Reviews August 15, 2017

Agents of Mayhem

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox One (Also on PS4, PC)
Genre: Action
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 08/15/2017
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Volition

I do not envy Volition. Trying to produce a follow up to Saints Row IV, arguably one of their best games isn’t an easy task though. Or at least, it doesn’t seem to be. Their latest title, Agents of Mayhem, is a spin-off of the Saints series. It features over-the-top antics, imaginative characters, and bombastic gameplay – basically, the things that made Saints Row IV such a great game. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as well this time around.

Agents of Mayhem takes place in an alternate, future timeline where whacky villains and obnoxiously named organizations are up to no good. The League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations (L.E.G.I.O.N) for instance, has taken over Seoul, South Korea. One can assume they’re trying to conquer the world and Seoul is the best place to achieve such a lofty goal. Their leader, Dr Babylon has an assortment of schemes, none of which make much sense outside of an 80’s cartoon. Whatever the case, the Multinational AgencY Hunting Evil Masterminds (M.A.Y.H.E.M) was on the scene to foil his plans. Their agents would teleport into Seoul just to shoot it out GI Joe and Cobra style. Only with real bullets and a lot more swearing.

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An action game styled like a Saturday morning cartoon for adults is an easy sell for me. Especially, if the plot is penned by Volition; I just knew it was going to be a hilarious parody of sorts. And while I wouldn’t use the word “hype” to describe how I felt as we got closer to launch, I was a little more than excited when we received our review code. That feeling faded after just a few hours in. To be fair, there was some good stuff sprinkled about; nods to classic shows and movies, cheesy one liners that made me smile, and absurd happenings that were fun to watch. For the most part though, there wasn’t much of a story here. LEGION’s lieutenants had goals they wished to accomplish, like controlling teens using VR headsets or using a giant crystal to power a laser. But there was no cohesiveness to their endeavors. Outside of some events towards the end of the game, all of it seemed random.

While it would have been nice to experience more of the witty writing Volition is known for, this set up isn’t really an issue in and of itself. If the point was to be like a cartoon and just give us episodes featuring a different villain with each level, I’m cool with that. What made this problematic for me is that it felt like a missed opportunity to provide an exciting plot in a unique way. Moreover, the overall experience was worsened by a repetitive mission structure and underutilized characters. All twelve of Mayhem’s agents are interesting when they’re first introduced (usually done in an animated cutscene). You got Daisy, an ex-roller derby player with a sailor’s mouth and a mini-gun. She loves fighting, drinking and fu…er…fighting some more. Red Card is a soccer fan/hooligan with a gun that transforms from a shotgun into a rifle. He also has a serious temper, so much so, that his super ability is spontaneous combustion. My favorite is Yeti, a Russian soldier who was subjected to the “Cold Warrior Project”. He’s like Ice-Man if he had Captain America’s origin story. Cool right (heh)?

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The issue is that I don’t really know anything else about them. There isn’t any extra information about them besides a few tidbits on select missions. Each one gets two solo missions where they talk to their handler, revealing a little more about themselves. None of it is really meaningful. It may be funny to know that Yeti can’t “be” with a woman because he’s like a walking popsicle, but that doesn’t explain how he personally influences the plot. A few interchangeable lines, a brief background and a muscled physique aren’t enough to build an interesting character. I mean, why create these distinct characters if you aren’t going to do anything compelling with them?

All of this can be forgiven of course, as long as the gameplay held up. It doesn’t. You see, AoM lives and dies on a gimmick that allows you to switch between three agents at will while on missions; being a one man, woman, man (and any combination thereof) mini-army and all that. The idea is that you’ll swap when one character loses a lot of health or when you want to utilize different skills/weapons. While this certainly sounds like a neat thing to do, in reality, it isn’t much different from the games that feature a solo character with multiple weapons. For one, each agent has a very limited arsenal – one weapon and two special abilities. Meaning that most players will choose their squad based on what weapons are needed and not because they liked the agent’s persona; I liked Yeti because he can freeze people with his ice gun. Then there’s the leveling system. When agents level up, they are given experience points to increase stats pertinent to their abilities and gadgets to add some flare. Head shots do more damage (stats). Grenades won’t just do damage, they’ll also blind foes (gadgets).

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What I’m getting at is there’s no reason for the swapping mechanic to exist. A lack of information makes it hard to grow attached to an agent beyond their look and their abilities are so one dimensional, that they fail to evolve past their weapons. Basically, instead of making multiple characters that bring nothing to the story, we could have had one character with multiple weapons, each with their own skill trees. The only reason I can see to change characters would be to allow the wounded to heal, which is something that can be substituted with health recovery items.

Even though it feels pointless to swap characters during play (essentially just to get a different weapon), the actual moment to moment shooting is entertaining. Silently dispatching foes with Scheherazade’s sword or riddling everything in sight with holes using Daisy’s chain gun can be exciting at times. I mainly wish that the missions weren’t so repetitive. Majority of the game’s missions are just infiltrate a lab, kill bad guys, hack a computer, and escape. Sometimes you’ll have to rescues hostages, destroy LEGION equipment or defend an area from enemies. Even then, you’ll eventually head towards a lab with a computer to hack. The same goes for the game’s activities – the mini-games or side missions that are supposed to provide a break from the campaign. A few of them were different (delivering cars to a designated spot, racing on foot through the city). The rest either followed the same kill, hack, escape pattern seen in the story or offer bit sized versions of the rescue/defend missions. The aforementioned solo exploits try to change things up by removing the swap feature, I assume to help us become better acquainted with each Agent’s playstyle. What makes these solo missions bad is that you’re stuck using one Agent, thereby using one weapon. Worse still, these missions don’t cater to that Agents abilities; the stealth based character with a sword is forced to contend with snipers perched on buildings.

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One of AoM’s saving graces are LEGION’s lieutenants. Unlike our protagonists, these villains were given backstories. We get to see how/why they joined LEGION, their motivations and more before finally confronting them. Some are quite humous, if not a little out there; one guy hoped to marry an advanced AI, made up of five women named Aisha (they formed a Korean Pop group). Facing them in boss fights is also fun; they tend to be the most challenging aspects of the game. Some require you to do some platforming while others will toss special enemy types at you. Most will require you to do more than just shoot. The battle against Aisha takes place in a virtual realm that changes with each woman’s personality and ends with you fighting a giant robot.

There are other mechanics I haven’t covered yet. Like crafting and the global contract system, where players can share in special missions collectively – killing 500 enemies or collecting a set number of something within a few hours. To me, none of the “extra” content would compel someone to keep playing; I wanted to quit well before the end credits. At first, I thought this was because of my expectations of Volition. My love of Saints Row. The more I played though, the more I felt this would have been the case regardless of the shared universe and/or developer. With mission after mission of the same thing, a lackluster plot, and no real likeable characters (aside from the villains), I grew bored. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Agents of Mayhem is a bad game. It just feels uninspired, as if the only thing Volition aspired to do was get the swapping mechanic right. Cleary, that wasn’t enough to win me over, Saints fan or not.

Gameplay: 5
The action can be entertaining. Things go from exciting to boring very quickly though, thanks to the repetitive mission structure.

Graphics: 8
I like the cartoony vibe.

Sound: 8
The explosions sound nice. The voice work isn’t bad either.

Replay Value: 4
After completing it, I had no desire to return to Seoul.

Final Score:

6.3