The evolution of the Saints Row series has been an interesting one.
From its conception as a Grand Theft Auto clone to becoming a Super Hero President stuck in a virtual reality world within four games, each one took a step further into the insanity and topped the last in terms out wild ideas as well as gags per-minute.
After finishing Saints Row 4
and the follow up DLC Gat Out of Hell
I wondered what Volition was going to do next and how they could possibly make things more outrageous than a musical set in the fiery pits. The answer was Agents of Mayhem
, a game that put the Saints aside and instead asks us to get to grips with a new cast of characters.
Set in the city of Seoul, South Korea a group of action heroes set about trying to take down a team of super villains as they plot to take over the world. It's as though Volition has grabbed Agents of Mayhem
right out of a cheap children's cartoon from the late eighties and has enough melodramatic writing to pull it off.
Backed up with various animated cutscenes Agents of Mayhem
will send you straight back to Sunday mornings as you sat on the floor inches away from the glass screen of your parent's retrospectively tiny television while it blasted bright colours and casual violence into your retinas.
The evil laughs, silly one liners and terrible sidekicks will initially grab your attention and for a moment you believe you understand where this game is coming from and what it's trying to achieve.
But then out of nowhere the effing and jeffing starts and you're left slightly baffled as to why - if trying to parody something so nostalgic - they wanted to turn away from a good idea and remind you that this is still tangled up with the Saints Row
foundation it's built on.
Confusion is a theme that runs throughout. It's a game that seems to lack focus. It touches on good ideas but never nails them down and fails to offer a single hook for you to hold onto as you play through.
There are half concepts here, never fully fleshed out. Although Agents of Mayhem
is an open-world carnage-em-up it introduces RPG elements into the mix. You enter missions as a team of three agents, each with their own special abilities, weapon set and quirky character. During play you'll be able to switch between them on the fly, allowing you manage cooldowns or change to someone who has a long-ranged weapon to take out snipers.
However, as I went from mission to mission flicking between characters, all I could think of was that everything I was doing would be far more fun in co-op. Granted, that's something that could apply to most games, but in Agents of Mayhem
it seems as though all the systems are in place to play alongside a friend or two, but for some reason it's missing.
Instead of the team fighting alongside each other they're directly replaced. There aren't any combo abilities or tactics that involve quick switching. You just start to notice that once character is low on health and replace them with another for a bit. There's not even any conversation between the crime fighters. Instead when one is removed the other will read a line that fits in with the narrative.
This has a ripple effect on everything you do. Levelling up a character in an RPG is fun, working out where to distribute points into certain categories and watching how it changes what you're able to do in game. Doing that for each character individually, though, becomes tiresome and soon enough you'll pick you're favourite three while the others are never seen again past their initial introduction.
Before long you'll avoid the character-based missions altogether. What's the point in doing a mission that unlocks something that only adds the busy work that you've decided not to do anyway? Especially when each opening mission is a carbon copy of the last.
That's a great shame too, because the cast of characters in this game is the highlight. Each feels unique, each has a back story worth looking into and all of them have an attitude interesting enough to add comedic moments.
Hollywood's extreme ego resulting in him piratically ignoring everything that's being asked of him and instead blowing up everything in sight because it looks cool. Red Card needs to make everything competitive. The list goes on. They've clearly been well thought out and although some of the voice acting plays far too much on the stereotypes they're portraying, it never feels like it's being nasty.
It's a shame that they're limited by their arsenal. In order to try and force the player to form a team based on weapons rather than characters you're forced to use the weapons that they come with. So if you like Gat as much as Hardtack, you could never take the two shotgun-based agents on a mission together as it'll leave your options for attack far too limited.
Which brings us to the next failing. For a game that has so much variety in character design, that variety doesn't reflect in in the missions themselves or the world the game's set in. You'll mostly be heading toward enemies, killing them all, blowing something up and returning back to base. The combat is fun enough to carry it through the first few hours or so, but beyond that the repetitive nature of Agents of Mayhem
starts to grind you down.
The city it's set in doesn't help matters either. Even in the Saints Row
games the world itself took a back seat to the action, but this was less of an issue due to the variety of gameplay in offer. Here it just drums home the fact that you're repeating gameplay far too often, as the walls and doors around you look the same as they did in the last place you visited.
All of this makes me feel disappointed rather than angry because there's something sitting deep within Agents of Mayhem
that works but fails to rise to the surface. The combat is fun but a little too basic. I enjoyed the schoolboy humour we expect from this developer, but the the overall tone is all over the place. The carnage of explosions and gunfire will kick the adrenaline in but the frame rate dropping during these moments will settle you back down again. But most of all you'll look for what Volition's trying to do to justify its ballsy move away from the well known franchise and no justification can be found.
Had Agents of Mayhem
been a game which offered a vast array of diverse characters each with their own abilities and style of play to choose a favourite from and take online to play alongside your friends, then it would have taken the genre to a new place. It makes sense why it would differentiate itself from Saints Row
, why the different personalities would matter.
Without that it feels as though some large part of the games original concept got lost in development. It feels as though there was a fundamental selling point that had to be canned but wasn't replaced with anything and ultimately it leaves you feeling a little hollow inside.
It's not that Agents of Mayhem
is a particularly bad game, it just feels like it's a pointless one. A game that doesn't even try to make an impact and has nothing new to say. From a developer that always finds a way to push
boundaries and take leaps forward in order to ramp things up a little every time, it's disappointing.
+ Some fun action
+ Some good comedy
+ Plenty of decent characters
- Doesn't offer anything new
- Doesn't feel fully fleshed out
SPOnG Score: 6/10