STAFF REVIEW of Agents of Mayhem (Xbox One)

Thursday, August 31, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Agents of Mayhem Box art After several successful Saints Row games, Chicago-based Volition decided to do something different. The result is Agents of Mayhem; a game that marks a change of direction, albeit mostly just in a gameplay sense. You see, though it is not Saints Row in name, nor in direct comparison, there’s still a lot of its predecessor’s DNA to be found within its coded veins.

Best described as a loose spinoff, Agents of Mayhem takes place in an alternate dimension within the same multiverse as the Saints games that came before it. As such, it drops players into a different world that has never known the colourful gang. Instead, it looks up to M.A.Y.H.E.M., a group of unique heroes who’ve joined together to fight incoming threats under its raven-haired and black dress clad leader, Persephone.

All of the action held within actually takes place following the retconned ending of Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, which will make sense to those who’ve played through that game and remember a lot about it. Those who haven’t needn’t worry though, because story isn’t the primary focus of this title, nor does it possess a rich plot, let alone one that is explained in great detail. All you really need to know is that the world is under attack, and that the worst of it is centered upon Seoul, South Korea.

Fighting against M.A.Y.H.E.M. is a criminal organization known as L.E.G.I.O.N. which is made up of more than one arm, all of which are named after sins like greed, gluttony and envy. It’s the Ministry of Pride that is up to no good here, and it’s all thanks to one Doctor Babylon and his lieutenants, the list of which includes not one but two pop stars, as well as a mad scientist and a crazed expert programmer.

Following a crippling global event known as Devil’s Day, the world has fallen under the control of L.E.G.I.O.N. and its several different divisions. Having crippled the world’s governments, these evildoers are continuing their fight against humankind, all while scouring outer space for powerful crystals.

The problem with this storyline isn’t its colourful cast of original characters, or the way it’s presented through Saturday morning cartoon-inspired cutscenes. No, what holds it back is its lack of depth. Lots is referenced – including Devil’s Night – but little detail is actually given about the event. The same is true of L.E.G.I.O.N. itself, as well as how M.A.Y.H.E.M. actually came to be. Sure, there’s lots of talk about how Persephone used to be a part of one of the evil Ministries, but we’re not told why she switched teams.

To be honest, I actually had to look at the game’s wiki page, in order to find out more about what actually went on. These are details that the campaign should have given to me instead of simply hinting at them. Then again, story wasn’t meant to be the main focus of Agents of Mayhem, and at the end of the day it definitely isn’t. It’s the twelve different heroes that are meant to take center stage, and that they definitely do.

At the onset, players are given control of three different agents, those being Hollywood (a famous actor who carries an assault rifle and is of the all around type), Fortune (whose dual pistols pack quite the punch, while complementing her stun abilities and damage-focused stats), and Hardtack (who’s a shotgun wielding tank). Together, these three form the Franchise Force, which is just one of several nicknamed M.A.Y.H.E.M. trios.

Through progression within the main storyline and optional character-based missions, players will unlock up to nine other agents, all of whom possess their own weapons, skills and special abilities. Some of the more memorable ones include former Russian elite soldier, Yeti, whose cold skin and freeze ray are the result of special experiments; Daisy, the drunken roller derby chick whose love of booze is only matched by the excitement she gets from using her mini-gun; Oni, the Japanese criminal who looks and plays a lot like an Asian version of John Wick and Braddock, the female (American) marine who can not only take a lot of damage, but also dish it out through the use of her SMG and annihilation rays.

Truth be told, all of the agents stand out for different reasons, making it hard to list just a handful of them. All of the above were fun to play as, but I also enjoyed my time with the others, such as the soccer-loving hooligan, Red Card, and Joule, the turret-loving hacker. The same is true of Kingpin, who just so happens to be Pierce Washington from Saints Row fame, and the ninja, Scheherazade, who is perhaps the best of the bunch. After all, it’s hard to beat ninjas, especially when they carry incredibly powerful swords that can take out basic enemies in just one slice.

