Christmas is almost upon us, and the video game industry hasn’t forgotten that fact. This means that, like its peers in the film, television, advertising, food and retail industries, its collective members have attempted to show their holiday spirit while aiming for festive profits. In the past, this has been accomplished through Santa costumes for various games, plus the odd holiday-themed add-on, while this year’s most prominent tie-in comes to us via How the Saints Save Christmas, a campaign expansion for Saints Row IV. The noted pack is full of Christmas hilarity, and is said to be the game’s final, story-based release, but it must be noted that it unfortunately continues its series’ trend of releasing short and (arguably) over-priced content packs.
In How the Saints Save Christmas, players’ uniquely created President of the United States avatar is tasked with saving Christmas. That’s the most concise summary that I can think of, but there’s a bit more to it than that. You see, Old Saint Nick has been trapped inside of Zinyak’s digitized Steelport simulation, which has sucked the jolly straight out of his bones and rendered him skinny. This has allowed a grotesquely evil variation of the generous sleigh driver to take form, create a war within the North Pole and ruin Christmas, under the assumed name of Claws.
To save Steelport from its cheer, colour and happiness-free existence under the wrath of Claws and his pal Zinyak, the Saints must ring bells, lick candy cane blockades, shoot gingerbread men and deliver both presents and coal via Santa’s reindeer-less sleigh. By completing these tasks, they not only get to explore the familiar city and its digital inhabitants, but also the North Pole itself, wherein traitorous elves have turned to the side of evil.
Being that How the Saints Save Christmas is simply an expansion that merely furthers the mechanics of an already very solid third-person sandbox game, there’s not much to say about the gameplay that hasn’t been said before. You’ll find a lot of superpower-based running, jumping and combat, as well as a plethora of gunplay, which utilizes weapons both new and old. Then, there’s the sleigh driving, which controls like the core game’s hover bikes, presenting one mode that is used for balls to the wall flight, as well as another that slows things down and allows for cautious elevation. It can be tough to control at times because of its weight differential, but you get used to it.
The real charm of this expansion comes via its smart writing and seasonal one-liners, but that’s usually the case with this series. Its gameplay has never been flawless, nor really anywhere close, but its humour, charm and outlandishness have all made up for that. Still, that’s not to say that the gameplay in most of the series’ titles is bad. In fact, I don’t mean to insinuate that at all, because I truly loved Saints Row: The Third and really enjoyed Saints Row IV, while also being a fan of the first game. Saints Row II, on the other hand, felt like a chore to play through because of how buggy, uninspired and uninteresting it was.
Although the Saints’ world is full of raunchy humour, sexual imagery, over-the-top violence and the like, its latest one hour-long campaign still manages to be warm and fuzzy at times, evoking the true meaning of the Christmas spirit. That is, as much as a three mission-long experience that features a time travelling, cybernetic version of Shaundi, a gun-toting Santa homie and murder can be. Heck, even Mrs. Claus removes her apron and gets in on the action.
There are also the visuals, which juxtapose warm and colourful environments like the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop, with blood, bullets and sandbox-driven carnage. It’s an interesting look that is both visceral and memorable, though it’s not without its glitches. I did unfortunately notice a surprising amount of slowdown, and also some resolution issues. Additionally, there was one major glitch that saw my character float over the ground as opposed to simply walking on it. However, the good news is that that one anomaly did end up fixing itself after a couple of minutes, and then never appeared again.
Now, earlier in this review I mentioned that Volition, the studio behind this franchise, has regularly released short and somewhat over-priced story DLC. The truth is that, as much as I like the Saints and enjoy playing through their games — for the most part — I can’t help but be disappointed by the length of their expansions. Saints Row: The Third had three very brief add-ons, while Saints Row IV has now received two of very similar length, which is admittedly disappointing. However, How the Saints Save Christmas gets some leeway from me, because of how comedic and charming it truly is, in addition to its more budget-friendly ($7) price tag. It may only be three missions long, but it’s something that I could see myself returning to. Plus, it also introduces a varied assortment of new homies, vehicle types and weaponry into the game, not to mention two half-decent activity types.
If you’re a seasoned veteran of the Saints Row franchise, and happen to love both Saints Row IV and Christmas itself, then How the Saints Save Christmas should definitely appeal to you. However, it won’t be for everyone, so I’ll recommend it with an asterisk while wishing you all a happy holiday season.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the DLC, which we were provided.