Interviews

Interviews
From 3rd Street to Musical Hell - The Journey of Saints Row

Greg Tito | 29 Aug 2014 17:45
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gat flying in saints row gat out of hell

I'll admit that I haven't played the first Saints Row game. When it came out in 2006, I considered it just as another of the rash of clones the popularity of Grand Theft Auto spawned. Over the last eight years though, Saints Row has evolved into one of the most culturally aware series in the industry. It routinely references both real-world events and popular culture for a strong comedic effect, but it is simultaneously fun even if you are unfamiliar with the source material. The opening of Saints Row IV, for example, is a perfect send-up of 1990s action films, but you don't have to be a fan of Armageddon or The Matrix to enjoy it. With the announcement of a new standalone expansion called Gat Out of Hell, in which the player contends with Satan in the city of Hell, it seems lead writer Steve Jaros is confident he can take Saints Row to any setting and any style.

"Basically the theme we're doing [with Gat Out of Hell] is basically a play on a Disney fairytale. Imagine the beginning of classic Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. It opens up with a story book. It opens up [and you hear] 'Once upon a time in a faraway land' [and you see] illuminated text," Jaros tried to explain.

He starts to excitedly list off parts of the story:

"Jane Austen is our narrator."

"It starts off at a birthday party where things go wrong."

"Johnny Gat has a talking gun."

"The Devil's daughter looks more like a Disney princess who's trapped in a tower and she wants to escape and see the world and be free from her tyrannical father."

"Or we have a five minute long musical number that is an entire song and dance musical that happens in the middle. It's like a random gag, a cute little thing."

Wait, what? Hold on. I have no idea what's going on, but I know that I'm smiling as I'm hearing all of these crazy ideas. At this point in the interview, Jaros mocks his own enthusiasm. "'What the fuck am I talking to this guy about? What's happening?'" he asks imitating the voices in my head.

It appears that Gat Out of Hell is a Disney animated film in Hell, complete with a talking gun as a sidekick for Johnny Gat and a full musical number introducing the characters of Satan and his daughter. Even forgetting the Disney stylization, the subject matter of traveling to the underworld is similar to the myth of Orpheus as well as Dante's Inferno. It all seems like the product of clever liberal arts college graduates. What does this have to do with the 3rd Street Saints gang that's in the freaking title of the series?

"How does the tone evolve from Saints Row to where you're fighting for the boss's soul inside of hell in an Orphean fairytale? That is a bit of a change," he admits. But there's portions of the first game that people don't often remember. "Saints Row 1 had a zombie as a followable homie and one of your homies was a guy in a chicken outfit with a baseball bat. There were still moments of levity and oddity."

Taking cues from hip-hop and music videos, the first game was meant to be taken as an intentional exaggeration. "[It was] always kind of larger than life, it was always supposed to not be real [and] supposed to be this heightened thing but the question was always how much could we get away with," Jaros said. "In the case of Saints Row, the response when that game came out was that people didn't know that we were in on the joke. People were kind of confused by it, I think. The game did well, but tonally it's a mixed bag. Again, no one remembers the zombie, everyone remembers the pimps. That was less successful than we had hoped."

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