Imagine if you got the teams behind G.I. Joe and Archer together, provided them an endless supply of liquor & mind-altering psychedelics, and then told them to make a video game. That, in a nutshell, is the latest endeavor developed by Deep Silver Volition and published by Deep Silver: Agents of Mayhem. You take on a role of one of the titular agents of the organization MAYHEM who are fighting against the vile forces of LEGION (League of Evil Gentleman Intent on Obliterating Nations) and gallivanting around futuristic Seoul, South Korea tearing things up with a team of three agents that you can switch between at will.
Let's start with a question that I have seen floating around (and was asked no less than three times by friends seeing me play the game): is Agents of Mayhem a Saints Row game? The short answer is no. The long answer is that it's very Saints Row-esque in terms of the gameplay, feel of the game and overall presentation. Agents of Mayhem is set in the Saints Row universe in some kind of loose fashion considering that Pierce and Oleg are playable agents operating under code names, but it doesn't feel very much like a Saints Row game even with connections such as these. The MAYHEM organization is said to be funded by Ultor, and you'll catch references here and there to the lore of that particular franchise. Of course, there is also the big stinkin' purple fleur de lis that makes up the iconography of the organization. I somewhat feel that Agents of Mayhem trades on the Saints Row brand, and I wonder if that might upset some people who were expecting something a bit closer to that universe. It's really unfortunate because the game is pretty good and I think it could have done without that. If you stripped out the handful of Saints Row references peppered throughout the game, it wouldn't make it any worse.
Agents of Mayhem is a single-player game where you control three agents at a time out of a roster of a dozen (notwithstanding any future DLC characters, one of which - Johnny Gat - was already released as a bonus for certain editions of the game). You can switch between the members of your team simply by scrolling the mouse wheel, and the change happens so quickly that you can easily combo the different abilities of your agents. I took down some particularly tough targets simply by rotating through the special abilities of my agents and following up with regular gunfire where needed.
Each agent presents a different style of gameplay in nearly all respects. Some are more mobile, some are tanks, and some are glass cannons. Some agents can wall climb, some can air dash, and some can go invisible. You can further customize your agents' base abilities with Gadgets that change how they function. LEGION tech can be added on top of that to further fine tune each agent to your tastes. Each character also has a skill tree of four different choices, each with ten possible levels. A nice feature of this skill tree system is the ability to reset your points at any time (even halfway into a level) if you felt so inclined. This makes the agents highly customizable - sometimes on the fly! - and that makes for an extraordinarily flexible and adaptive experience if you like to tinker with your builds.
You begin your journey in Agents of Mayhem with more or less a cold open of a profanity-laden Saturday morning cartoon show. The first level walks you through switching between agents and how their different abilities can be used for different situations. Your first three agents give you a good variety of capabilities from the outset. Hollywood is your generic "rifle with a grenade launcher" character with a narcissist streak. Fortune is a Brazilian pirate (of the "yar har fiddle dee dee" variety, not the illegally sharing movies variety) who gets around fast and is assisted by her combat drone Glory. Hardtack is a mountain of a man with a shotgun who can throw a harpoon into enemies.
After the first mission, I set my sights on getting my hands on any character other than Hardtack because I just didn't like his playstyle. My first new acquisition was Rama, a doctor from India with an affinity for archery. I immediately took to her gameplay style and kept her for the remainder of the game. Hollywood was soon replaced by Braddock, an ex-drill sergeant who is cleaning up her former trainees that joined MAYHEM. I kept Fortune on board for more or less the entire game. I stuck with this team because I liked their abilities and playstyles, but this wasn't the right choice - there isn't really such a thing in Agents of Mayhem. Sure, some characters have abilities that you might need for a mission (like the ability to do more damage to shields or to be a better hacker), but you can probably find at least one person with that ability that you like. If not, you can just bring them along for those specific missions. So long as you have someone who can damage armor, someone who can damage shields, and someone who is a master hacker, you can get through the entire game with that team.
The agents, support staff of the agency, enemies, and surrounding incidental characters were all very diverse in terms of their nationality and ethnicity. I'm not certain if this was a genuine effort on Deep Silver Volition's part or a send-up of the trend of '80s cartoons and children's media to have people from every conceivable background. It didn't particularly matter to me personally but I'm sure there will be people out there who will like having a little variety in the characters. I just wonder if it's a bit too much; at times, the MAYHEM organization looks like the U.N. with one or two representatives from distinct cultures or nations. That's not to say that they got it wrong or half-assed it - as an example, I thought it was a nice touch to have Scheherazade, a "ninja" character that was a hashashin in the Persian style rather than a Japanese shinobi. In any case, the various people are just there and no one gets preachy or makes a big deal of it - they just do their respective jobs.
