Many games of the modern era are crafted with an attentive combination of beautiful motion-capture cutscenes, orchestrally composed soundtracks, award-winning stories, and complexly written characters. Agents of Mayhem, Volition’s new third-person action game set in the Saints Row universe, Agents of Mayhem, is not one of them.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I actually give kudos to developers who stay true to their roots and aim for a fun experience first, before drowning out the substance with style. The oly issue here is that Agents of Mayhem gives me an impression that the fun factor will diminish quickly. Granted what I played in my preview was amusing, after an hour and a half, I felt I had potentially experienced all that Agents of Mayhem had to offer.
Agents of Mayhems is best described as a mongrel mix of Saints Row and Crackdown — with a dash of Overwatch — and is set in a massive open world sandbox established to be a futuristic Seoul, the capitol of South Korea. As I previously stated, Agents of Mayhem is set in Volition’s Saints Row universe, and fittingly shares the same kind of tongue-in-cheek humour and over-the-top satirical parodies of modern figures and pop culture found in the existing world.
The core story here follows the Agents of the Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds (or M.A.Y.H.E.M for short) and pits them against the cartoonishly evil League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations (L.E.G.I.O.N) in the hopes of freeing the world from their tyrannical grip. It’s basically an R-rated Action Man starring anti-heroes, which, like its spiritual predecessor, totally works on a stylistic and humorous level. Even the game’s loading screen is hilarious; it’s a screen even is a comedic take on the infamous G.I Joe public service announcements, presenting ridiculous facts and “helpful” tips between action. Not every joke is a home run, and I noted much of the game’s narrative and visual gags were a bit on-the-nose, but they were nonetheless silly, matching the overall tone of Agents of Mayhem.
My playtime started with the game’s third mission, which tasked me with taking down one of L.E.G.I.O.N.’s lieutenants of Pride and popstar boy wonder, August Gaunt. Besides being a total sardonic commentary on icons like Justin Bieber, Gaunt is also a technological savant who plans to use his gift for evil.
Before embarking from the Adaptive Roaming Kommand (A.R.K.), the Agents’ flying home base, I was prompted to select three agents among the roster’s 12. Like Overwatch, this roster is varied on both a visual and gameplay level, offering up archetypal roles most gamers will be familiar with. It’s a diverse one, including a Mr. Freeze-styled Russian giant named Yeti, whose fond of freezing then shattering people; Hollywood, an ex-porn star turned action hero who loves the spotlight; Daisy, a mini-gun-wielding roller derby champion who downright adores carnage and destruction; and Red Card, a German Football hooligan with a gun. There’s something here for everyone, and I myself gravitated towards the assassin-like characters such as Oni, a Yakuza hitman with a code of honour and a silenced pistol.
As seen in other styled games of this genre, Agents of Mayhem‘s characters each have access to set passives, a special ability that can be activated, a tech ability, and, of course, an ultimate known as a Mayhem ability. These varied Mayhem skills are the real showstoppers when it comes to combat and often led to some of the higher points in Agents of Mayhem‘s gameplay. Oni’s Mayhem ability, for example, creates a fear aura around him. This causes all enemies caught within his vicinity to flee in terror, and lets Oni headshot them one by one with little resistance. It’s not a particularly innovative model of gameplay mechanics, but its effective and fun.
After finally selecting my three anti-heroes, I dove straight into Seoul and begun the hunt for August Gaunt. Despite being an open sandbox, Agents of Mayhem‘s Seoul lacked any discernible landmarks, characteristics, or overall style — something I immediately noticed. It was full of dreadful looking cars and vacant streets. For all I knew, this could be any semi-futuristic city of the future; there was nothing significant about it.
Regardless, I continued my mission, following the directions on the HUD to my location: an underground carpark that would eventually allow me to track Gaunt’s cologne (fittingly called “Douche”) to a cheesy underground rave that evidently turned into an ambush by hundreds of his devoted — and brainwashed — fans.
