Posted on 23 Sep 2017 by L Coulsen

Agents of Mayhem

The Defence

Developer: Deep Silver Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Action
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 15 Aug 2017

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 750 Ti
AMD equivalent
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 38 GB
DirectX: 12
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 1060
AMD equivalent
RAM: 12 GB
HDD: 38 GB
DirectX: 12
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Volition and I have quite the storied history. Pretty much every game they’ve ever made ranks itself as a member of my personal collection, with the majority sitting firm and resolute among my favourites list. So, of course, when I heard they were working on a new title, my interest was piqued. Though, honestly, I was initially only curious, not expecting to jump in any time soon, but that apparent apathy didn’t last all that long, and here we are exploring Agents of Mayhem. So let’s jump right in.

The Trial

Hey, did you know this isn’t Saints Row? You know, this game that wasn’t intended to be Saints Row, wasn’t advertised as Saints Row and isn’t even called Saints Row. Yeah, this game, it isn’t Saints Row. Mind blowing right? It almost defies belief, but there you go! I’m…not sure why that’s been such a difficult concept to grasp, but a shocking amount of people still seem baffled by the possibility, so there you go.

Anyhoo. Agents of Mayhem is a game about a covert group called M.A.Y.H.E.M that is made of a colourful and diverse cast of, let’s be honest, mass murdering sociopaths. Brought together by a lass called Persephone, who used to work for the bad guys, L.E.G.I.O.N as the Minister of Gluttony. The significance of that isn’t immediately apparent, but there’s actually a lot of religious symbology scattered throughout the game, firmly in the background, but ever present. Probably something that will be explored in greater detail in the potential sequel. Mayhem, after all, does end on something of a cliffhanger. Making quite clear that the game’s protagonist is, himself, only a fairly minor flunky.

Crowds at the planetarium are unbearable. Everyone wants to see Uranus!

You, on the other hand, have almost two dozen agents to choose from, all with their own personalities and specialties. Choose three of them (my personal favourites are Rama, Yeti and Joule) and, literally, drop into the middle of it. Your base, the Ark, is a floating fortress in the sky, equipped with a teleporter…which is a giant tube your crew dive into, to be teleported to about fifty feet above the ground, so they fall even further. Uhm, good thing your dudes have no concept of gravity eh? They can fall from any height and just…land. Which is pretty cool actually.

As well as the main story, each character has a small, side story of their own. Only two missions a piece, but they’re reasonably lengthy, with a third for each of the pre-built, three man teams the agents sub divide into. The vast majority of your team’s character development comes from idle chatter however, of which there is a dizzying amount. Swapping between different configurations with trigger dozens upon dozens of mini conversations which really help flesh out the various agents under your command as well as expanding on their backstory. There are also a number of log files, accessible from Persephone’s office aboard the Ark, which add further nuance. Not the best way to do it, certainly, but they are well worth checking out along the way.

There are even far more subtle quirks, like the way each character poses as they jump into a car, typically by teleporting through the windscreen, because why not?! Like how Red Card mimes kicking a football, Joule blows a kiss, that kind of thing. They are little character moments that are really easy to miss, but do a great job of typifying each of their personalities. It’s really impressive how the agents all seem like a bunch of cartoonish caricatures at a glance, but are actually well rounded, complex individuals when you scratch beneath the surface.

Salute comrade.

Volition have put a lot of emphasis on trying to encourage players to frequently swap and change between the available roster. Both each time you leave the Ark, and on the fly when you’re in the thick of things. Each of them has their own abilities, many of which enhance their teammates, with some skills only activating when you actively change from one to another. Also, every Agent has a different weapon from the last, and even those who have similar, being different enough that none of them feel truly the same. I’m not entirely sure how effective these efforts have been, because once I unlocked Rama I pretty much never wanted to use anyone else, but anyhoo.

Some Agents really do mix things up a lot. Joule, for example, is geared around dropping turrets and getting out of the line of fire, using her weapon to repair her turrets as opposed to doing damage directly. She can do damage as well, don’t worry, she’s just built more like a MOBO support class. Meanwhile, Scheherazade, the possibly Egyptian ninja, is extremely fragile, having very little health, but can turn invisible and do extreme damage. A glass cannon, as they say.

