Gat out of Hell is a standalone expansion for Saints Row IV that takes some familiar characters and sends them to New Hades, a small and action-packed sandbox world governed by the Devil himself. In this new adventure two characters - Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington - are transported into the afterlife and must battle demons to save the soul of the Boss after a seance goes horribly wrong and he's whisked off through a portal. Still with us? Good.
While Saints Row IV was essentially a huge expansion for Saints Row: The Third, Gat out of Hell is a more conservative offering in terms of scope, although the actual open-world around you is more thoroughly altered thanks the new colour scheme, with flowing lava, rocky outcrops, and fire-drenched modifications made wherever possible.
While it looks good thanks to great art design, in terms of structure, there's nothing particularly dynamic about this standalone expansion. Story missions have been replaced by cutscenes, which move the story along but don't really invest you in the narrative in the same way as some of the missions did in SRIV. The setup is actually very simple; you head off to the four corners of Hell (actually, it's five districts) and help characters who don't like Satan gain control over their respective areas.
Wrestling control from Hell's minions is designed to the get the attention of Satan himself, with the aim ultimately being to irritate him so much that he grants Johnny Gat an audience whereby he can kill him and save his friend. Influence over a particular area is achieved by completing various tasks, many of which players will remember as being mere activities and distractions from previous games. Here they're turned into the main event. For the most part these are reworked variants of previous offerings, but there are a couple of modes that feel fresh (Salvation, where players must capture falling souls, being one).
The story is suitably batshit. At one point the whole thing descends into musical theatre, and there's plenty of decent jokes that'll have you chuckling along with the action. The only major problem is the story feels a little rushed, and we're not given enough of a build up to really enjoy it as it unfolds. It just kind of... happens.
Technically it's more of the same, and while it felt less choppy than the old-gen games, this isn't really a title that screams bleeding edge. The PC version of Saints Row IV is a better comparison to make than the Xbox 360 and PS3 builds. We tested Gat out of Hell on PlayStation 4, and while the framerate felt steady throughout, we were never blown away by the visual fidelity. Put it this way; this isn't Saints Row V, and we'll likely have to wait for that to land before we see any significant technical advancements.
Having said all that, Saints Row has never been about pushing the boat out when it comes to visual flair, instead it's a series that has been built on riotous comedy and ridiculous set pieces. In this respect Gat out of Hell continues the trend, even if it's not quite as hilarious as its predecessor. The usual funny, foul-mouthed dialogue is present, and the guns are as ridiculous as you would expect - among our favourites were the arm chair chain guns and the projectile firing Shakespearean skull (alas poor Yorick).
There's plenty of special abilities to unlock and upgrade, and it's not long before you've gained access to a good chunk of them. They do a great job of making you feel super-powered, and along with a growing repertoire of devastating abilities, Johnny and Kinzie can also both fly around with huge angelic wings. If anything, progression is too quick, and it's not long before you're overpowered enough to deal with pretty much anything the game throws at you (our advice, if you want to make the most of this expansion, is to stick it on hard straight away).
The relative ease of progression means that you can clock through the bulk of the game in six or seven hours (more if you want to complete all of the activities and bag all the collectibles). There's not a whole lot to the story, which is a pity because what's there feels fresh and is largely enjoyable. In terms of structure it's very limited, and apart from a couple of interesting missions, it lacks the dynamic edge found in the story-driven levels of its predecessor; ultimately it's just a rehash of old activities and distractions woven into the fabric of a new sandbox.
Still, it's mostly fun and a nice way to burn through a couple of afternoons. If you're getting this as part of Saints Row IV: Re-elected then it's far easier to recommend as an expansion, but bought as a standalone for £14.99, it's not as simple to endorse. Judging it on its own merits alone, this is an enjoyable but limited open-world adventure. If you're looking for something silly by all means take a look, just don't expect a masterpiece, and don't expect it to engage you for very long.