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Agents of Mayhem is an understandable step for developer Volition. Hot off the heels of the Saints Row franchise, which has all but painted itself into a sequel-less corner, Volition is looking to amp up the explosions and chaos. With a “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe crossed with the vibrant colors of Crackdown and the action of Saints Row, what’s not to love? Turns out, quite a bit. Although Agents of Mayhem makes big bounds in spectacle, it stutters a bit in forming an identity. Is Agents of Mayhem a worthwhile mission to take, or a cartoon-inspired blunder?
Saints in Seoul
The headline was misleading; forget the connection to Saints Row. While Agents of Mayhem technically has ties to the Volition universe, the game is more comparable to Sunset Overdrive or Crackdown than Saints Row. Taking place in a simulation, Agents of Mayhem serves as an extension of a specific ending achievable in Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, the last Saints Row game released. Besides this, and the inclusion of some characters who are essentially just copies of Saints Row characters, Agents of Mayhem is its own beast.
The game takes place in Seoul, South Korea. If there’s anything I want to say about the game’s location, it’s that it is absolutely gorgeous. Seoul is envisioned through a futuristic, neon lens. The technology heavy environment of Seoul is vibrant as can be, and the use of color is commendable. I wholly enjoyed the entire aesthetic, thanks to its inspired art style. It’s truly great to look at, but that doesn’t make the word riveting to inhabit. It’s a sprawling locale, but not one that feels lived in. Although that’s a remark on the location of the game, it’s one that can be said for nearly the entire experience.
Welcome to Saturday Morning
Agents of Mayhem ditches the overtly gangster and offensive comedy of the Saints Row series for a more jovial and juvenile style. The story fits right in line with a cartoon, structure and all. Taking on LEGION, a super group of villains, the Agents of Mayhem use everything in their power to destroy their hold on the city. LEGION has a handful of captains to take down, and each one stars in a multi-mission “episode” revolving around their character. The strength of these missions is another deal entirely, but I enjoyed the way Agents of Mayhem set up its story. It’s shame that each captain ultimately boils down to the same sort of affair, but that’s a sentiment that can sum up most of the game’s missions.
One of my favorite parts of Agents of Mayhem rests in its cutscenes. Embracing the cartoonish aspect of their story telling, the game foregoes in-game cutscenes for fully animated ones. While the actual animation quality depends on the cutscene itself, the entire style of the animation sat well with me. It’s a great combination of G.I. Joe and The A-Team, with a splattering of Volition madness to top it all off. The finished product reminds me of a foul-mouthed show you’d find on Adult Swim, the popular late-night cartoon block on the Cartoon Network.
Run and Gun
Gameplay is the true make-or-break of Agents of Mayhem, and unfortunately, it doesn’t do either. There’s some great ideas and truly fun gameplay, but the missions are often repetitive and boring. This is made better by the game’s foundation of multi-character play, but even that can’t repel the slow creep of repetition.
As a fully decked out agency of super heroes, you select a team of three to take out on missions and roam Seoul. As you progress through the game’s main missions (and optional recruitment missions), you’ll unlock new characters with a variety of skills and play styles. There’s big and beefy tanks, glass cannon damage carries, and some stealth and melee characters as well. Each agent has their own pair of side missions, and there’s a lot of personality to each.
Along with the personality, each character has a distinct set of moves that can be swapped out and upgraded. Each character has a level, and that level raises as you complete activities and gain experience, allowing you to upgrade them and outfit them with new tech. Besides standard missions, there’s a VR training room, overarching “contract” that require certain conditions to be met, and plenty of side missions in the city. Unfortunately, most of these fall flat.
The Issues with Missions
A lot of missions boil down to standard open world gameplay that you’ve seen a million times before. Even main missions are noticeably cookie-cutter, often prompting you to visit an area and kill a waves of baddies, only to travel somewhere else and do the same thing. There’s plenty of voice acting and dialogue to carry you through, but a lot of it is unfunny, annoying, or generally bad. Your mileage will vary when it comes to voice acting, as each character has been fully voiced for each cutscene. For example, my early team contained Hollywood, the front man of the Agents of Mayhem and a total doofus. He resembles everything annoying about pompous jerks, all wrapped up in a blissful arrogance that would be expected. As Hollywood spouted off annoying one-liners, I thought more and more about switching him out of my party; then I did.
The side missions don’t provide anything new and exciting either. Go here, take over base. Go here, race a car. Go here, fight in a lair. The lairs are the worst part too, and even worse, they are shoehorned into the main story more times than I’d like to count. LEGION lairs are underground collections of rooms, all of which you have to clear out or complete a minor objective in. The first few aren’t that bad, until you realize that most of the rooms are recycled, and entire lairs are the same set of rooms just scrambled in a different order. It’s sloppy game design, and comes off as excessive game padding.
Performance Level: Minimal
As a small side note, I have to comment on the technical performance of Agents of Mayhem. It’s truly a ton of fun to try out new weapons and characters, hopping around and blasting foes. This is mainly thanks in part to a spectacle of explosions, particle effects, and generally chaotic and vibrant color effects during combat. However, it seems like modern consoles cannot handle Agents of Mayhem‘s actual mayhem, often buckling under pressure.
Frame rate drops, audio missing, freezes, and weird bugs are all prevalent. I’m sure these things will be patched with time, and while none of these bugs was enough to stop the game up or ruin the experience, the blemishes reflect poorly on the game as a whole. If Agents of Mayhem could run well and not dip under 30 FPS every time I fired an explosive ultimate ability, it’d be a lot better.
The Bottom Line on Agents of Mayhem
As I was playing, a scenario popped up, and I thought… “Gee, I’ll be damned if that doesn’t just wrap up this whole experience.” During a character focused mission, you get intel on a rooftop party to go and visit. The agent on the other end of your earpiece proclaims it as “a huge rooftop party” and that “all of Seoul’s biggest names will be there; k-pop stars, everyone!”. Arriving on the scene, the actual party is much less impressive. There’s a few unnamed NPCs standing near a DJ booth, slowly dancing to nonexistent music. Before long, the waves of enemies start to show up, and it’s just another shooting gallery.
That’s the problem with Agents of Mayhem, it promises a booming party with tons of fun, and then under delivers in almost every way. Yeah, there’s a party on the rooftop, but no one is there and it’s the same thing you’ve seen at every other party.
The characters are cool and inventive, the actual gun play is fun and refreshing, and the spectacle and visuals fantastic. This doesn’t prevent the repetitive and monotonous mission structure from dampening the experience, nor does it make up for the lack of a true narrative. Agents of Mayhem took me about 25 hours to complete the main missions with some occasional wandering. After that, I didn’t feel a need to go back and level up other characters. There’s plenty of open world missions to do after the dust has settled, but by that time you’ll have had your fill. Agents of Mayhem is an enjoyable game, but it simply doesn’t have anything to say.
Note: This game was reviewed on an Xbox One using release day patches.