After bloating itself to the point where vampires and dinosaurs (or vampire dinosaurs) were the only logical next step, the Saints Row series has put itself into a corner. In its quest to be more and more bombastic, it holds the distinction of being the only gaming franchise in history which has left gamers jaded by bludgeoning people to death with purple dildos.
Enter Agents of Mayhem: a spin-off with tenuous connections to the SR universe. While retaining the same “bad attitude” as its older cousins, AoM borrows liberally from other sources to create a hybrid of different ideas which -while providing some fun- don’t quite gel together enough to make it an essential purchase.
The elevator pitch for Agents of Mayhem is heroes versus villains in an open-world, and it’s a USP that works to drag you past its many frustrations. Taking control of a squad of heroes that you assemble through the course of the game (either through primary or side missions), it’s your job as Mayhem to take down LEGION and the nefarious Dr. Babylon.
It’s a novel premise that is worth spending a few hours with, unlocking new heroes and getting to grips with their playstyles while trying to strike a fine balance in your squad. For the most part, the characters you pick up along the way are well-rounded and likeable, though like a lot of Agents of Mayhem as a whole, we’ve already seen them in one form or another elsewhere. They’re cliched as all hell, but it’s hard not to grow fond of these walking caricatures as they make dumb jokes and shoot all of the things.
Agents of Mayhem’s combat makes use of the diversity available in the character selection – one hero may be better-equipped for a situation than another, so bringing them into the fray is as easy as a left or right press on the D-pad. I would typically roll with Scheherazade (a ninja of sorts) to weaken the many herds of attackers the game threw at me before switching to Daisy (a foul-mouthed rollerblader with a gatling gun) to thin them even further and then eventually finishing them off with Kingpin (stereotypical gangster with an Uzi) at close range.
Each character comes with a unique set of abilities and weapons, though they do often feel pretty inconsistent in terms of their effectiveness and “coolness”. For instance, Daisy’s ability to barge past enemies while reloading her gun is a solid way of varying things up, but her Mayhem ability (basically AoM’s ultimates) is a tepid waste, simply helping her to do more damage and to shoot her gun without it overheating. It just seems like Volition ran out of ideas, which is even more evident in what the game asks you to do for 99% of its missions.
A familiar and tiresome pattern emerges quickly with Agents of Mayhem: go here, shoot these guys, shoot these other guys, hack this thing, pick up this thing; rinse and repeat for about fifteen hours. As strong as the combat is, repetition is the bane of Agents of Mayhem – take away the window dressing and different scenarios and you effectively have the same mission repeated ad nauseum. It’s even worse that the side-quests repeat a lot of the content and beats from the main campaign for no reason other than providing filler and upgrades for your squad, but when the gameplay cycle is this devoid of variation and inspiration, AoM is a slog you’ll wade through purely out of obligation.
Taking place in a rather sparse version of Seoul, Agents of Mayhem has all the hallmarks of a modern open-world: startling emptiness, endless filler, and a severe lack of character; everything is so sterile and “flat” that it’s hard to care when the bad guys start destroying something because it’s the only time the city ever really feels somewhat alive. There’s no need for an open-world if said world has about as much character and entertainment as a dentist’s waiting area. Despite a few flashes of colour here and there, Agents of Mayhem’s sandbox may as well have been a cardboard box.
To help you traverse Seoul, each hero comes equipped with a triple jump, which when combined with the ability to dash mid-air, gives AoM a Crackdown-lite feel. Anyone who’s stuck waiting for Crackdown 3 will likely find a good time-waster in AoM, because they certainly share more than one or two strands of DNA. It also owes Borderlands a doff of the cap for its RPG elements, floating damage numbers and all. Rather than items which boost characters and equipment, most of the collectibles you come across is related to the Ark: Agents of Mayhem’s version of the Helicarrier.
Essentially your base of operations, the Ark is where you can purchase upgrades and unlocks (such as more generous ability cooldowns and better boosts for your cars), launch most primary missions, and send inactive heroes on errands in other areas, Inquisition style. You can also equip new skins, get through a sea of menus and option to improve heroes’ stats, and unlock new tech. Said tech includes the ability to bring lightning from the sky and to shoot big balls at your enemies – this is a Volition game, after all.
Volition’s brand of humour is infamously hit-and-miss, but Agents of Mayhem’s is almost entirely miss – your car’s AI is just about the only tittersome character in the game. Even then, no line or quip whatsoever has stuck in my memory after I put the controller down except for some rote Uranus jokes. The humour on show isn’t offensive or offensively bad, it just sort of exists.
There’s also something missing in Agents of Mayhem that I cannot place my finger on, a piece of the puzzle that’s been lost in the shuffle. It’s the same feeling I had from 2016’s Suicide Squad; a hodge podge of different styles and ideas from its notoriously troubled production leaving it in a creative limbo. Judging by the way Agents of Mayhem presents itself, it must have had encountered similar problems – during my playthrough, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was, at one point, supposed to be a superpowered version of The Division. All the building blocks are there and clear to see, so some insight into what exactly happened behind the scenes may end up being more interesting than the game itself.
Agents of Mayhem is a solid but wholly unremarkable game which may tide over anyone who’s had a fleeting interest in any of its clear inspirations. It doesn’t do anything new or even really attempt to, but it’s still going to scratch an open-world action itch for some. Don’t expect the world of it and you might have a dozen hours of relative fun before the rot sets in.
Review copy provided
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