Published on August 28th, 2017 | by Sean Warhurst
Agents of Mayhem PS4 Review
Summary: There are brief glimpses at the freewheeling design Volition is known for but there’s also a lot less ambition.
Agents of Mayhem is a curious beast.
Ostensibly a spin-off from Volition’s popular Saints Row series, at first glance it comes off as some kind of bastard love child of the aforementioned franchise and online hero shooters like Overwatch, with a base foundation seemingly built for an open-world, multiplayer experience, or at least online co-op like its spiritual successor, but is paradoxically nearly an entirely solo experience.
After the inspired take on the GTA formula of the second Saints Row title, Volition had increasingly expanded upon their initial vision, adding new elements such as computer simulations and a bevy of superpowers that, whilst admittedly a blast to play, split the fanbase as some perceived the additions to be diluting the core appeal of the first few games.
It’s no real surprise then, after Saints Row IV was essentially turned into Infamous-Lite, that Volition would dive in to make their own dedicated superhero title, as much of the groundwork had already been laid.
What was unexpected was that, rather than transform the Saints Row series entirely into what was hinted at in IV or double down on a completely new IP, Volition decided to create a game that simultaneously desires to be taken on its own merits but is inextricably bound to the DNA of the Saints Row series (and, by proxy, the Red Faction series as well) to such a degree that it can’t completely escape from under its predecessor’s shadow.
Taking place after one of the endings of Gat out of Hell (And don’t worry if you haven’t played this budget Saints Row effort, it doesn’t factor into the plot of AoM one bit), Agents of Mayhem sees players taking control of the titular team of guns-for-hire.
Brought together by the enigmatic Persephone Brimstone, who used to work with the megalomaniacal Doctor Babylon and now dedicates her energies to bringing down her former employer and his army of L.E.G.I.O.N henchmen, M.A.Y.H.E.M is a ragtag Motley Crew of Saturday Morning Cartoon parodies and over-the-top action movie caricatures, boasting amongst its ranks a vapid reality television star, a roller derby bombshell with a chaingun, a tough talking, hardnosed military trainer hunting down her disgraced former pupils, a version of Saints Row’s Pierce who you don’t immediately want to shoot in the face, a brutish Football hooligan, Volition’s unofficial mascot Johnny Gat himself and six other similarly diverse characters to unlock throughout your playthrough.
This character roster is one of Agents of Mayhem’s biggest selling points, offering up an extremely wide and varied selection of combat styles to accommodate the desires of different gamers and their playstyles. Experimenting with different squad combinations can make playing through the missions an almost entirely different experience each time, as some characters are better suited to different tasks, such as possessing weaponry capable of nullifying shields or having the ability to pick off enemies from long range and engage in stealth tactics.
Players are able to effortlessly switch between their three selected squad members on the fly, allowing for chaining multiple special attacks together at once and immediately adjusting to any scenario the game throws at you. The gunplay feels meaty and refined and the special attacks and mayhem abilities elevate some battles into epic scenes of digital carnage; after you’ve taken down enough enemies to fill your mayhem gauge, you can unleash a devastating attack that’s unique to each character – Gat automatically locks onto enemies and unloads his shot gun whilst immunologist Rama infects enemies with a quick spreading plague.
In terms of controls and combat abilities, every character feels intuitively tweaked and easy to handle, particularly once you start collecting crystals for upgrades. You can also apply gadgets that augment your agent abilities and collect schematics in order to build different forms of L.E.G.I.O.N and in-home tech.
There’s a whole lot of customisability in Agents of Mayhem in regards to how you want to tailor your agents to your preferred playstyle, which goes some way towards mitigating the fact that players are confined to 12 distinct characters this time around instead of being able to create their own like in the Saints Row games.
In regards to story, there’s really not all that much to add to the brief synopsis a few paragraphs earlier – L.E.G.I.O.N are very naughty and often up to nefarious deeds, M.A.Y.H.E.M is slightly less naughty and do their best to curtail L.E.G.I.O.N’s efforts to take over the world and position their leader Doctor Babylon as ruler of the new world order… All in all, it’s an almost intentionally generic take on the narrative of gung-ho Eighties cartoons like G.I Joe, except with a liberal amount of profanity and butthole jokes sprinkled in.
Unfortunately Agents of Mayhem seems to be lacking much of the gleefully anarchic excess that was a hallmark of the Saints Row series, awkwardly toeing the line between po-faced homage and puerile satire. The storyline is solid enough to give players a reason to press forward, and the missions exploring the backstories of each agent are easily the highlights and skew the most towards the more familiar style of volition games, but the humour here feels much more forced and falls flat a lot more than in Saints Row.
