Developer Volition has been a studio mainly know for two franchises; Red Faction and Saints Row. While each game is very different in terms of story and its cast of characters, both games are generally about blowing stuff up, and while Agents of Mayhem is a step towards a brand new franchise for the studio, it seems that their feet are still firmly planted in the world of Saint’s Row, and it shows. While this hero based action shooter isn’t poor in any regard, it lacks fully realized ideas and concepts and comes off as more of a bare minimum effort from the studio, but it can, and often does, still entertain.
It doesn’t take long into playing Agents of Mayhem where you can see where its inspirations come from; Crackdown, Borderlands, and even Volition’s own, Saints Row. The problem with borrowing or emulating gameplay elements and mechanics from other games is unless you do them justice in yours, you become a pale imitation of the source material, and that is exactly what Agents of Mayhem is, an echo of much better games.
It’s very clear that Volition wanted to continue what they were doing with the Saints Row franchise after the series left its gang warfare and traded it in for super powered characters that could leap tall buildings and punch cars down the street. Agents of Mayhem may not go as full tilt as its predecessor, but you can easily see that this is the evolution of what started in the later Saints Row games. Hell, it even name drops Stilwater like 20 times and the Kingpin character is easily a throwback to everything the first two Saints Row games emulated.
As you start the game you will have a few agents available to create a 3 person team and while two characters are currently locked as pre-order bonuses, you have up to a total of 14 possible agents to mix and match to create your ideal trio. The Agents of Mayhem (Multinational AgencY for Hunting Evil Masterminds) are a GI JOE style unit comprised of a variety of personality packed soldiers that range anywhere from a Sports Hooligan, A Hollywood actor turned freedom fighter, a Roller Derby Queen, and many more. Each character has a wide range of abilities, combat styles, and traversal moves like double jumping or cloaking to get a drop on the enemy.
That enemy is LEGION (League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations) and is run by Morning Star, and while we don’t really ever interact with that character, we are introduced to Doctor Babylon, who is our main villain here. Babylon isn’t alone during our attempt to take him out and he is protected by a small group of other villains; an egotistical whiny pop star bent on controlling the minds of his fans, a cybernetic soldier who is in love with an AI program, a deranged weaponsmith, and a pair of crazy women who each want a different type of revenge.
Agents of Mayhem is told in episodes, with the final episode even titled as the ‘series finale’. Each episode is tailored towards a specific villain and ends in a fairly impressive final encounter with that boss, even if they do tend to show up again at various points during your city exploration. There are also bonus episodes that are centered around a specific character and usually last about 5-10 minutes each.
Where more recent open world games have been recreating North American based cities, Agents of Mayhem lets you run around in a fictional version of Seoul, South Korea, and while it’s a refreshing change of scenery, the city feels vastly copy and pasted and feels much smaller than it actually is as this is due to revisiting many of the same locations time and time again. The repetition gets so bad that the Lairs that you visit, LEGION bunkers that hide various collectibles and tech, are the same style of copy and pasted efforts that plagued Dragon Age 2 back in 2011.
Agents of Mayhem has your typical open world busy work with a variety of icons that lead to traversal races and other small combat encounters that will reward you based on your efforts. While the story missions feature some ok writing and some ‘so bad it’s sort of good’ dialogue, the creativity in the activities that fill Seoul is beyond lacking and comes off as incredibly lazy. The only activities that I even found rewarding were those that would allow me to unlock new skins for my agents or blueprints for new cars, and even then those rewards are part of a random drop and you may not even unlock anything for your trouble.
Traversing the city is reliant on which characters you have included in your team as each has their own method to jump, double jump, dash, wall climb, and several of them have no bonus jump or dash at all, instead, as I mentioned before, opting for a cloaking ability instead. While the jumping and wall climbing is fun, it can also feel extremely limiting when characters miss a ledge by mere inches and do nothing to clamber up or just hover there, mocking you.
Apart from climbing up buildings or progressing on foot, you have a small selection of vehicles at your disposal, each with their own skins to change up their look. You have pretty much the basics; sports cars, trucks, and behemoth size rigs that flatten anything in their path, they’re just a bit slower. While the cars are fun to drive and often are the best way to get around, their use in the game exposes one of the biggest problems I have with the game; distance.
I found that Agents of Mayhem really likes to make you travel the city and for the most part, it can be enjoyable and you may even find a Loot cache or Core shard for your trouble, but I found that the missions are designed solely around making that travel happen and it does this for nearly 90% of all missions in the game. When you travel to a mission icon, it will then play a cutscene and I’ll talk about those shortly, but after said cutscene, you will then have to travel yet again to go to where the mission actually takes place and often it’s a fairly sizable distance to make on foot, hence the reliance on the cars, but then that negates the exploration for items. This closing the gap on the icon and where the mission actually takes place really eats up a lot of the time you spend with the game and for the wrong reasons.
Each character has their own personal mission and it must be completed solo, without the help of your team. This separation away from your team is also felt in the dialogue throughout the game. Often you will be on the comm with someone from the Ark and these moments are usually quite fun, even humorous from time to time, but these conversations are entirely scripted to the moment and the game lacks any form of banter between teammates. It’s also worth noting that you don’t actually play alongside your teammates as you only control one of them at a time and shift between Agents with the D-Pad. Had the Agents fought alongside you, well, that could have been something great.
