At first glance, Volition’s Agents of Mayhem may appear to be an extension of their well-known GTA-like franchise, Saints Row, with some added bells and whistles.
But how do you beat open sandbox and aliens? Well, you can’t. Agents of Mayhem falls short of the greatness/silliness that Saints Row achieved, and does little else to justify it being a true, new IP worthy of attention.
As much as developers Volition tries to spin it, the core of Agents of Mayhem is without a doubt purple like the Saints. The premise of a group of super-powered MAYHEM agents fighting against an ever-present evil that is LEGION is fun, especially when it is positioned like a flashy cartoon many old fogeys would recall watching. The hand-drawn animated cutscenes are particularly well done, and I would have preferred the game to be done entirely in that style. That is not to say the game is ugly, but it is barely noticeable when you consider what this generation of consoles can do, especially when it comes to pushing graphical fidelity.
Agents of Mayhem presents you with 12 agents to mess around with, including, but definitely not limited to a vainpot actor, a pirate hacker, a grizzled army veteran, the icy Russian soldier and more. The cast is diverse (Hello Overwatch), and several of the characters stand out in terms of design and abilities, but ultimately fall flat when it comes to personality. This is particularly apparent when you hear the same old catch phrases over and over again as you shoot your way throughout Seoul. The characters are only slightly redeemed if you bother to play their personal missions, where we get more light shed on their origins, and get a sliver of what could have been if they were more robust characters.
The style of humour of Agents of Mayhem is conflicting to say the least. It straddles the line between trying to be wholesome like a cartoon, but it also throws in enough F-bombs and jokes about Uranus to make it cringy. The low-brow humour might work the first few hours, but it gets tiresome towards the end.
The futuristic world of Seoul is chocked full of whacky vehicles and giant buildings, but offer little else that is memorable. The NPCs in particular are just ragdolls for you brush aside, or are victims of collateral carnage. The saddest part in this open world design is a significant lack of tasks to complete, and that pretty much sums up Agents of Mayhem. What is there are boring, generic missions like finding crystal shards, collecting cars, wrecking enemy emplacements, and strangely, foot and vehicle races (with really bad driving). It gets bland really quickly.
The aforementioned shards are part of the game’s progression system. What appears to be a pretty deep upgrade system starts showing cracks early. Levelling up grants you skills points, which can be used to augment your special abilities, which can be changed by equipping different gadgets.
These gadgets can also be modified using LEGION Tech which require schematics and resources to fabricate. Every ten shards grant you a core, which is required for the three core skill of each agent. All these plus the fact that your Agency can be levelled up to unlock passive bonuses should have been enough, but alas, it is disappointment once more.
The increments of the upgrades are negligible at best, which defeats the entire purpose of getting stronger in the first place. When you are in the late-game and still only getting a 1-3 % increase to an ability, your progression will seem like it was all in vain. Even the supposed core upgrades are one-time deals, providing something a little more significant in terms of boost but hardly noticeable.
At least the shooting feels competent enough for it not to be a total disaster, but the lack of variety in missions, and especially environments work hard against Agents of Mayhem. Once you seen one Lair, you have seen them all. Even the occasional boss fights cannot save the game from itself.
Agents of Mayhem is not a great game, and it barely scrapes past good. There were moments that I enjoyed, especially the added story for certain characters, but such moments were few and far between. The diverse cast is muddled by poor jokes, a pointless upgrade system, a dead Seoul, and really boring missions. I was hoping the post-Saints Row Volition would have done more for a new IP, but like most of the one-liners in Agents of Mayhem, it is bad and disappointing.