Looking Back: The road to Saints Row: Gat out of Hell
How did we wind up in Hell?
Remember when Saints Row was merely about color-coded street gangs defending their turf? Since the game’s debut in 2006, we’ve seen our beloved Saints go from the streets of Stilwater -- a fictional city in Michigan -- to Steelport, on to the White only to be interrupted by an alien invasion that sent us into a bizarro simulation. And now we’re in Hell. It’s pretty amazing how far the Saints have come since making a splash in the gaming industry in 2006. But how did we get here? Continuing “Hell Week,” we’re taking a look at how Volition has transformed Saints Row from a mere Grand Theft Auto clone to the beast that it is today.
2006: Saints Row or GTA?
Developed by Volition, Saints Row released on August 29, 2006. The game drew comparisons to the already established Grand Theft Auto series thanks, in part, to its open world approach and urban mayhem gameplay. It may not have been the most original idea, but Saints Row was lauded by critics for how it actually improved upon the GTA formula.
The game saw players create a character through a system that allowed customization of his ethnicity, fitness, face, and hairstyle. After completing some introductory missions, the game opened up, offering three linear story arcs that could be progressed through simultaneously or one-by-one. Each arc saw the player deal with a rival gang -- the Vice Kings, the Los Carnales, and the Westside Rollerz. When all three gangs were put out of business, things took a bit of a turn, ending in the massive cliffhanger with your character in a coma.
2008: Saints Row 2 and Hyperrealism
Following the success of Saints Row, Volition began work on a sequel. This time around though, the developers opted for hyperrealism to set the game apart from the Grand Theft Auto series. It was a move that would pave the way for the Saints Row games we’ve seen today.
Saints Row 2 picks up where the first game left off, with your character at the infirmary of Stilwater’s high security prison. After awakening from the coma caused by the boat explosion in the first game, your character eventually escapes to mainland Stilwater where he/she plans to reclaim the city and restore the Saints gang to its former glory. Volition once again opted for an open world approach in an expanded version of Stilwater that consists of forty-five neighborhoods divided into twenty districts. The sheer size of the city was another example of how Volition continued to expand the Saints Row series into what it has become today. But nothing was more evident of that than the side activities coupled with the crazy commercials for the game starring Gary Busey. The wildest of those side activities included the Septic Avenger, where the player must spew sewage across the city to drop property values.
Saints Row 2 also introduced the Respect scoring system that was used to unlock missions and progress through the storyline. Respect would go on to be featured and expanded upon in later Saints Row games.
2011: Saints Row: The Third and the purple dildo
I think 2011’s release of Saints Row: The Third is when the franchise really set itself apart from Grand Theft Auto as a series. Volition completely abandoned all sense of realism with Saints Row: The Third, and instead looked to create a game that would just show players a good time. Funny enough, Rockstar is kind of doing the same thing now with Grand Theft Auto, though it’s not quite as over-the-top as Saints Row has become. Saints Row: The Third was filled with shockingly outrageous, inappropriate, and over-the-top sequences which, as I wrote in my review, came together in a surprisingly awesome way. The result was a very memorable experience. Then again, how could anyone forget the giant purple dildo bat?
Saints Row: The Third still offered players an open-world environment, but this time moved us to the city of Steelport which, coincidentally, was also heavily influenced by three gangs -- Morning Stars, the Deckers, and the Luchadores -- all under the control of the Syndicate.
Given the light-hearted, over-the-top nature of Saints Row: The Third, the game was actually quite entertaining and featured an enthralling plot that kept me hooked. To me, this is where Volition really found its niche in the open world action-adventure genre.
2013: Saints Row IV and… an alien invasion?
Continuing this trend of over-the-top moments, Saints Row IV abandoned all sense of realism. But it all sort of worked in a plot that revolves around an alien invasion, resulting in the player -- and the rest of the Saints -- being teleported into a simulation of Steelport. As ridiculous as an alien invasion plotline may sound, it actually made sense for the type of gameplay Volition sought out to create in Saints Row IV.
By transporting players into this computer simulation, Volition wasn’t at all shackled by realism. This meant the introduction of “powers,” or superhuman abilities that allow the player to leap up the side of buildings, glide through the air, and fire several different types of paranormal projectiles. From exploration to combat, the addition of Abilities completely reshaped the gameplay of Saints Row.
2015: Gat out of Hell
So that brings us to today, January 20, 2015, the release of Saints Row: Gat out of Hell. Looking to bring the Saints Row experience to current-gen systems (Xbox One and PS4), Volition wanted to offer more than a simple port (although we also got that in Saints Row IV: Re-elected). That’s where Gat out of Hell comes in -- an expansion that sees your character, the Saints’ boss, sucked into the pits of Hell by Satan who intends to have you marry his daughter, Jezebel. With your character unplayable, you control Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington in this open world sandbox.
As an expansion, Gat out of Hell doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel, but rather improve upon it through new features like flight. Unlike the game progression in previous Saints Row titles, Gat out of Hell offers a truly open world experience which sees you advance the story by completing side activities to fill a “Satan’s Wrath” meter. It’s a unique twist on the whole Respect system.
Conclusion: The Future?
In all likelihood, we’re getting a Saints Row V. But with each Saints Row game getting more and more over-the-top, where can Volition take it?