Calling in a vehicle in Agents of Mayhem creates a small circle that your Agent needs to stand-in as their vehicle of choice drives towards them at high speeds. When it gets close enough the Agent jumps into the air, strikes a pose, and then phases into the vehicle where they’re now behind the wheel and ready to drive. It’s a cool little transition effect, and one that you’ll no doubt see often throughout your time with Agents of Mayhem, the new open-world action game from Volition - the studio behind the Saints Row series. The only problem is that after the vehicle transition is completed, the vehicle comes to a complete stop.
Which is somewhat of a metaphor for the entire experience, it moves in the right direction but stops short of greatness.
Initial impressions are important. But none more so than with a piece of entertainment like Agents of Mayhem. It’s Saints Row IV by the way of a Saturday morning cartoon. Crude, juvenile, profane, and often very funny. And it feels like a natural progression from Volition’s last outing, Saints Row IV. Where, the GTA-inspired series moved so far from the its source material as to become an almost parody of crime-based open world action games. And in the process become one of the genre’s most consistently entertaining games.
Agents of Mayhem, which is set in the same universe as Saints Row, feels like a more ambitious endeavour. In it players are put in control of a squad of three Agents, a team put together from a growing collection of colourful characters that you’ll meet along the way. During any moment within a particular mission or whilst exploring the digital version of Seoul, Korea that makes up the open-world, you can switch between any of the three at will. Thanks again to the same unexplained temporal phasing technology that powers getting in and out of car.
Throw in abilities, ultimates, and RPG-like progression that recalls the setup of something like Overwatch and other MOBAs, and Agents of Mayhem feels like a step in a different direction for the studio. Taken piece by piece we’re not exactly talking about brand-new mechanics, but it’s the sort of blend of Saints Row IV and Crackdown that feels great. Up to a point. Outside of the wonderful animated sequences and episodic presentation that sells the idea of playing within the world of an animated series, the feeling of repetition unfortunately is one that rears its head far too quickly.
And after a few hours the overall futuristic representation of Seoul begins to look the same no matter where you are. Admittedly, this was also an issue with Saints Row IV. But being able to become a superhero that could fly over city blocks in a matter of seconds, it didn’t really matter. In Agents of Mayhem, the team of globe-trotting Agents must face off against an enemy force known as Legion. And even though their abilities improve over the course of the game they don’t reach the same sort of crazy heights as those found in Saints Row IV. Instead, with a difficulty mode that scales alongside progression, Agents of Mayhem is a more focused and challenging experience.
It’s a shame then that every single Legion underground base that you need to infiltrate looks the same. Same goes for the limitless cannon fodder that you need to shoot at every other second. Where most of the effort seems to have been placed is with the Agents themselves. And the larger villains. And the presentation. In fact, one of the key motivators for sticking with it for its pretty extensive running time comes from recruiting all the new Agents and then playing out their individual story missions. Plus, the hilarious episode involving a young male pop-star that sings terrible songs and as part of Legion attempts to indoctrinate and control his fans. Through apps and fancy VR tech.
As a single-player only experience it’s hard to shake the feeling that Agents of Mayhem would be a lot more fun played in co-op. The various Agents that complement each other in terms of abilities, and the way in which open-world missions where you need to either shoot these guys, defend this spot, or activate this machine, would feel better with others. And it wouldn’t require a radical shift in setup either, with each player being in control of their own set of two or three Agents. Personal preference and opinion? Sure, but it was a feature present in Saints Row IV that meant you could go back to that game over and over.
Going back to initial impressions, the first few hours of Agents of Mayhem are genuinely exciting and entertaining. And funny too. It’s the open-world of high-tech Seoul and the repetitive missions that fail to live up to the colourful Agents and the Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Which is unfortunate. The juvenile sense of humour won’t appeal to everyone, but the same could be said for just about every Volition-developed title of the past decade. And in that sense, the studio’s latest effort is worth considering if you’re a Saints Row fan. For everyone else, imagine a ludicrous ‘80s cartoon built around the profane and juvenile marines featured in James Cameron’s classic film Aliens. Where they’re globe-trotting government agents, and prone to enter fits of gravity defying carnage.