Ever since the Saints Row reboot was announced, I’ve been living in fear of one three-word phrase, praying that it wouldn’t leave Volition’s collective mouth. Not “Saints Row NFTs,” though you absolutely know that was floated at some point during the reboot’s development, with some soulless crypto-bro scrawling “Third Street Apes?” in the corner of their iPad. No, the three little words I’ve been dreading are, simply, “Gat is back!”
Why? It’s not that I harbor a burning hatred of Johnny Gat, the hyper-violent badass who, though he went for an early bath in Saints Row: The Third, has been a regular fixture in every Saints Row game. Far from it, he’s one of my favorite characters, and thanks to a fantastic performance by Daniel Dae Kim, he comes close to stealing the show.
He’s the perfect foil for Saints Row’s boss who, for the first two games at least, is an utterly amoral sociopath. He embraces the series’s over-the-top violence instead of wagging his finger at your protagonist, and yet — against all odds — he manages to grow as the series progresses. But he’s history, and he should stay that way.
For the Saints Row reboot to succeed, it needs to stand on its own two non-Gat feet. You’re not roaming Stilwater or Steelport; Santo Ileso is a whole new playground, with new allies, new enemies, and (fingers crossed) a spot of betrayal. Sure, the characters might be strangers to you when you pick up the joypad, but if Volition has woven a sufficiently compelling story, they’ll prove suitably memorable, alive or dead.
So why am I worried at all? Because Volition’s refusal to let Agents of Mayhem stand apart from Saints Row was one of the factors that doomed it, its first post-Saints Row game, and I’d hate to see history repeat itself. Volition chose to tie the game to Gat Out of Hell by carrying on from one of that game’s “What if?” endings.
Agents of Mayhem’s base game contained two reimagined Saints Row characters, but there were 10 other original playable characters, so there was initially hope it could stand alone. Then along came Agents of Mayhem’s “Gat Is Back” trailer, announcing that the Day One Edition of the game would offer the ability to play as Johnny Gat. The trailer gave him more screen time — and apparently had more effort put into it — than any other Agents of Mayhem character trailer.
I would have raised an eyebrow had Johnny Gat been added after the game had been out a while, but announcing his return prior to Agents of Mayhem’s release came across as clumsy and desperate. It betrayed a real lack of confidence in Agents of Mayhem, as if Volition were terrified it just wouldn’t sell unless it screamed Saints Row.
It also eroded the game’s own sense of identity; Johnny Gat is such a striking character, and an established one at that, that his presence eclipsed many of Agents of Mayhem’s other NPCs, playable and non-playable alike. I had so much love for Gat’s Saints Row incarnation that he became my default go-to character.
Had he been absent from the game, I’d have spent more time playing as the many other playable characters. And poring over their profiles in the Agents of Mayhem wiki, I wish I’d given them more of a chance. Post-release, Volition went on to add “Safeword,” better known as Saints Row’s Kinzie Kenzington, adding to the impression it was retroactively trying to turn it into a Saints Row game.
Commercially, Agents of Mayhem was a disappointment, and its failure led to layoffs at Volition. Certainly, there were other things that contributed to that failure too; the futuristic city was surprisingly low on people, and a lot of the story missions were disappointingly repetitive. But Volition undermined its own game before it was out the door, and again, it’s a mistake that I sorely hope it doesn’t repeat with Saints Row.
And the good news is… so far, it hasn’t. Of course, the Saints Row reboot isn’t a completely new series, so theoretically, it’s less of a risk than Agents of Mayhem. But according to the company’s lead mission narrative designer, “There are a couple of Easter eggs in there for the very sharp eyed, but by-and-large it’s all new people with new quirks and new idiosyncrasies.”
And that’s precisely what this new Saints Row needs. The new gang dynamic alone is hugely encouraging, in what we have seen so far at least. A group of friends is sick of the rat race and decides to start its own gang. Do they need a badass gang member in there? No. Are they going to find themselves horribly out of their depth? Almost certainly.
Volition has referenced the original Saints Row, but unlike with Agents of Mayhem, it’s shown it’s willing to let the reboot speak for itself, no Johnny Gat and co. necessary. You can nab the Idols Edition, which nets you the Idols Anarchy Pack DLC and Idols Face Scarf, but there’s not so much as a sniff of Johnny, Kinzie, or any of the now “original” Saints Row crew.
Volition is looking to the future, and as much as I love every Saints Row that came before, it’s absolutely the right choice. In my mind’s eye, and after the events of the “old” Saints Row series, Johnny Gat is roaming the galaxy with the other Saints. The galaxy’s biggest badass is ray-gunning intergalactic dictators, punching Green Lanterns, and adopting lost kittens — and that’s absolutely where he should stay.