Regardless of their origins, the characters I encountered were fantastic. The villains were hammy. The agents were hammy. It's so hammy that the game takes place in a metaphorical bacon factory. And it's fantastic. I particularly liked Gremlin, the engineer girl who does R&D and builds your tech in the Ark (the futuristic flying home base of MAYHEM). She is just so gosh-darn lovable, and I think that players will be immediately enamored with her. Deep Silver Volition knew this as well, and they make excellent use of Gremlin throughout the story.
Speaking of, the narrative is interspersed with animated cutscenes of varying activity. Some are simply static images with minimal movement, and some are full-blown animated cutscenes that wouldn't seem out of place in a cartoon show. Of course, there's plenty of in-engine cutscenes as well. The story is as ridiculous as one would expect: LEGION is using dark matter energy to fuel super-weapons in order to Take Over The World and MAYHEM is out to stop them with gadgets and plucky heroes.
Outside of the campaign, there are a variety of side activities to take part in. Very few of these are strictly necessary, but completing them will lead to resources and valuable gear that can help you along with your missions. Much like any open world game, these numerous activities are laid out on the map of Seoul. Yellow diamonds represent facilities that can be captured or big world events, and blue diamonds are smaller activities like "commandeering" (READ: stealing) a car for parts or rescuing a hostage strapped to a bomb. (As an aside, you rescue said hostages by encasing them in an energy-based hamster ball, blowing the damn bomb up anyway, and watching them bounce around the area for a few seconds. If that doesn't tell you what the tone of the game is, I don't know what will.)
After capturing your first Outpost (which reveals the surrounding area of a chunk of the map), you'll soon be notified that LEGION will fight back and retake these. This particular element of the capturing system was handled very poorly. I didn't see any kind of notifications that LEGION took something back, and I encountered a few instances where it seemed that something I had just captured a short time ago was taken back.
In the twenty or so hours I played the game, I noticed that there seems to be some kind of equilibrium involving the Outposts, Relic stores (which provide passive income), Gremlin hangouts (which provide a bit of technology), and world events. I had captured all four Outposts and all four Relic locations (providing me with a nice passive income) and hadn't had anything change hands in some time. I decided to get all four Gremlin locations as well, and as soon as I captured one I lost an Outpost. Losing an Outpost hurts because it will also automatically capture the associated Gremlin location and Relic store. I eventually figured out that you can have four Outposts & four Relic stores and nothing will swap over so long as you leave the rest of the yellow icons alone. Outside of doing the initial captures of Gremlin locations to get your hands on new tech, I think this is probably the best way to do things. Trying to capture everything seems to be an impossible task, and it quickly gets frustrating to repeat work that you just did very recently. It's also quite counterintuitive, and I hope that this is addressed in some fashion in a future patch.
I encountered a handful of bugs and some of them were show stoppers. The sound occasionally broke up at random points, crackling and obscuring voice lines and sound effects. I had some clipping issues as well: I fell through the map once and I had my agency vehicle intersect with another vehicle in some kind of twisted monstrosity. The UI worked smoothly save for the map. On occasion, random icons for missions would just not be visible at all, which is a definite progress impediment. Speaking of the map, I had a moment where a chunk of the map just failed to load (evident by very visible low-res textures in a suspiciously triangular-shaped area). Lastly, one particular issue that irked me is that anytime I started the game in my preference of Borderless Windowed mode, I couldn't Alt+Tab on Windows 10 until I switched it back and forth to another mode.
Agents of Mayhem was a bit choppy for me at times, too, and I'm running an EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW so it sure as shootin' ain't a horsepower problem. I was mildly inconvenienced or annoyed by some of these issues and having bugs in a final product is never ideal - they persisted even into Day 1 of the game's release - but none of these were super severe save for the "map didn't want to load" issue where I got stuck and had to restart the game. I imagine Deep Silver Volition will get them sorted out in the near future.
Bugs aside, there were a handful of design issues as well. I wasn't fond of the fact that there isn't a dedicated map key. For a game where you are traveling around a city a lot, I would think that pressing M would bring up the Map and not the Missions tab. There isn't an option to bind one, either, and I think that this was an oversight that should be rectified. The inability to lock the third-person car camera in place (something quite a few people have been complaining about since Saints Row: The Third) still does not exist and I found myself playing the "wiggle the mouse to get a better view of traffic" mini game yet again while driving. In addition, just like its Saints Row brethren, it detected my gamepad and wouldn't let me turn it off in-game, which forced me to unplug it.
Another issue I encountered very occasionally was spawning in and getting instantly killed because a random event just so happened to spawn there. Enemies and whatever thing they're protecting can pop up anywhere, and sometimes it just so happens to be where you're spawning in. I lost a character pretty much immediately as soon as I started a mission and there wasn't a thing I could have done about it. This should not be able to happen. There were other minor annoyances here and there, but these were the big ones that I felt were worth mentioning.