So the name says it all really. The surprisingly deep story is nice and all, but we all know what you’re really here for. Blowing stuff up and murdering everything in sight, which is an impulse you will have ample opportunity to indulge. Many have reported that the world of Agents of Mayhem is tiny, packed with details but lacking in content. Okay, the former has some merit to it, but I’m not at all sure where the latter two come from. There’s always something going on, always something exploding all around you, even when you’re trying to…to not kill stuff! It can be a bit distracting actually. Those sodding fracking stations!

Cue the music.

Gameplay is pretty straight forward. Third person, point your weapon at the enemy, pull the trigger and it dies. It’s something of a disappointment that each agent has only one weapon, but they have several skills which make them feel a lot less of a one trick pony, and it’s abundantly obvious that Volition intend for players to swap and change between them often, which is why you have three. Disappointing that it couldn’t have been worked into a three, or even four, player co-op, but that would have led to each character feeling very boring very quickly, and you’ll already find it very easy to become an unstoppable killing machine, so it’d ludicrously OP if there was multiplayer. Even the game constantly ramping up the difficulty setting (which can be turned back down at any time, calm yer tits) does little to even the score. Especially once you get Rama fully levelled and can fire off her traps every eight seconds. Or is that just me?

There are also vehicles which you can spawn at a time, or steal from the world around. The latter being completely pointless, because the vehicles you can call are just flat out better. Faster, more manoeuvrable, stronger, all that good stuff. You start out with only the one, but more are unlockable by making progress and finding schematics in loot chests. There are also several skins for each, as well as half a dozen or so skins for agents and their weapons.

The Agents’ Mayhem abilities are where the game really comes into its own. Each of them is suitably ridiculous, ludicrously powerful and often rather amusing. Red Card’s is my favourite. In true, sports maniac style, he punches himself in the face, repeatedly, to send himself into a frenzied rage of murder and death. And that’s one of the tamer ones. Yeah, seriously. The rest range from area of effect, to increased damage, to massive explosions all around you. Because why not?!

God-damn Pierce!

The audio work is generally solid, though some people, myself included, experienced frequent static and some sounds that just flat out didn’t play. There are reports of other, persistent, bugs such as cars not able to be summoned during missions, missions not updating and so on. Personally, it was only the audio glitches and my framerate tanking like crazy during the Gaunt boss fight. Though the latter was irritating, it’s also worth pointing out that it was a very colourful arena with an metric foodge-ton of light sources, and the rest of the game was solid as rock. A little more optimisation would certainly be appreciated though.

Visuals are colourful and the art style is interesting, but it’s nothing particularly ground breaking. Competent, one might say, but little more than that. That’s a minor complaint, but a complaint none the less. The real star of the show is the titular agents, whose various outfits are almost entirely homages to other media, such as Rama’s Green Arrow suit and Yeti’s Hulk skin. Though the in game, futuristic Seoul is an interesting place to look at, with some insanely tall buildings and fancy architecture.

The lack of flying vehicles seems like a disappointing oversight at first, but given that your agents have not only a jump and double jump, but a triple jump and (often) the ability to run up walls, it makes the game’s verticality a lot of fun to experiment with. Falling from a high vantage point as you’re making your way up is a pain in the arse for sure, but at least it isn’t lethal given your squads titanium legs. Whilst being absolutely packed to the brim with side missions, the world is far from dull.

Cherry’s blossoming. All’s right with the world.

You have everything from cheap and cheerful “kill everything in the area” shindigs, to races and capturing locations. The latter actually has quite a lot of variety, being more than just your typical base liberation deal. There are those too of course, and they’re an annoyance, because L.E.G.I.O.N will claim them back at random intervals. But the others spawn at random locations and include things like destroying a fracking station (ooh, political) and turning off black hole gravity wells that are just chilling out in the middle of the street.