Bioware has created a huge library of games that have benefited from this form of conversation gameplay and with how engaging and fun these characters in Agents of Mayhem can be, it would have been really great to hear them converse with one another in a way that wasn’t part of a scripted mission moment, and even then it can be somewhat rare to even hear those. You do get a short cutscene with your team jumping out of the Ark while they shoot off a catchphrase or some other remark, but these are not conversations between the team and instead are just random sayings one after another. There are clearly characters that know each other and have some sort of deep history with one another, it just would have been really fun to hear them chat amongst themselves depending on the Agents you have included in your team.
Each Agent has a specific type that goes hand in hand with what weapon they wield. You have characters that sport dual pistols, machine guns, shotguns, mini guns, and even a Katana blade, which is the weapon of choice for Scheherazade, my favorite character in the game, and yes, that is her actual name. Picking your team may very well be reliant on what weapon they have and whether or not they operate like a tank and can soak up damage or a fast paced character that is built around speed and agility.
Another factor that may go into choosing your team is what Mayhem ability each character can use and sadly, a lot of these special abilities are quite lacking. Each Agent has a weapon attack, a special attack, an ability move, and a Mayhem ability. Often, most character’s Mayhem ability is just a slightly better version of their special attack and if that special attack isn’t working out for you, then their Mayhem ability may be just as ineffective. Oni, for example, has a Mayhem ability that causes enemies to run in fear, and while that may sound great, it makes them even harder to kill as they are running around all over the place and by the time you can even reach them, your Mayhem ability has expired.
As you gain experience you’ll put points into each character to increase certain stats like melee damage, Mayhem duration, health, critical hit damage and so on. Each character has 4 categories to apply points into as well as 3 core abilities that have similar stat increases. The biggest change to how a character operates is through Gadgets. These are split into 3 categories; Special, Weapon, and Passive. These will have the biggest gameplay change on your character as these can make alterations to what style of weapon they will use. It won’t fully change their weapon class, but in some cases, like for Kingpin, it will swap his weapon choices from a Flare Gun, SMG, to a Plasma Gun.
Each Gadget also has a slot to equip what is called LEGION tech, and these will further add more stats to your stats. You can craft these from the crafting station and are often something you have to unlock as you find them. Gremlin Tech are consumables that can be useful when you need them and I really only found the resurrect item to be one that I came to rely on as it will resurrect your whole team should they all die. You’ll craft these from using scrap items, machine parts, and various fragments that you’ll earn from a variety of tasks as well as from the many Loot caches you’ll find around the city.
Loot caches also have the chance to unlock skins for your Agents as well as for your vehicles and you can boost that chance percentage by purchasing Agency Upgrades that do just that. Other upgrades also include faster boost regen for your vehicles or the amount of Agents you can send on field missions, which are side missions you can send in-active team members on for unlocking crafting items.
Agents of Mayhem has a very cartoony and stylish look to it and it can be a very good looking game when it wants to be, it just normally isn’t. There is a small amount of pop-up, but generally, it’s the bland textures and simplistic surroundings that often make the game feel empty. NPC’s often don’t do much more than a simple animation and I lost track of how many times 2 of the same NPC were next to one another doing the exact same animation. I often found that NPC’s just became fodder for the carnage that would take place in the streets, behind buildings or under the wheels of my car because they just usually stood there doing pretty much nothing. The animations for the characters are rather great and those characters are easily the best part of the game, it’s just a shame that everything else isn’t held to the same standard. I also found it rather odd that when aboard the Ark, there is a bloom effect that makes the game far too bright and adds a weird motion blur as well.
Tucked between each story mission and each of the character specific missions are cutscenes that further explain who a character is, their motivations, as well as just showing how certain story events unfold. Many of these cutscenes are fully animated scenes that have wildly different levels of quality from start to finish. Several of these are well made and feature some fairly fluid animations where others are simply static images where the art team couldn’t be bothered to fully animate and these stand out in a bad way.
Apart from the issues I’ve already mentioned, I have a few more that really impacted how much fun, or how little fun I had with the game at various points. I’ve had buttons just flat-out not work and it would require me to reboot my game to fix the issue and even the D-pad that is used to swap characters would often not register my button press and often I would have to double tap the button to swap, and even that wouldn’t work sometimes. I’ve had vehicles get stuck in the ground, or hit a random object on the map and fly into the air, or objectives just not work as they were intended too. It’s not a game that is littered with bugs, but when they appear, it is very apparent.
The game also doesn’t contain co-op and this might be the one thing that many people were probably expecting as the Saints Row games were a blast to play with another player. The game feels as if it is designed for it with the teams of Agents, the action and even the freedom you have when moving around the map. It’s an odd feature to leave out when the game you are mostly adopting from is known for that feature. It’s a huge misstep for me, but something that didn’t affect my overall rating of the game. I can complain about what isn’t here, but at the end of the day, I have to review what actually is.
Agents of Mayhem is simple but fun enough to entertain for a short while. The game isn’t great by any means and much of it can come across as unfinished or that it feels like it used to be far more involving. The use of humor will get a few chuckles out of you but lacks the persistence that the original trailer gave us over a year ago and many of the launch trailers show the game in very different ways than how it can actually feel when played. There are a few solid characters that will easily become your go-to selections to add to your team and unlocking them can be a rather fun quest in itself. I would strongly suggest waiting for a sale as Agents of Mayhem is just not worth the full asking price right now and unless Volition really commits to adding some worthwhile DLC, I may just have to rename this to Agents of Meh’hem.
Warning: The following launch trailer features some language, but the game does as well, so yeah, Be warned!
Agents of Mayhem was reviewed on a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.
All screenshots were taken on the Xbox One.