A year can make a lot of difference. I played Agents of Mayhem at E3 2016, and I came away less than impressed. Playing through a story mission without any context put me off, and it was evident that the gameplay wasn’t where it needed to be. This year, with the game’s August release looming, the entire experience has clearly come together. Taking some structural elements from Shadow Warrior 2 and a distinctly Saints Row open world charm, Volition’s latest is an engaging action shooter that should please former residents of Stillwater.
For one, those residents will be able to drive around! Quelling my fears to the contrary, Agents of Mayhem has a full sized city to triple jump through. Main missions will whisk you away to different locales, but side objectives, loyalty missions for each hero, and other activities will all take place in this city. You have a home base where you can choose specific objectives to tackle, but you can just as easily ignore that and get something else done at a moment’s notice. As I jumped around and tested my special abilities (including a bowling ball launcher complete with pin striking sound effects), I ran into and completed several challenges, so it seems like there’s plenty to do outside of progressing the story.
I was also impressed by the customization options that have been put in for each hero. Skirting around copyright in many cases, Agents of Mayhem is really going for the “Saturday morning superhero” vibe with nods to everything from The Hulk to 80s favorites like Predator. Themed weapons accompany each hero, but you can also mix and match if you’re feeling frisky. The presentation really keeps it all together, with music stings and graphics packages that revel in wonderful artifice. If that same level of creativity can be brought to the crazy weapons and NPCs you meet throughout the game, then that alone will be enough to propel me forward.
As I played through the demo, a few of the old issues did continue to crop up. Driving has an awkward control scheme that had me drifting when I wanted to be boosting, and the developer said that remapping buttons was a hopeful feature rather than guaranteed. As for the shooting, it feels better than last year, but it’s still not up to the standards of many other pure shooters on the market. Considering that this game is hanging its hat on combat more than anything, it might be a large hurdle to overcome.
Still, there’s something about Volition’s games that make me excited to play them. The irreverent tone, the focus on spectacle, the brilliant narrative right hooks of their campaigns. I can only hope that Agents of Mayhem lives up to that tradition in its final form. From what I’ve played so far, I feel more hopeful than before, and I’m happy to see something new. At the same time, Saints Row was purple lightning in a 40oz can, and I just don’t know if you can catch that twice.
Agents of Mayhem was demoed at E3 2017. The game is to be released in August on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
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