I've said plenty about what Agents of Mayhem did wrong, but that's more than canceled out by what the game does right. And goodness me, despite the bugs and handful of design oversights, Agents of Mayhem does so much right.
Firstly, the game has fifteen difficulty levels. I wondered why there were so many until I started working my way through the game and it clicked - this level of variation is necessary when you can have three characters each with different abilities and at different levels. In fact, the only way to level up characters is to bring them along on missions with you, so you'll certainly end up with one or two low-leveled characters on your team. I elected to level up a pair of characters alongside one of my main three in case I felt like mixing things up later. This is helped along by a brilliant catch-up mechanic where lower-level characters will level up faster. You'll have to grind, but not nearly as much. I do have to mention that the higher end of the curve feels a bit brutal - I certainly was kept very busy with my team of three fully-leveled gals bouncing around the map and trying to stay alive on the second hardest difficulty. It felt a bit out of whack, but perhaps this extra challenge was by design. Regardless, I went with whatever level of difficulty the game recommended me depending on the mission. Thankfully, this does give you a hint as to where you should set your sights for each challenge.
Agents of Mayhem also has a sort of "Prestige" system. Upgrade Cores are items that let you activate up to three special bonuses for each of your characters. Once they hit Level 20, these Upgrade Cores can then be used to purchase an additional 20 levels at the cost of one core per level. This ensures that this one item is useful throughout the entire game and you'll always have a need for them, which I thought was a nice design touch.
One tiny last thing to mention in terms of the game design is exiting moving cars. Gone are the days of jumping out and rolling on the ground while your car slams into a wall. Tapping the E button results in your car screeching to a halt and your character bounding out of the driver's seat. Someone at Deep Silver Volition made the conscious choice to implement this feature, and that person deserves a beer for their brilliance. Heck, I want to buy them a lifetime supply of beers.
The gameplay is fun and invigorating, but to me, the best part has got to be the story, worldbuilding, and characterization. Every time you deploy from the Ark you're treated to an awesome launching sequence where your three chosen agents run into the teleporter tube to awesome music while quipping about how badass they are. It's great for hyping you up, although I'm a sucker for launch sequences whether it's in Star Fox or Gundam so I may be just a bit biased in this regard.
Being a Volition game, things tend to get a bit wacky throughout. At one point, you literally fight a cybernetic man addicted to augmenting his body and his A.I. waifu. His waifu then goes on a rampage, terrorizing the city with lethal K-pop music. I feel that I need to emphasize that I am in no way joking and that this actually happens in the game. That's one of the many crazy things you'll encounter in your journey throughout Agents of Mayhem. I particularly enjoyed the "Agents of Mayhem" PSAs that would take place each time you teleported back to the ARK which are helpful, insightful, complete (sometimes insane non-sequitors ("If you program VR puppies, no one gets any work done"), or downright crazy. They're almost always amusing and made for a great parody of the PSAs of children's cartoons.
Graphically, Agents of Mayhem looks lovely. I particularly enjoyed how the characters had a hint of cel-shading to them with the black outline making them stand out a bit. The particle effects were neat and the game world was beautiful and vibrant. Deep Silver Volition crafted an entirely believable (and downright stunning at times) futuristic Seoul. I struggle to think of a moment where I thought anything looked bad save for the few rare occasions where something broke.
As for the sound, the music is fantastic. The unique songs for the Mayhem abilities are more than sufficiently epic and are well-tailored to the personalities of each character. The music for deploying your agents feels like it would fit right in on a Saturday morning cartoon. The pop songs that feature in the plot are... well, the lyrics are terrible and cheesy, and yet somehow it's still infuriatingly catchy. (Thankfully, these songs don't actually kill people, although it might make you wish for death.)
When I saw Agents of Mayhem announced, I felt a bit bad that it wasn't a Saints Row game. For one reason or another, Deep Silver Volition decided to mix things up and try something totally new. Boy howdy, did they succeed. Despite the handful of issues I had with the game, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Agents of Mayhem. If you like Archer or Saints Row, you should consider giving this game a whirl. If you like both of those things, you will almost certainly love Agents of Mayhem. It's a fantastic new venture by Deep Silver Volition and I look forward to where they will be taking it in the future.
Agents of Mayhem was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher.
What do you think of Agents of Mayhem? Do you think it was worth missing out on a Saints Row game for this new venture by Deep Silver Volition? Are you looking forward to a possible sequel? Let us know in the comments below!
- 12 Unique and Varied Characters
- Great Worldbuilding & Characterization
- Weird And Quirky Humor Keeps You Guessing
- A Bit Buggy At Times
- Higher Difficulty Levels Feel A Bit Too Tough
- Frustrating Location Capture Mechanic