On top of all that, there’s a meta game component, that allows you to send Agents you’re not using off to deal with L.E.G.I.O.N installations around the rest of the world, something which can be done repeatedly, with the world map resetting every time you complete it. This unlocks Contracts which you can use for extra rewards. Things like kill X type of enemy, jump on a camel’s nutsack with this agent, capture this location, that kind of thing. There are even online contracts that show up at set intervals, which you can activate to do alone, or make it an online thing. Not…sure how that works exactly. I mean, it allows you to work on completing it with other people, but it’s unclear whether those are only people you know, or if it’s everyone playing with an internet connection, or just whoever happens to be working on the same contract at the same time, but none of them are especially taxing, so what the who?

The capturable locations are a bit of a pain in the arse though. L.E.G.I.O.N like to come in and randomly reclaim them, even when you’re not actively playing, making them ultimately more hassle than they’re worth. But eh, it’s not the end of the world. They’re not exactly difficult to claim back, and can at least be useful for levelling the agents you don’t use much if you’re going for achievements. Just would be very much appreciated if it happened far, far less often.

The Verdict

Long and the short of it. Agents of Mayhem is not Volition’s best game. It’s similarities to Saints Row leave it in an awkward position of being a disappointment for some, and just a bit weird to others. It really shouldn’t be an issue, but a lot of people have really focused on that, rather than taking it for what it is. It’s a fun game, longer than you’d expect and has a much deeper story even than Volition’s standard fair. It really shouldn’t be as divisive as it is, but you know how people can be.

Case Review

  • Symbolism!: The whole seven deadly sins aspect sits almost entirely in the background, but it clearly shows a lot of potential depth left to explore.

  • The Agents: A wide enough array of madcap characters you’re bound to find at least a couple you like.

  • Auto-leveling: The game constantly upping the difficulty setting gets a tad frustrating when you just want to run around wreaking havoc.

  • Bloody Bases: They’re easy to capture, but after the twentieth time, they’re just an irritation.

  • Unlocks: Oodles of skins and items to unlock, which is nice, but a chore to get them all.

  • Optimisation: Very hit or miss, fine for many, but flat out unplayable for others.

4 Score: 4/5
A fun open world romp. No, it's not Saints Row, just get over it already.

Evidence

  • Graphics: Even with a fair bit of settings, nothing particularly outstanding. Most options also don't seem to have any significant effect on overall performance, despite some quite pronounced changes in visual quality. Further optimisation would certainly not go amiss.
  • Audio: A good mixture of everything you want to see, with all the options you need to get various volumes to exactly where you want them. Though the default sound balance is pretty good for the most part, so there isn't much that needs tweaking.
  • Controls: Fully customisable and, thankfully, not as complicated as many of these types of games can be. The lack of flying vehicles is actually a plus in that respect, because you don't have to worry about binding fifty different keys for movement.
3 Score: 3/5

Agents of Mayhem is best described as a cross between GI Joe and Saint’s Row. It definitely takes after the previous Saint’s Row installments and doesn’t take itself too seriously. While you have a huge amount of agents you can choose from, one of the biggest design flaws the game suffers from is the restriction of only 3 agents at a time. Though the idea of switching agents, as opposed to switching weapons, is really innovative. This keeps the game entertaining especially when you are re-treading a lot of ground. The city of Seoul isn’t a terribly large map but you are mostly going from point A to point B without really exploring. The odd part is the time you spend in enemy bases, each feeling very similar although slightly different each time. You end up spending a lot of time in there and when you emerge, the city feels “fresh” again.

The combat in the game is really fun. It’s unique in that you can be fighting enemies as one character and say that one gets wounded, you can then swap to any of the other two characters and continue on the fight. Or you will have to switch characters to take advantage of a special ability that is beneficial to the situation. One of the things that really saves the game is its personality. The humor falls in line with previous Saint’s Row titles. For example, one mission took place in a planetarium and a voice over a loud speaker was making multiple statements about Uranus. The humor may be viewed as juvenile, but at the end of the day it’s just good dumb fun.

This is a game where you aren’t going to experience gaming at its finest, and to be honest, I don’t think the developers meant it to be. This game isn’t going to win any awards or change the landscape of gaming. This is a game that I had an absolute blast playing, this is a game where you can turn your brain off, blow shit up and laugh at some Uranus jokes.

