Agents of Mayhem Review: Doing the Most
Kalvin Martinez / Aug 25th, 2017 No Comments
Over-the-top fun is what has characterized Volition’s body of work, especially the Saints Row series. It is what makes the developer so compelling, and the reason its games resonate so strongly. The developer’s latest outing continues the tradition.
Agents of Mayhem is a pure shot of adrenaline. It shakes up the squad-based shooter formula in exciting ways. During gameplay and outside of it, humor permeates Agents of Mayhem, charming players with ease.
Y’all Playing Checkers
It’s a classic paradigm: evil comes up with a convoluted plan to destroy the world and good must stop it. In Agents of Mayhem, the paradigm involves the nefarious Doctor Babylon and the evil agency Legion searching for a large dark matter crystal for its own terrible ends. Those terrible ends happen to be building a dark matter warhead…
Mayhem is an agency out to stop Legion and protect the world. Using its considerable means and roster of quirky, powerful agents, Mayhem stays on Legion’s heels, foiling their attempts to grab the dark matter crystal and construct their warhead.
No matter how much ground Mayhem makes, however, Legion’s tenacity never falters. With an endless supply of expendable foot soldiers, liars to raid and many lieutenants with various specializations, Legion is difficult to stamp out.
Yet, Persephone Brimstone won’t stop. The leader of Mayhem wants to eradicate Legion. As an ex-Legion higher up, it is safe to say she has an ax to grind (or a space laser to call forth for a tactical strike). It becomes obvious the traditional paradigm is a larger game of chess between the forces behind Legion and Mayhem.
While Agents of Mayhem’s plot is what’d you expect from a good-versus-evil dichotomy, it never feels bland. That comes from its eclectic cast of characters, a heavy attention to character details, and a good sense of humor.
Every character in Agents of Mayhem feels different from one another. Each character has their own backstory of how they came to join Mayhem, and a clearly defined personality and point of view. Both serve to make all the agents feel substantial outside of the voice acting and striking character design.
While Daisy, Fortune and Oni, for example, all serve Mayhem and want to stop Legion for their own reasons, their methods are not the same. The diverse cast helps add complexity to a relatively simple story.
Like Saints Row (obviously) and the Fast & the Furious series, Volition does a great job of building characters, team dynamics and adhering to an internal logic of their own continuity.
While it is a spin-off title, Agents of Mayhem has its own realized internal logic and continuity achieved in a clever ways by building it up through throwaway dialogue and minor exposition. Humor also goes a long way into elevating the narrative in Agents of Mayhem. If the jokes weren’t half as good as they are in the game, the story would feel flat.
The humor works the majority of the time, and when it hits, it is absolutely hysterical. Much of the comedy comes from solid character work and realizing these characters.
Agents of Mayhem doesn’t reinvent the open-world concept, but it does some interesting things in the squad-based shooter genre.
The open-world aspect of the game feels odd. Neo-Seoul often feels small and the ability to summon a fast car at your leisure doesn’t help make it come across as substantial. Compounded with the slightness of the open-world are weak side activities.
The main problem with the open-world is the side missions. Once you’ve raided a lair or taken over something for the umptenth time, you kind of get over it. There are the occasional gravity drills, but they don’t add enough excitement to overlook the lackluster stuff to do in Seoul.
Open-world in Agents of Mayhem feels like it was done because that’s just the trend in gaming these days. There’s no compelling reason to having the game set in an open world.
Keep an Agent in the Chamber
Agents of Mayhem makes up for its weak open world with extremely fun and addictive gameplay held up by strong mechanics and a good main-to-side mission structure.
While the main story and side missions generally fall into a similar pattern of the side activities (like hacking consoles or defending a point), they feel more significant thanks to the narrative context and character work.
Everything in Agents of Mayhem always comes back to the characters, and the main missions are packed with great character moments. The campaign also has the benefit of more varied locales or riffs on the typical mission objectives.
However, the biggest benefit is the boss fights, which end up being more multi-layered affairs with dramatic visuals. Whether you’re fighting an overly auto-tuned pop star or a giant electrified golem, boss fights stand out and help keep things from getting monotonous.
Missions, good or not, mean nothing without strong gameplay and compelling mechanics. Agents of Mayhem’s gameplay features strong third-person shooting and intriguing squad dynamics.
Each character has their own quirks, such as a main weapon that fits their personality — Daisy has a gatling gun, Oni carries a silenced pistol. The weaponry matches how each character operates in life and in the game.
Outside of straight shooting or slicing (depending on your character), agents have customizable passive skills and special attacks, along with devastating Mayhem attacks. Characters build Mayhem during combat to unleash wild, outlandish flourishes. They can be as simple as a remote mines, as complex as an aura that strikes fear in enemies, or as downright cool as Hollywood’s Michael Bay-inspired explosions going off across the battlefield.
Still, this isn’t what makes Agents of Mayhem novel or cool, nor is the ability to teleport into any car you see. No, what makes Agents of Mayhem great is the unique squad-switching mechanics.
During combat you can switch between your three squad members at any moment with one agent active. This is seamlessly done. The mechanic allows you to use members strategically for whatever situation arises. If a console needs to be hack and you want to skip the mini-game, tag in a master programmer. If a turret pops up and you want to take it down without dying, call in your tank character.
While those are basic strategies to handle mission objectives, the true magic happens when you create squads whose skills complement each other. For instance, you can use Fortune’s stun Mayhem skill to stun enemies on the board, then switch to Oni for easy headshots to power him up or pair Scheherazade’s Mayhem skill with it to get those melee kills.
You can get even deeper by utilizing your agents’ passive debuff skills together to make easy targets of those Legion foot soldiers. Switching between agents is akin to utilizing different weapons in a solo game, but these weapons can be a pretty boy action star, the leader of the Stillwater Saints, a burly seaman or a former Yakuza. Along with their own personalities, these weapons give you a lot of customization and special skills that can cause a whole lot of havoc.
Agents of Mayhem has a lot to love, but the open-world aspect of the game feels odd. Neo-Seoul feels small and the ability to summon a fast car whenever you want doesn’t help make it come across as substantial. The side activities aren’t anything special and it makes the open world feel like an afterthought.
The game makes up for its weaknesses with extremely fun, addictive gameplay with strong mechanics and a good mission structure. The narrative provides you with what you’d expect from the genre, but great characters and attention to detail helps elevate it. It is possibly one of the most diverse cast of characters in a long time. Where else could you play as a team of a Russian mutant, foul-talking roller derby giantess and a Middle Eastern ninja?
Agents of Mayhem is a strong spiritual successor to the Saints Row series. It fixes some of the god-like issues of Saints Row IV without sacrificing the powerful chaos the game cultivated. Above all, it never betrays its characters, no matter how silly they may be, which is everything you want from it.
Agents of Mayhem was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher
tags: Agents of Mayhem , Agents of Mayhem review , deep silver , review , Volition