Agents of Mayhem is the latest game from Saints Row developer Volition and it is both incredibly different from the infamous Saints Row series and in many ways the same, which in the end is a very good thing.
Agents of Mayhem is a story-driven open-world game that combines the super-soldier team concepts of G.I. Joe with the hero mechanics of games like Overwatch and Battleborn resulting in a game that is ludicrous in a satisfying way and fun to progress through despite some flaws.
Agents of Mayhem starts at a quick pace, introducing the heroes (the Agents of Mayhem) and the Villains (L.E.G.I.O.N., in particular its Ministry of Pride) as they face off in a world torn apart by warring factions. My original squad was composed of three characters, Hardtack, Hollywood, and Fortune, who battled Dr. Babylon (quickly was given the name D-Babs much to my amusement). Unlike in Saints Row, I was not able to create my own characters; instead skins are unlocked (much as in Overwatch) to customize the appearance of the selected heroes and their weapons. As Hardtack, Hollywood, and Fortune started to take on D-Babs’ forces, the mechanics of the game came through pretty clearly.
Agents of Mayhem has fairly simple combat mechanics that can be customized as the characters progress in level. At the heart each character has a main attack, a special attack, and a Mayhem super attack that charges as enemies are defeated. The main and special attacks can be customized depending on which weapon and special attack gadgets are selected, and these were unlocked very frequently as I gained levels. Some skills are passive; others greatly modify how attacks function when used. Switching up skills really changed how a character behaved, so skill management is very important.
There is also L.E.G.I.O.N. tech and gear that can be created and requisitioned with funds and materials gathered. This gave me one extra special action I could use depending on what was equipped. With all of these modifications I was able to really tweak each character in a way that felt satisfying, plus although only one character is on screen at a time I could cycle through the three active agents in real time. Have a look at some of the early action I recorded in a Let’s Play.
Mechanics aside, I have to say the best part of Agents of Mayhem is how characters are introduced. While I generally hate having to unlock new characters, in AoM it is incredibly fun, as each of them has an ’80s-style cartoon intro and must be unlocked through particular missions in the main game. An unlocked character’s individual storyline is also continued in character-specific missions taking out personal vendettas against L.E.G.I.O.N. and D-Babs. Many of them are full of laugh-out-loud moments; during Fortune, Hardtack, or Hollywood’s missions the three are debating Hollywood’s nickname for the trio: Franchise Force. It is surreal having a huge one-eyed character with a harpoon questioning why they should be called Franchise Force as he destroys L.E.G.I.O.N. troops and whatever else is in his path.
All the characters in Agents of Mayhem are interesting and have their inter-mixed relationships. Some of them are dating, some have crushes, others dislike each other, and all of this is relayed through genuinely enjoyable conversations. The mix of action and dialogue is well handled and never distracting; in fact I looked forward to these snippets of chatter, as it fleshed out the characters and made my enjoyment of the world grow. Even the bad guys are dripping with personality. Dr. Babylon has a number of his own super-agents, each with a backstory, and their infighting is often hilarious. In one brief cut scene characters Steeltoe and August Gaunt are talking to D-Babs and it is obvious they are jockeying for more screen time as they talk; it’s subtle but funny as hell.
The gameplay structure of AoM revolves around a main campaign that progresses as you completed missions. There are also a wide variety of side missions that can be completed at any time. Many of the side missions are character-specific, both to unlock the characters and to progress their individual storylines. There are also a large number of open-world-style missions. Some involve taking down patrols, vehicles, lairs, and weapons, while others had me unlocking fast travel/warp locations as well as unlock locations for blueprints and resource gathering. There are also global contracts that all players contribute towards. These involve destroying a certain number of weapons or taking down a certain number of troops, and can be selected as an ongoing task while playing the main game.
During the course of the game many resources are gathered, ranging from money, car blueprints, and salvage to core fragments and intel pieces. Gathered as I plowed through hordes of enemies, these allowed me to purchase new cars, upgrades, and requisitions that let me upgrade my Agency as a whole, giving passive perks to the entire team, such as experience growing faster, or better loot drops.
There are a lot of mechanics to Agents of Mayhem I have not covered in great detail but they add to the depth of the universe created for this game – little touches that show the developer put a lot of thought into the personality of the world, such as the Agency cars that have a smart-aleck A.I., and the fact that every room in your complex homebase, the A.R.K., has many interactive points that flesh out the NPCs.
While I had a great time playing Agents of Mayhem it is not perfect. In fact there are some weak points that really pulled me away from the game’s truly strong aspects. While the heroes and villains are fleshed out, the enemy bases are not; in fact the game got very repetitive quickly, as each foray into a L.E.G.I.O.N. base used the same corridors and chambers, making these missions a slog at times and even boring. The enemies are also recycled very often, with the same horde of seven or eight enemy types that keep coming at you over and over with at times terrible A.I. There were moments when the objective was to kill all enemies yet some of them were huddled in high, hard-to-reach places literally spinning around in circles.
The driving mechanics in the game are also quite flawed, with cars that handle like semi trucks and seem to be slow despite a boost option.
I was able to overlook a lot of these flaws, as the game has a lot of truly fun moments, especially when the characters are front and centre. But over time the flaws did pile up, turning a game that could have been great into an uneven experience.
Agents of Mayhem has a great concept, pulling elements from G.I. Joe and Overwatch into an open-world milieu and featuring some downright hilarious character moments and banter throughout the game. Unfortunately the repetitive nature of the missions and just plain dumb enemies dilute the experience. It is a shame because there is a lot to like and I did enjoy playing through the game, but it feels like more time was needed to make the experience complete and varied from beginning to end.
Agents of Mayhem is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
This review is of Agents of Mayhem as played on PS4.