Deep Silver and Volition’s return to the Saints Row universe is an odd one. Agents of Mayhem is a game I wouldn’t entirely call awful, but couldn’t truthfully say was great either. It’s a mixed bag of goofy fun and cool characters that’s weighed down by a handful of poor design choices and technical faults that drown out what the game manages to do right.
As aforementioned, Agents of Mayhem is set in the pre-existing Saints Row universe and takes place following one of Saints Row: Gat out of Hell’s endings. This doesn’t hold any real significant bearing on the main plot of the game, but it does most certainly influence Agents of Mayhem‘s humour and overall vibe. Instead of the gang warfare and politics of Saints Row, however, Agents of Mayhem (an acronym for Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds), shines a humorous spot light on ’80s action cartoons like G.I Joe and pokes fun at the super-agent/hero genre that seemingly consumes current pop culture. Often on the receiving end of these jokes is Legion, an evil league of villains who checks all the boxes for your stereotypical cartoon bad guys, giant lasers and all.
Agents of Mayhem is definitely not subtle in its delivery of this humour, bombarding you with constant profanity-laced narration that will either have you smirking or cringing for a good majority of the games 15 or so hour campaign. Some of the more tongue-in-cheek comments managed to generate a small chuckle out of me, especially from the game’s more comedy-focused character, Hollywood, and the game’s parodies on G.I Joe’s infamous public service announcements that play in the games loading screens. Unfortunately, though, I found most of its jokes to be juvenile and a bit too on-the-nose. If you like obscenities and jokes about Uranus, you’ll find Agents of Mayhem tapping your funny bone pretty damn often.
At the core of Agents of Mayhem are, you guessed it, its Agents, who really are the standout aspect of the game, as are uniquely designed in personality, visuals, and play style. It’s not the largest roster for a game of its genre, but there’s a character here for everyone. I myself fell in love with Oni, an ex-Yakuza hitman who uses fear and intimidation to cause mass panic during combat, but there’s a lot more diversity here. Maybe you’ll like Red Card, a German soccer hooligan who displays team spirit via killing, or perhaps you’ll gravitate towards Daisy, a roller derby queen who carries around a mini gun. Not for you? Maybe give the giant Russian Yeti a go; he freezes then satisfying smashes all Legion goons in his path. Each character also has a side mission completely dedicated to them, which expands on their backstories and adds to their individual motives for joining the Agency. This fleshed-out and varied roster is really the heart of the game, and almost make it feel like a single-player Overwatch at times.
Some characters fit your more archetypal tanks, while others sit in the offense column, but I found any real combination worked even on the games harder difficulties. Players can swap between any three of the roster’s 12 characters at any time with a flick of the left or right on the directional pad, resulting in some unexpectedly enjoyable combinations. Shifting between characters isn’t just fun, but also holds a deeper more strategic element, as some characters and abilities directly enhance others. For example, Fortune, a duel pistol-wielding sky pirate, deals extra damage to stunned targets, so quick swaps between her and a character like Yeti are both beneficial and entertaining. The more I played, the more accustomed I became to combining Agents for devastating attacks; later, I found myself playing around with multiple squad arrangements to find my perfect play style.
However, there’s a catch. It’s unfortunate that these characters and enjoyable gameplay are wasted on many of Agents of Mayhem‘s monotonous missions, which are mostly comprised of uninspired, “follow this giant arrow,” “drive here,” “hack this,” “defend from waves of a half a dozen enemy types” demands. What makes these tasks even more tiresome is that they’ll occasionally take place in the same cookie-cutter underground Legion base that’s used repeatedly throughout the game. You’ll even have to slog through these recurrent environments to gain access to additional Agents, as they’re hidden behind side-quests that need to be completed in order to be unlocked.
Additionally, Agents of Mayhem does have a Global Conflict mode that will allow you to send out agents on timed missions to gather intel, items, and locations of hidden Legion bases that you can later raid almost like in a dungeon like fashion. These locations are randomly generated but still felt generic to the point that I felt like I was completing the same tasks over and over again.