Of course, humour is subjective and many people loathe the juvenile attempts at comedy Volition have become known for, but I personally get a few giggles out of each previous title and found the guffaws to be a noticeably thinner on the ground here.
The futuristic city of Seoul is an expansive playground in which there’s generally not all that much to actually do; sure, you can take part in races, bring down a few L.E.G.I.O.N patrols, clear a safehouse or two and engage in a handful of other mission types that are prerequisite for open world titles, but there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before and there’s no sense of Seoul being an actual living and breathing city at all.
This is a real shame when you remember that Agents of Mayhem comes from the same guys who gave us the sewerage spraying, bodyguard and insurance fraud missions found in previous games; there’s none of that playful inventiveness on display here, just the sense of a checklist of basic mission types being ticked off.
This isn’t entirely a surprise, as the last few Saints Row titles had already been streamlining the mission selection from Saints Row 2 onwards and Steelport could never hold a candle to the greatness that was Stilwater, but it’s a shame to see that, being that this is their first true current gen title, Volition has decided to continue down this path of diminishing returns in regards to mission variety and city design.
Much like with Saints Row IV, the vehicles are very much an afterthought here, although AoM deserves some credit for forcing players to use them in certain missions, even if their controls are somehow even floatier than Saints Row’s arcade-like driving physics. Quite simply, as was the case with IV, it’s just more satisfying to leap about the city on foot and the less than stellar vehicle mechanics just makes this option all the more tantalising.
Graphics and Audio
Agents of Mayhem boasts cel-shaded graphics that look the business even if they’re lacking the grit that so many gamers seem to desire these days. Personally I dig the vibrant and colourful neon soaked aesthetic of the volition games and the decision to go in a cel-shaded direction really makes the visuals pop.
However, the environments can start to feel a little uninspired and samey, as can the designs of pedestrians and other vehicles on the road, and the art design just feels a little sterile for the most part; even taking into consideration the graphical style, there’s an argument to be made that the animations and visuals aren’t quite up to current standards such as those seen in games like Watch Dogs 2.
The audio department is where Agents of Mayhem stumbles the most. Whilst the explosions, gunfire and other similar noises sound robust and dynamic enough and the voice acting is solid throughout (Although delivered at times in stilted chunks, which is…Odd, to say the least), the soundtrack is a complete and utter letdown.
I don’t know, maybe we’ve been spoiled by the massive selection of licensed tracks available on in-game radios, and to be fair Volition never once implied that they would be adding known music to the soundtrack, but after playing the Saints Row games I had the expectation that I was going to be in for a smashing soundtrack and instead I was presented with a wet fart of bland cookie-cutter electronic music.
Not one track is memorable and the bombastic score that kicks in during major moments and the winking quality of the voice acting isn’t enough to make up for the fact that there wasn’t anything here quite like defusing a rocket careening out of control into the atmosphere as Steven Tyler wails like two cats fornicating in an alley.
Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed my time with Agents of Mayhem. I would love to see a patch in the future that would allow online cooperative play, but I can also understand why Volition elected to focus on making this a single player experience first and foremost.
I barely touched upon the vehicle upgrades and other options to tweak your gear available in M.A.Y.H.E.M’s base of operations, the A.R.K, but I think it’s fair to say that if you’ve played Volition’s previous titles then you’ll be more or less familiar with the formula on display here.
And here is where we reach the biggest problem with the game – Its lack of identity. Agents of Mayhem seems to be locked in a holding pattern of sorts, beholden to other franchises and unwilling to take the big risks necessary to truly make your product stand out from the pack. Ironically, AoM just feels a little too safe, which is something I didn’t think I’d ever say about a title from the developer who once put you in control of a vengeful toilet.
However, the gameplay is extremely solid and, combat-wise at least, deviates enough from what was on offer in the Saints Row games to hopefully entice players to at least check the game out.
Ultimately, I had a blast, warts and all, and believe that if Volition added some form of online component and completely divorced the game from the Saints Row series – Which admittedly is even harder to pull off now that Gat, Oleg and Kingpin are established M.A.Y.H.E.M agents – then they could potentially have a new hit franchise on their hands with a sequel.
As it is though Agents of Mayhem is going to struggle to shake off the stigma of being merely a “spinoff” game, but here’s hoping that it picks up the audience it deserves. There are brief glimpses at the freewheeling design Volition is known for but there’s also a lot less ambition than I was expecting.
Primary Format – Games – Playstation 4
Game Genre – Action & Adventure
Rating – M
Consumer Advice – Violence, coarse language and sexual references
Game Developer – Volition
Game Publisher – Deep Silver
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst