Although Agents of Mayhem comes from the same pedigree stable that brought us Saints Row (Ed: That’s Volition games, if you weren’t already aware), it’s much closer to mule than thoroughbred. It’s a feast for the eyes with stunning graphics, engaging environments and a compelling world. All of this is overshadowed by the ghosts of repetitiveness, grind and a lack of real diversity. Let’s dive into this review with guns blazing and I’ll explain further.
When I first got my copy of Agents of Mayhem, I was understandably excited, given that I was a big fan of Saints Row and even of Volition’s first release in 1998, Descent: Freespace.
Starting up, I felt the same sense of excitement and a palpable joy at the snappy art style and immediate irreverent humour. Let’s not pretend: this game is a visual spectacular and so appealing that I spent a good two hours wandering around the futuristic city of Seoul, South Korea just exploring buildings and getting as high up as I could for a bird’s eye view. That’s part of the problem though. I found the buildings and surrounding terrain in the relatively open world to be far more engaging than the levels I was forced to slog through to defeat the next in a line of cookie cutter super villains and their faceless, changeless crew of thugs/ninjas/jumping thugs.
Agents of Mayhem takes a really big page out of the massively over-the-top cartoons we all know and love from our childhoods (think G.I. Joe, Rambo, etc). However, it keeps the adult humour at the forefront so you never feel like the game is being condescending. If you were ever a fan of the 80s and 90s cartoons, you’re going to find a lot to tickle your nostalgia funnybone in one way or another.
Evil mastermind conglomerate, the League of Evil Gentleman Intent on Obliterating Nations, or LEGION for short (Ed: I have never before seen such a ridiculously contrived acronym), has struck a coordinated blow against the nations of the world and all that stands between them is the Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds, or MAYHEM (Ed: I stand corrected about the acronym thing), and their one key ability to shoot everyone and everything in sight(s).
The nefarious Dr Babylon leads LEGION while MAYHEM is under the steely gaze of ex-LEGION lieutenant Persephone Brimstone (who appears in the Saints Row: Gat out of Hell end scene — check out our review here) . MAYHEM is desperately trying to stop the next stage of LEGION’s plans and the current eye of the storm is sparkly, glittering Seoul.
Where Agents of Mayhem really comes out of its shell is the combat system. It’s quick, focused and can be made as complex or simple as you’d like. Throughout the course of the game, you’re introduced to all the various agents. Each agent has their own quirks, preferred weapon and super powers so you can stay with one team, or do as I did and switch between a few teams of three each with complementary abilities. Each agent has their own distinct personality and various catchphrases, almost all of them irreverent and rude which is a huge plus.
Switching between players is done using an instant “teleport” so that you can effectively chain together abilities. Add to that the upgrades, schematics for vehicles and new tech gleaned from battles and the combat stays relatively fresh.
Unfortunately, most of that beautiful combat system is geared towards killing off the same model guards time and time again as you run through identical dungeons to eventually battle a boss. Finished that boss and unlocked another agent? Great! Now go do it again. It’s like someone at Volition had run out of time to create new enemies and pressed Ctrl+C Ctrl+V three, four, or a hundred and two times.
Boss Battles and side stories
The evil masterminds seem content to very slowly take over the world setpiece by setpiece. While some of them have pretty engaging battles, there’s nothing much to keep you occupied so you’ll tend to wander off to explore the city or drive around in some of the futuristic vehicles available.
The baked-in Operations are nicely supplemented by agent specific “Special Investigations” which are definitely worth a play. At times funny, irreverent, emotional or even a little depressing, they give a pretty effective counterpoint to the normal over-the-top humour in the rest of the game.
As I said, the city of Seoul is beautifully rendered. It’s not terribly far-fetched to imagine that it could really look like this sometime in the not-too-distant future so it appealed to my explorer’s soul immediately. I was disappointed at the size of the city; it’s nowhere near as large and filled out as it could have been and if you’re hoping for something on the scale of GTA, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed.
NPCs are also barely moving sprites: they don’t have anything interesting to say and, although you can interact with them (think car and squish), there’s not much more after that.
I did spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out which combination of agents would best help me to leap to the top of the tallest buildings and go gallivanting off across the rooftops to find energy crystals and loot crates but I eventually had to go back and finish some missions at the insistence of the MAYHEM bosses hovering above the city.
Agents of Mayhem gets points for style and quirkiness and with fifteen difficulty levels (15!) you’re definitely going to find aspects of this game challenging and although it’s repetitive, you’ll have fun doing it. If I can ever slog it out with real humans either at my side or at the end of my agent’s gun barrel I’ll be the first to form a league and play it every day.
With no multiplayer or co-op ability though, Agents of Mayhem is relegated to a game I’ll play once or twice, getting a breath of life each time there’s DLC. I’d love to give this game a spectacular rating as it can be genuinely fun and has a lot of heart but there’s simply not enough to it to be more than a quick fling.