Appeal

3 Score: 3/5

Agents Of Mayhem is a game that has an appealing hook: a single-player hero shooter in a sandbox city. Unfortunately it’s at odds with itself in attempting to achieve success with that format. Hero shooters are usually multiplayer and get away with a quick blurb to give a character backstory, letting their in-game actions and abilities give them personality but Agents Of Mayhem tries this with personalised side missions for each character that provide a laughably small amount of backstory and interaction with other heroes both leaving you needing more and wishing it weren’t there at all. This disconnect continues over into the gameplay too – every hero has their own weapon and powers but some are vastly superior to others and some combinations of heroes just don’t work well thanks to a trait system that confers buffs like extra damage to shields or elite units. Further compounding the incongruity is the ability to call one of a dozen cars at will and the ability to hijack any random civilian car. Unfortunately all the civilian cars are markedly worse than the one you can summon. Collectibles are also plentiful and unnecessary – namely large red crystals that are used to unlock upgrades for heroes. You’ll have far more of them than you ever need if you spend a short while picking them up whenever you see them and be outright ignoring them by the time you’re a quarter of the way through the game. I had about 40 spare by the end of the game and hadn’t had anything to spend them on since unlocking the last hero a dozen hours earlier. Similarly unnecessary are the number of enemy bases you can assault; these subterranean lairs are usually constructed of only a handful of rooms and enemy variety isn’t great enough to make the repetitive environments and objectives worth it. It’s made all the worse by several heroes personal missions, and story missions, dragging you into these lairs over and over again – the worst offender is a single personal mission that takes you into four of these lairs, and they’re all side missions lairs that you may have already cleared or may have to come back to clear again if you like completing things.

While I understand that the heroes of Agents Of Mayhem are parody it’s not played well by the writers. Heroes are boring archetypes that could easily be serious if they weren’t so downright lazy. The Hollywood actor/soldier, the lady/archer, Mr Freeze/Oleg (from Saints Row,) the Yakuza enforcer/family man. None of them have an ounce of personality to them more than necessary and are such generalisations that it’s hard to even pinpoint the things they’re supposed to be lampooning. Is Hollywood, the aforementioned actor/soldier lampooning Soldier 76 and McCree from Overwatch? Is it action movies? Arnie? Primadonna actors? All of the above? More laser targeted parody would have served the characters well, we know Volition are capable of it thanks to their previous Saints Row games where excellent parodies like Pierce, Keith David, and Johnny Gat are actually capable of eliciting a chuckle or two.

All that negativity aside, I did have a lot of fun with the game at times. Brief flashes of previous greatness shine through occasionally; diving off a skyscraper right into the middle of a horde of enemies before unleashing hell is great fun, as is facing a horde of enemies when you’re down to your last hero who’s armed only with a bow and arrow and trip mines. Unfortunately even these moments are marred by the constantly creeping difficulty – if you’re doing well the game will up the difficulty without telling you and the only way to lower it is to fail a mission or return to the HQ airship so every now and then the game will just hand you your arse arbitrarily because you were having too much fun. This made it agonizing to score it because critically I’m inclined to shoo it behind the barn and make it dig its own grave. However, taken a couple of hours at a time it’s not a completely unenjoyable game and I did finish it of my own volition despite having given up on most of its activities outside the story mode so as a non-critical player I did find some amount of entertainment value in the experience. Normally I’d consign the non-critical opinion to the same shallow grave but this time I’m feeling generous.

Judges Panel

2.5 Score: 2.5/5

If Saints Row had a one night stand with a MOBA game, Agents of Mayhem would probably be the offspring. Apart from the MOBA-like characters, it still feels very much like a Saints Row game, which isn’t a bad thing mind you, but it just wasn’t enough.

3.5 Score: 3.5/5

Agents of Mayhem, while close, is not quite a Saint’s Row game. All the overpowered stuff that made SR fun is toned down which in turn makes you feel grounded. Not how you want to feel in a Saint’s universe. But despite being not a very good game it is still, at times, loads of fun.


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