It is as I race around on laser propelled roller-skates in a virtual reality created room, simultaneously blasting robots with a minigun to the tune of some 80s rock ‘n’ roll and talking to a heartbroken Korean pop star artificial intelligence through the five stages of grief, that I see Agents of Mayhem truly coming into its own. In a universe where the world’s leaders think that the best response to dealing with an evil terrorist organization is giving free reign to a group of outlaws and misfits that are almost as bad, scenes like this are just par for the course.
Unfortunately, it takes awhile to get to the good stuff, as Agents of Mayhem forces the player to wade through two pretty lackluster opening chapters before giving in to its silliness. Repetitive level design detracts from some of the finer moments of the game’s 20-hour campaign as well, but the diverse personalities of the many agents, and delightful humor that is created as they interact or clash with one another, more than makes up for it.
Not Your Typical Band of Heroes
Published by Deep Silver and developed by Volition, Agents of Mayhem is a sequel to one of the possibilities to Gat’s actions at the end of Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell. At the end of Gat Out of Hell, the player can choose for Gat to recreate Earth (after its destruction in Saints Row IV).
The result is an alternate reality where an organization, created by Gat Out of Hell’s Persephone Brimstone and funded by Saints Row 2’s Ultor Corporation, called M.A.Y.H.E.M. (Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds) works to stop L.E.G.I.O.N. (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations). Although the game hints at hundreds of agents fighting across the globe, its story focuses on the adventures of the dozen field agents currently protecting Seoul, South Korea and the team of base agents that oversee their missions and supply their gear. I imagine the other agents and conflicts will appear in sequels.
Form Your Squad
This may go without saying, but the agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. are the best part of Agents of Mayhem. No two agents are exactly alike, both in personality as well as ability. The character I was talking about at the beginning of this review, Daisy, is a loudmouth ex-roller derby warrior who’s imposing figure, short temper, and love for sex and alcohol means she’s always had trouble finding a place to belong before joining M.A.Y.H.E.M. Red Card is an overzealous German soccer fan, whose knack for going on rage fueled murder sprees with his shotgun rifle and energy harness makes him M.A.Y.H.E.M.’s equivalent of the Hulk. Meanwhile, Kingpin (this universe’s version of Saints Row’s Pierce Washington) is an entrepreneur who united the gangs of Stilwater and joins M.A.Y.H.E.M. to grow his personal brand.
The list goes on, and it is a damn good list. There is not a single bad agent in the entire line-up. Even the starting agents (Fortune, Hardtack, and Hollywood), who have disappointingly simple abilities and ordinary weapons, have incredible amounts of personality and banter that make them fun to listen to as you play.
Together, those three form the squad known as the Franchise Force. There are three other teams of three agents: the Bombshells, the Firing Squad, and Carnage a Trois. Then there is Gat, who does not belong to any one squad (currently only available though GameStop preorder), creating a total of thirteen playable characters. The members of each squad naturally compliment each other, but the game encourages players to mix and match and find the squad of three that they enjoy using the most. For example, I loved using Daisy, Kingpin, and then switching that third spot back-and-forth between Fortune and the mysterious ninja Scheherazade (a favorite of Ryan McCabe, the Lead Agent Designer of Agents of Mayhem, as well).
Let’s Shoot Things Out
Agents have a primary weapon, a special ability, and a Mayhem ability to use at their disposal. Special abilities have a cool down after every use. Mayhem abilities slowly charge over time when enemies are killed, or immediately unlock if a purple fleur-de-lis is found and picked up.
Since the player can only bring three agents on a mission, and only use one at a time, knowing how to juggle between different characters for the best possible results is key to sucess. For example, Kingpin’s primary weapon, an SMG, gives him an advantage against a group of enemies at close range. His special ability throws out a purple energy grenade that deals moderate damage. His Mayhem ability, Dance Party, has him tossing a boombox on the ground and getting everyone around him, enemies included, grooving to his latest mixtape. As everyone is partying, the player can gather health, deal out some extra damage, or just sit back and giggle at the ridiculous display. This makes Kingpin perfect at close to mid-range crowd control, but he struggles against enemies that attack from a distance.