If you’ve played a game with a similar mode you’ll find familiar ground here, and its completion isn’t needed to finish the bulk of the game, but it’s there if you want to find additional things to do. This feature, along with a mini game, a shop, and place to swap your characters skins can all be found on the ARK, the Agents’ main base of operation when their boots aren’t on the ground. Its presence isn’t totally needed, as many of its features are available in menus or throughout Seoul, but it’s there anyway.
In contrast to its interesting characters, and in line with most of its mission types, is Agents of Mayhem‘s primary location: Seoul, South Korea. Rather than being the technological wonder of this fantasy world, Seoul is a hub of lifeless moment-to-moment gameplay that hinders the games enjoyability greatly. A setting like Seoul in theory sounds really fresh, but unfortunately, Agents of Mayhem‘s depiction of the city is lacking. Its streets, though scarcely filled with cars and NPCs, feels bland — and apart from Legion’s occasional doomsday machines, the city lacks interesting events to tackle and shows no real character or individuality that separates Agents of Mayhem‘s open world from other games.
Traversing the city is also an issue, as the game’s driving mechanics feel as though the developers have regressed since games like Saints Row. Unless going top speed on a straight, cars feel stiff, like they’re always stuck in the mud. And though the game allows you to unlock better handling vehicles later on, I never looked forward to tearing it around the streets of Seoul. Fortunately, you won’t always have to use a vehicle, as Agents each have the ability to triple jump and dash mid-air, meaning you can run from roof top to rooftop with relative ease.
It’s here many will compare Agents of Mayhem‘s open world gameplay to titles like Crackdown, but don’t expect to jump whole blocks of streets here. Agents of Mayhem does give the player incentive to explore the rooftops and alleys of the city for collectibles like vehicle blueprints, upgrade cores, and crystal shards, but you’ll find its hardly enough to keep you occupied when outside main missions.
If you are all about collecting everything and maxing out every character, you’re going to find a surprising amount to do here with Agents of Mayhem. Not only does each character have an experience bar that, once leveled, gives them the traditional skill point to upgrade certain statistics like reload speed, critical damage, and more, but characters can also unlock ability modifiers, crafting, gadgets, and gremlin and legion tech. These give you additional abilities like a giant bowling ball of death or the power to turn any corpse you make into a ticking time bomb. It’s all deceptively deep, and pushed on you early in the game, making it slightly overwhelming. However, it is a welcome layer of mechanics to the title’s general gameplay.
Visually, Agents of Mayhem isn’t pushing any boundaries on current consoles and PCs, but that’s fine, as its distinct comic book like aesthetics works perfectly in tandem with its ’80s cartoon influences. Even some of the game’s story is told via well-animated shorts that, despite their briefness, still manage to be charming and capture the playfulness and inspirations that lie at the heart of Agents of Mayhem.
Agents of Mayhem also has its fair share of technical issues and bugs that I encountered far too often for a triple-A title. Frame rates often dipped when too much was happening on screen; Agents would freeze, suspended in mid-air when I triple jumped to certain ledges; and cars sometimes phased through me entirely as if possessed by ghosts. The most frustrating was a bug I encountered early in the game, which failed to display a mission marker for me, resulting in me reloading my game a half a dozen times before it eventually showed me my mission objective. I also managed to find various locations in boss fights where I could remain motionless, avoiding all damage from my opponent whilst simply standing still and shooting them in the end.
Agents of Mayhem has its moments of sheer enjoyment and silliness that I really enjoyed — it’s just a shame that I was consistently snapped out of these moments by a boring open world, obnoxiously unfunny dialogue, and unpolished technicalities that resulted in many issues. The game does achieve something genuinely fun here when it works with its R-Rated action man theme, fun characters, and plethora of upgrades, but unfortunately, not enough works here to salvage the overall experience.