wheel of a car twice. The rest of the the time, it’s faster and much more fun to fly to your destination.
After spending just a few minutes in the game, your character is granted a pair of huge angelic wings that lets you soar through the sulfur-infused air. Its an incredible feat for any game to make the basic act of moving enjoyable. The list of games that do is short: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Mirror’s Edge, Super Mario Bros., and Crackdown are a few. Now we can add Gat Out of Hell to the list.
What makes flying so great is that some skill is involved. If you go too slow or fly too high, you’ll stall out and plummet to the ground. To increase your speed, you can press a button to flap your wings, but flaps are limited. Grabbing all of the orbs scattered throughout the underworld takes a lot of skillful flying, and it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to hone those skills.
True, the rest of the game is less remarkable, with missions that have you fend off waves of demons, secure posts from attack, and cause as much destruction as possible. But it’s all tied together with a large dose of humor — and the brilliant flight mechanic.
Gat Out of Hell hasn’t gotten great review scores, largely thanks to its unconventional structure and lack of focused story missions. But when I pick up the controller and start soaring through the city, I don’t consider that a drawback. The game is short, and I’m too busy collecting orbs and blowing up demons to care.
Does the game seem unfinished compared to other open-world games? Yeah, kind of. If you want a full video game experience, try Saint’s Row 4: Re-elected, which is available for all the same systems. But if you want to spend a few hours bathing in brainless joy, I say grab Gat Out of Hell. It’s a blast.
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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