Find Your Own Success
Gear, found throughout the open world in chests or earned by completing missions, adds some excellent variety to playing with each agent. Equipping gear can add small tweaks to an agent’s abilities and create multiple ways of playing a character. My Kingpin’s SMG naturally reloads when he kills an enemy with a melee attack, throws a weaker grenade that stuns targets, and uses a boombox that plays a shorter song, but explodes and deals massive damage to any of the dancers I haven’t shot down. All of this lessens his chances against bosses or mid-range targets, but ensures that crowds of weak enemies are decimated if they get too close.
Each of the agents also has secondary abilities (like Daisy naturally being able to blast through shielded targets or Fortune being able to hack computers more efficiently) that need to be taken into consideration. There is definitely a learning curve to forming an effective squad and incorporating the entire list of gear, abilities, buffs, debuffs, and other mechanics necessary to play the game. Agents of Mayhem uses those first two boring episodes to give the player the time to master the easier ones, before really amping up both the challenge and excitement with an explosive third episode that introduces the more interesting agents.
Agents of Mayhem’s third-person shooter mechanics are ripped straight from the Saints Row franchise, and then presented within the structure of an old 1980’s cartoon. Missions are structured as episodes, with an opening that establishes the new threat, a middle portion where the heroes try to stop the new threat and (usually) mess up, and an end where the heroes beat up the bad guy. It is clever, albeit repetitive (just like those 80s cartoons). Even the agent recruitment missions and loading screens align with the cartoon theme. The former play out as special spin-off episodes and the latter has one of the game’s characters offer a brief piece of their personal wisdom in a commercial PSA called “Mayhem Knows.”
I wish such creativity had been used in the level design. About half of the game is spent exploring an underground selection of tunnels and labs. Each of these sections looks the same. Every. Single. One. It is annoying at first, but maddening by the game’s end. The giant open world of Seoul that takes up the rest of the game is pretty varied. However, it is populated by hundreds of collectibles and dozens of side missions that are not that much fun to complete.
The enemies that the player encounters have a decent amount of variety. There are about a dozen different types that range from close quarter, sword-wielding ninjas to armored giants that pound the ground and create massive shockwaves. They all act like mindless fodder, but they can quickly overwhelm the player if given too much leeway.
Agents of Mayhem has fifteen difficulties and naturally raises or lowers the level depending on the level of the agents that the player chooses to use. The game never makes itself easy enough to just mow through the endless hordes, nor hard enough to create panic or frustration. It is just enough to keep the player on their toes and paying attention. The difficulty level can be easily raised or lowered at any time, but I found that whatever level the game recommended was perfect.
Doesn’t Keep its Groove
In both good and bad ways, Agents of Mayhem is the true sequel to Saints Row IV. Like Saints Row IV, the music is top notch, but the side quests are hit or miss, there are way too many collectibles, and the ending is super anticlimactic.
Agents of Mayhem has the most colorful cast of characters since 2016’s Overwatch and features mindless third-person shooter combat that should get boring, but never does. Sadly, the same cannot be said for most of the game’s level design or mission structure. The few amazing exceptions, like the aforementioned trip into virtual reality or a later episode where the agents must survive a horrific retelling of Alice in Wonderland, hint at a game that could have been so much better.
I had so much fun playing Agents of Mayhem, but that is all the game is. It is just mindless fun. Which, I will admit, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not like I was going into this game expecting depth. However, there needed to be something more. Blasting bad guys and listening to lovable idiots make pop culture references and hilarious quips only goes so far. When the gameplay seems to be actively trying to pump its own breaks and keep the player from completely immersing in this brave new world, there needs to be some kind of hook to keep the player coming back. A more riveting narrative right from the start or an enjoyable means of finding the hundreds of collectibles would have gone a long way.