The way things work is that you can only employ the services of three different agents at one time, by creating a three-person squad. This is done every time you leave the Ark, which is the fancy name for the floating sky fortress that M.A.Y.H.E.M. runs its operations out of. It can be visited at whim, simply through the press of a couple buttons. Then, once you’re there, you can upgrade or alter your agents’ loadouts, choose a different vehicle to equip, research and develop different types of technological buffs or participate in thirty-one different VR testing challenges. Going further, this flying hub is also where you’ll find the global operations map, which allows you to send (up to three) agents to different parts of the globe, in order to both fight against L.E.G.I.O.N. threats and collect loot. That is, new character or weapon skins, money and scrap materials that can be put to use in your R&D department.

After choosing, outfitting and equipping your chosen trio (with special buffs that give them bonus health, increased rounds, or the ability to cast different status effects against foes), you’re ready to go and tackle whichever mission you choose. For the most part, all of the main objectives allow any type of team to tackle them, but there is one that requires you to have an elite hacker in your grouping. Why, I don’t know, because it’s not the first to require players to hack into enemy computers or security systems. In fact, that’s a common objective and something you’ll do a lot throughout the game’s fifteen to thirty hour runtime. It’s not like it’s difficult, either, as all you need to do is press the A button a few times.

This is just one of the questionable design decisions that have combined to make Agents of Mayhem a middling game instead of a great one. The most perplexing one, though, comes from Volition's decision to abstain from adding any sort of multiplayer or co-operative play into the mix. Although this game screams for co-op, it doesn't offer it at all, and is a completely solo adventure instead.

The idea behind Agents of Mayhem is that each character you play as will offer a different experience, as you shoot and explode your way through thousands of enemy troops. This is definitely true, but the agents’ personalities and unique abilities are not able to make up for the shortcomings that are so prevalent throughout the game’s mission structure. I mean, you can only shoot the same enemies for so long before it gets tedious, or battle (and hack) your way through terribly similar looking underground bases before you realize that variety is lacking. Therein lays the main problem with this experience: its lack of variety, which leads to tons of repetition.

Unfortunately, Agents of Mayhem is nowhere near as creative or inventive as the Saints Row games were, nor is it as fun. It’s a shame too, because Volition has a lot of talent up its collective sleeve and is one of the better developers in modern day gaming. They’ve been around for a while, and have created some of my favourite games, including the original Red Faction and some of its sequels.

It must also be said that the campaign, itself, is surprisingly short. Even though the game consists of fifty-seven different missions, twenty or more of those are specific to different agents, leaving the rest as story content. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the engagements are generally quite short, lasting only five to twenty minutes at most, you can understand how it goes by so quickly. That’s not to say it’s over in an instant; it’s just not as long as one would expect, and despite the fact that there are several different L.E.G.I.O.N. underbosses to battle against, there’s hardly enough time to get to know each one. In fact, it seemed as if each boss’ arc was only made up of three or four missions. Then, it was on to the next one.

Truth be told, the most fun I had with Agents of Mayhem came from its optional content, that being the open world foot races and the optional, agent-based missions. The latter are what stand out most, though, because they let you get to know each of the unlockable heroes and what they’re fighting for. It’s also a good way to find out how they play, especially since you’re locked in as that one character for at least part of their story.

Still, what this all boils down to is doing the same things over and over again. You run, drive or jump from one part of the city to the next, and blow away multiple groups of enemies as you do so. Sure, there’s some variety in the types of baddies you’ll fight, but not enough to avoid repetition, and even having 12 different heroes can’t make up for that. Even the boss battles aren’t all that great, as they generally just boil down to the same thing: shooting at this or that, then shooting at something different, all while waiting for your special Mayhem ability to unlock so that you can unleash additional damage and look awesome while doing so.

