21st Aug2017

‘Agents of Mayhem’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

Agents-of-Mayhem-art

Agents of Mayhem is the latest outing from Volition Studios, the creators of the much loved Saints Row series of games. Oddly, whilst it’s set in the same world and features interlinking characters, Agents of Mayhem works hard to distance itself from the Saints games in structure and gameplay. As an example, it features a pseudo-open world approach that uses Seoul as a kind of hub before locking the player in to a much smaller space to participate in actual missions.

This kind of one foot in, one foot out approach is pervasive throughout Agents of Mayhem, and unfortunately it makes it impossible to judge either as a standalone game, or as a proper Saints series entry. It feels a bit like one of the Marvel spin-offs that no one was expecting or in need of, which is an interesting parallel because that’s also kind of how the Agents of Mayhem actually feel – like second rate superheroes. Unlike a Marvel spin off however, there is much worse language in this game than you could ever expose your kids to, which is just another weird design choice that helps prevent Agents of Mayhem from forging its own identify.

The Agents of Mayhem team comprises of twelve (fourteen if you include pre-order DLC) characters, each of which has their own identity, move set and play style. From these characters, players choose a squad of three to deploy on each mission, and can usually switch between them at will. It’s worth noting that Agents of Mayhem is solely single player, with no local or online multiplayer, but there is a distinct feeling that many characters are designed to play some part in a team.

Common special abilities include bonuses to damage, or the possibility of staggering or slowing enemies, yet there is no human counterpart available to take advantage of such status effects. I don’t want to speculate too much on whether or not a multiplayer component was stripped out of the game (maybe to achieve a pre-Christmas launch,) but in all honesty that is how the game made me feel. The locked down levels, the online-shooter style abilities and the squad mechanic all seem to point in that direction.

And had Agents of Mayhem been a multiplayer game, it may well have fared better because for the most part, the shooting, jumping and driving sections all work reasonably well. The game is played as an over the shoulder shooter, and each character has a basic weapon like a rifle, shotgun or pistol that provides varying degrees of feedback that are in line with expectations and feel fine to use. There are a decent number of enemies to wade through, with lots of grunts being supported by more and more specialised foot soldiers, robots and so on. There are also boss encounters which are often large and ridiculous, and sometimes even fun!

Unfortunately, many levels are a bit boring. There are lots and lots of generic facilities to fight through, and whilst Agents of Mayhem doesn’t reuse maps or assets with quite the same frequency as many games, there is a feeling of repetition among many of them. Again, this all aligns to making the game feel like an online shooter, because where variety could have been added by the tactical nuances of team play, the game feels lacking without such a feature.

Where variety in the game is strong is between the various characters that players can choose between. Unlocked over the course of the early game, these include the likes of Hollywood, who’s special ability gives him unlimited ammo and causes random explosions to detonate all around him. Rama is a sleek biologist who fires a variety of arrows that can trap and poison enemies, whilst returning Saints Row star Kingpin has a boom box that forces the bad guys to dance uncontrollably. The variety between Agents does actually introduce a fun element to the game, and there is enough distinction between them to make each worth having a try with. Each has their own set of dialogue, including some which is context sensitive depending on the mission and the Agents around them, which is nice.

The game actually offers missions that are more suitable to particular groups of Agents as well, with some individuals much more able to dish out damage against a particular kind of enemy than others, and similarly, more able to traverse a particular level. I did like the feeling of having to choose the right team for the job, but I can’t help the nagging feeling that once again, this is simply included to mask the lack of being able to use the full competency of a human team with several complimentary Agents working together.

Agents of Mayhem also looks fairly good (in the main) and features several aspects to shout about. Primarily, the game world looks good and runs well (on PS4 Pro at least) despite the astonishing amount of explosions and visual effects happening on screen. This is without doubt when Agents of Mayhem looks at its best – when firefights are at their most manic. Agents, bad guys and the visual chaos that ensues when they meet fly all over the screen, with Agents triple jumping from fight to fight, and many of the more nimble baddies leaping in to launch melee attacks whilst their pals cover them from the ground. The scenery is not wholly destructible, but the various servers, barrels and similar McGuffins that litter each stage all blow up with a suitable amount of gusto.

Another fun thing about Agents of Mayhem is a feature that is wholly ripped from Assassin’s Creed, which has players dispatching one or more of their spare Agents to tackle various missions around the globe in real time. These missions usually involve disrupting the nefarious activities of LEGION in other regions, and are therefore considered less important than those back home. Depending on the success of the Agent(s) sent, players receive various monetary benefits when they check back in at the console in headquarters. On that note, the M.A.Y.H.E.M HQ is a great facility to call home, and presents itself as something that Tony Stark would likely be proud of.

Like all open world games, there is a lot to do in Agents of Mayhem, including probably about forty to fifty hours of meaningful content. Of this, the main campaign lasts about twenty hours, with a further ten or more hours focused on the Agent side quests. These are particularly fun if you have a few Agents that you really like using, and want to understand in more detail. The combination of interesting and varied characters and unique moves is what makes this extra content work, and I certainly enjoyed it, but when it came to doing stuff outside of either the main or side story driven content, I didn’t find the world of Agents of Mayhem engaging enough to keep my interest, although that isn’t uncommon for me with this kind of game.

To close this review out, I feel like Agents of Mayhem is a missed opportunity. Firstly, whilst it is a competent single player shoot-em-up, it never reaches the heights of the rest of the Saints Row series, and falls wildly short of say, Grand Theft Auto V. It seems to restrain itself from being as bonkers and irreverent as the games it spins off from, and for all their special skills, the Agents are no match for the superheroes of the Crackdown games. The lack of multiplayer features is a major blow, and when I sum it all up, the gameplay in Agents of Mayhem feels like a kind of crass, less polished and single player version of Destiny, wherein solo players grind fairly dull levels interlinked by an even duller hub level that masquerades as an open world. It has some fun characters and features, and despite the purple tint to basically everything, it looks fairly nice as well. It even offers a decent level of challenge when you ramp up the difficulty level, and there is lots and lots to do across a lifespan that is probably something like fifty hours if you really happen to be enjoying yourself.

The negatives balance out the benefit of any unique positive unfortunately, and as a result, Agents of Mayhem feels pretty average.

**½  2.5/5

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