Platforms: PS4 (reviewed,) Xbox One, PC
I try not to start games with preconceived notions. Whenever possible, I like to approach titles with as much of a blank slate as I can so I can enter the digital world with a fresh mind and open eyes. In the case of Volition and Deep Silver’s Agents of Mayhem, that wasn’t really possible.
The title is an offshoot of the Saints Row franchise, which in and of itself began as an alternative to and eventual parody of open world action games like Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row III put the gang leadership antics over the top while Saints Row IV cast the player as the President in a world overrun by aliens. In the standalone follow-up, Gat Out Of Hell, you even got to sprout demon wings and fly around a city hellscape with amazing freedom. Following that sort of bombastic action up with a futuristic take on crime fighting (anyone else getting strong whiffs of Crackdown this time around?) isn’t easy.
For Agents of Mayhem, Volition took the formula of a third-person action game with a crude sense of humor that they’d created in Saints Row, stripped out the majority of what made that property feel special, and increased the number of playable heroes tenfold. Now, instead of having an arsenal of guns, cars, and super powers like in the previous series, you have an assortment of agents to pick from.
During a mission, you can bring along three different agents that can be swapped between, on-the-fly, at any time. That means I can easily switch to my up-close and personal shotgun wielder if the enemy flanks me from the side, or use the midrange bow-and-arrow agent to rack up some one-shot kills.
With 12 different agents to unlock and choose from, there is certainly a lot of variety in how you build your team and pick a playstyle. They really do all feel different and complement each other in surprising ways. Each agent can also be individually leveled up and upgraded over the course of the game.
Unfortunately, these upgrades take the form of mostly unnoticeable stat boosts and minor alterations. Do you want to reload 0.5% faster, or have 5% more shield? These sorts of choices feel trivial and, other than equipping different gadgets and specials, you never really feel like you have much agency.
Rinse and Repeat
The mostly meaningless upgrades wouldn’t feel so trivial if the core of the game itself was actually consistently fun. I’d be lying if I said I never enjoyed my time with Agents of Mayhem, but I did have a lot of issues.
For starters, almost every mission follows one of a handful of templates: 1) Kill waves of enemies, 2) Hack a computer terminal, then kill waves of enemies, 3) Avoid waves of enemies, then kill waves of enemies, 4) Drive somewhere in a poorly controlled vehicle, then kill waves of enemies, and so on. You get the idea.
Constantly switching between different agent loadouts helps freshen things up a bit, but even then it’s not enough. It’s a classic breadth over depth dilemma. And since three agents are active at all times, the title’s complete and utter lack of multiplayer features feels like either a major missed opportunity or a cut feature from the development road map.
Compare that to the likes of Saints Row III and IV, which seemed to constantly throw new ideas at me between each and every mission, and it’s clear to see how far this game deviated from the prior formula. There are still lots of sex jokes sprinkled throughout, the gameplay feels about the same, and even the auror of irreverence is unmistakable.
But in the end, Agents of Mayhem feels like it’s missing the heart and soul of what made Saints Row so unique. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’d been major changes within the development team during the game’s creation.
Agents of Mayhem is a game that suffers from a major identity crisis. During some moments I caught myself smiling only to have it wiped away by an overly vulgar remark that misses the point. After unlocking a new Agent, I would indulge in the special abilities and unique gameplay mechanics only to find myself bored with the tired mission designs for the 20th time.
With flashes of brilliance scattered throughout there was the makings of a great action game here, but it gets bogged down and crumbles under the weight of its own ambition with one foot in the past and the other out the door and tripping over itself.