Speaking of Mayhem abilities, it’s important to note that every character can pull off two different specials. One, which has timed delays, is handled using the right bumper button, with some examples being sending out self-firing turrets, shooting underground grenades or gaining haste as you await your mini-gun’s cooldown period to end. The Mayhem ability, on the other hand, is triggered whenever you’ve killed enough enemies, or by picking up a purple fleur de lis. That is, the Saints’ iconic logo, which M.A.Y.H.E.M. wears within this alternate universe.

Mayhem abilities can be pretty badass, not to mention devastating. Braddock’s is by far the best of the bunch, too, because it brings down powerful sky rays that obliterate everything they touch. On the other hand, there are some who simply receive bonus damage or stealth, which makes them less appealing. The women also tend to just generally steal the show here, as the female gender makes up most of the best playable agents, including Braddock, Scheherazade and Daisy.

Picking up a fleur de lis can also heal or revive your allies, but that’s not the only way to do this. In fact, the game is made much easier by a piece of tech that you can research then create as many times as you’d like. When equipped, this helpful gadget can be used to revive and heal all of your heroes whenever one or two of them fall, and can also bring all three back to life if you fail in battle. Needless to say, it’s a pretty helpful asset, especially when you consider that Agents of Mayhem has more than ten different difficulty levels.

I can’t remember a game ever having so many difficulty levels, nor can I remember one automatically changing its challenge level as often as this one does. For some reason, I would regularly have to alter it when I’d visit the Ark, because the game had automatically adjusted it upwards to a level that I didn’t want to be on. This may prove frustrating for those who go for the achievement that rewards you for beating every story mission on the seventh difficulty, or higher. I say that because I’ve read that the difficulty will also automatically lower if you keep dying, and it likely won’t alert you when it does so.

Moving on, it’s time to talk about Seoul, which is definitely an interesting choice for a video game’s setting. It’s hard not to appreciate the developers’ outside of the box thinking when it comes to that, but they definitely could’ve created something better and less repetitive than what we’ve received here. AoM’s version of Seoul is the city of the future, with tons of neon and many holograms strewn throughout. This ties in well with the game’s heavily cel-shaded and futuristic look, but tends to get quite repetitive since there’s no real variety, nor are there any discernable sector changes. The city looks the same throughout, and it suffers because of it. That's certainly not aided by the lack of interesting things to do, because outside of some races, some hidden lairs (which are also practically identical to those that are found in the campaign) and some L.E.G.I.O.N. weapons to take down, there isn’t much of substance available. Sure, you can drive, but the mechanics are somewhat floaty and it’s often more fun to run and jump your way through the city. Motion blur is also a factor, and it may be enough to keep some from wanting to drive, due to the mix of speed and cel-shading.

If the above sounds a lot like Crackdown to you, you’re not imagining it. Although Agents of Mayhem comes to us from a different developer, it does feel similar to Microsoft’s open world series in many ways. The Agents’ triple jump ability is one, as is the fact that red crystal shards are hidden throughout Seoul, with many being found on rooftops. Then, there’s the similar-looking mission icons, as well as the heavily cel-shaded visuals and neon-heavy world. The gameplay is different, for sure, but not incredibly different to the point where it doesn’t sometimes feel similar.

Of course, Crackdown doesn't have the same type of humour as Saints Row, and by extension that is true here. You won't hear dick jokes, overexaggerated dialogue or such caricatured acting there either, but you will here. Agents of Mayhem doesn't get too stupid, though, and doesn't even go as far as Saints Row did. There's still a good amount of toilet humour, though, and the voice acting is fitting. The music, on the other hand, is severely lacking.

So, is Agents of Mayhem worth a purchase? That really depends on how much extra cash you have laying around. If you’re someone who has limited spending ability and can only buy a select amount of games each year, you’re better off saving your money for something else and maybe waiting for a sale or price drop on this one. There’s nothing about this game that really stands out or separates it from the pack in any meaningful way, which is disappointing for more than just one reason. Still, it's got a few funny lines, has some solid moments and can be somewhat fun.

**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.**

Overall: 6.1 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.2 / 10


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