Volition is a company known for producing solid games that expand the open world medium. These guys made Red Faction: Guerilla, with its incredible sledgehammer destruction system. Saints Row, a game that threw a spanner in the works of Grand Theft Auto’s open world gaming monopoly.
The next game from this developer after a short break is Agents of Mayhem, and unfortunately, it doesn’t strike out in a bold manner like their previous titles.
The premise is born from one of the many endings of Saints Row IV: Gat Out Of Hell and the agents even wear the famous Saints ‘Fleur-De-Lis’. It may as well bear its name at this point, with one of the Day 1 DLC’s letting you play as Johnny Gat. I say this because a lot of its identity seems to be borrowed from that franchise, but the game is insistent that it is its own thing.
The issue I take with this is that I wonder why? By half-removing all knowledge of Saints Row from Agents of Mayhem, it feels like they’ve had to make core compromises that damage the gameplay. The game’s third person style is certainly similar to the Saints Row series, but something is familiar, yet aloof about it. The game feels out of place.
First off, lets setup the main idea. You control a trio of agents, characters that wouldn’t feel out of place in Overwatch with their style, main abilities and ultimate.
As a positive, some of this feels unique. I really enjoyed some of the diverse play styles seen in the likes of Rama, the poison archer and Scheherazade, the cloaking Ninja. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Yeti and Hardtack, big bruisers with the chunky weapons to match who are equally fun in small pockets.
The characters are exaggerated and dumb, but it’s an open world and your main goal is blowing stuff up, so why not? The UPS of Agents of Mayhem only expands on this. You can swap between your three chosen characters on the fly to combo your abilities and wreak havoc. This is a very cool idea that I enjoyed putting to use. The problem is that Ad Nauseum, it really starts to get boring.
Each engagement eventually blurs into one, having you hack something, infiltrate a dull area and kill everything in it, or sometimes take part in a race that isn’t much fun. Main Story Missions and Boss battles actually do something different. I enjoyed the passion in these missions.
One had you disabling a Bieber-clone by wiping out his auto-tune and brainwashed fans, and a wedding party provided a decent scene change that managed to stick in my memory. If only the slog bettwen them was as interesting as the few that remain in my memory.
The monotony isn’t helped by the game’s writing, which gets old real fast. Unlike the hilarious Saints Row games, Agents of Mayhem lacks tact and reminds me of something that would appeal to a microcosm of abrasive agitators we’ve all probably experienced playing Call of Duty on Xbox Live.
You could see this kind of thing brewing in the last few bits of Saints Row, and it feels like they’ve ran with the worst parts of it and turned it into a full experience.
At least in those games, you could pass it off because the rest was actually fun to play. It was cocky but clever enough to get away with it. The constant pumping EDM behind each engagement also doesn’t help to bring the tone away from that either.
It’s such a confusing game, because the visuals and animations are great, and the gunplay is fun and exciting, but the facade is so wafer-thin that when you go to look if there’s any progression, depth or personality hiding behind its allure, you’re met with a bunch of dumb jokes and that exact same mission you’ve been doing for the past 3 hours.
One thing I must give credit to are the awesome Anime cutscenes that punctuate each mission. Hand drawn and gorgeous, they add something to the game that is one of the few nice takeaways from my experience with Agents of Mayhem.
The glaring elephant in the room here is the lack of multiplayer, which feels like a grave error. Whilst the game is repetitive, this would be enhanced tenfold by the addition of a co-op partner.
The gameplay loops in Saints Row 2’s story missions weren’t fascinating either (though still, somewhat better than this) yet I have beat that game a few times playing with different friends.
The narrative hooks that kept me in that game are not present in Agents of Mayhem, and it just feels like a disappointment.
I really wanted to dive back in with a Saints-esque title that sated my brainless desires, but I’ve been met with a dodgy reinvention of the worst parts of a series that sorely needed a push in the right direction.
You might question why I’m ragging on it so much for not being Saints Row 5, but the game is so inherently bound to that series in its gameplay and comedic style. It feels like such an identity struggle that it may as well be. For all of its faults, there is something fun I could pull from Volition’s hallmark series to improve it.
If you’re looking for a bit of dumb fun Agents of Mayhem may not be too much of a bad idea. The gameplay feels good and if you can look past the monotony and tone, you might enjoy it. Yet, if you’re looking for anything close to the quality of a Saints Row title, I feel you’ll be disappointed, and would refer you to Volition’s back catalogue