This section of the game really let me test the limitations of Agents of Mayhem‘s combat, which, as you could predict, is excessively explosive. There’s a surprising amount of content for the operatives to acquire, and upon completion of these missions, you’ll often gain access to loot chests that will unlock blueprints for tech, cash, and vehicles — each of which have individual strengths and weaknesses and can be summoned in the open world at any time — all at your Agent’s fingertips.
Though it’s a third person shooter, Agents of Mayhem doesn’t feature traditional cover mechanics. Instead, the use of movement is what will keep you alive. Fortunately, each Agent has the ability to triple jump and dash in multiple directions. This movement really incentivizes creativity and a constant flow of motion that really suites the game’s already chaotic nature, and I enjoyed combining a dash with a close-range special attack to destroy some of L.E.G.I.O.N.’s tougher characters.
Once my mission was complete, I was free to roam, traverse, and drive around Seoul, checking out one of the game’s character-exclusive story missions and a witnessing random L.E.G.I.O.N. attack that can occur throughout the city.
These character-exclusive missions offer up a deeper look into the backstory of each of Mayhem‘s operatives and will vary in tasks. Some will contain mini bosses, others time trials, and so on. The one I completed was for my Japanese Assassin Oni, who discovers his daughter has been kidnapped.
After I completed this, I went and tackled a L.E.G.I.O.N. event. Though these happenings diverge in type, I only managed to complete one, which had me take on a massive monstrosity known as Legion Golem as it was destroying a section of the city.
Though Agents of Mayhem seemingly appears to be shallow in some aspects, it does seem to have a surprising depth in its skills and level-up system, and there are multiple ways to progress each character in Agents of Mayhem. Besides the stock standard skill point system that offers points upon leveling, the game gives each Agent access to L.E.G.I.O.N. tech and Gremlin Gadgets via Gremlin, the head of Research and Development on A.R.K. Using materials salvaged by the Agents in missions, Gremlin is able to craft the enemies’ technology into deadly weapons for the Agents to use.
I wasn’t able to put each and every one of these pieces of technology to the test, but I can tell you what I used was as fun as it was ludicrous. The initial piece of L.E.G.I.O.N.- inspired Gremlin tech I unleashed was a giant electromagnetic ball that made little work of bad guys, crushing and electrocuting them as if they were conductive bowling pins. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough, the next tech I used spawned small animatronic bunnies that hopped around to seek out threats, before honing in and blowing them to smithereens.
On top of these elements, Agents can also be leveled-up via upgrade cores. These cores, which are crafted upon the collection of 10 shards, allow you to upgrade specific Agents with unique passives that cater towards your particular playstyle.
When you’ve had your fun creating havoc on the streets of Seoul, you can still complete tasks and take down L.E.G.I.O.N. from the comfort of the A.R.K via the global conflict world map, which allows you to assign agents to locations all across the world. Once you’ve assigned an Agent, a timer is set. The amount of time is dependent upon each task’s difficulty, and during that time, the sent operative cannot be played. Some characters have unique bonuses to their native areas like Rama, who completes missions twice as fast if she is sent to her mother country of India.
Once enough missions are completed in each area, a dungeon-like location known as a Legion Lair is unlocked. These linear raid-type instances offer up the sweet reward of loot when completed, but promise to be a challenge compared to the events in the open world.
As fun as mowing down dozens of enemies was during my playtime it did begin to lean towards tiresome side of things, but my playtime ended just before things got repetitive. I can’t guarantee this will be the case for the full game, which I was told has a 20-hour playthrough for its critical path.
Beyond the slightly exhaustive nature of the game, Agents of Mayhem isn’t the best-looking title in recent memory. It has a particular visual aesthetic I can appreciate, but its sterile world seems to be a bit of a hindrance. I also noticed a handful of visual bugs, but the version I played was not final, so hopefully those will be ironed out come launch.
Agents of Mayhem doesn’t seem to be a head turner, but then again. it doesn’t need to be. It simply needs to recapture the outlandish entertainment as the world its set in. Let’s hope it delivers come full release on August 18 for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
This preview session was held at Five Star Games in Pyrmont, NSW. Thanks, Five Star!