Agents of Mayhem Review – Volition at its best?
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Deep Silver Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release: 15th August 2017 (NA / PC) / 18th August 2017
Price: 59.99 (PC), 69.99 (Consoles)
Saints Row truly is an interesting franchise, starting off as a GTA clone during its first two entries before developing into a crazy over-the-top action pun fest, leading to a game with too many ideas to fit into one game, called Saints Row 4. Now, Volition finally breaks out of their main series to bring us Agents of Mayhem, a game all around different Agents, Mayhem and action, set in the Saints Row universe. Before calling it a singleplayer Overwatch like so many others and call it a day, let´s take a look at Volition´s latest creation, shall we?
Even though Agents of Mayhem takes place in the Saints Row universe, those two games share little to no similarities. Story-wise we join the Agents of Mayhem, yes that´s their name, in their fight against LEGION, their leader Doctor Babylon and his master Morningstar. By taking over different agents we have to face LEGION´s five generals, destroying their evil plans … pretty basic stuff.
Similar to a TV series, Agents of Mayhem´s missions are structured in different episodes, each focusing on one of the generals and how we stop him. Yet, as known from Volition, don´t expect anything from the story. During the whole game we´re mostly presented with cliché-y villains, like the mad scientist, the evil superstar or evil main villain etc. Volition clearly wanted to imitate the animated TV series from the 80s, both in writing and style.
However, I don´t only know these badass hero tales from dozens of other games, I´m also sick of it and think that the pure imitation just doesn´t work anymore. Instead, Agents of Mayhem could have been a great parody to exactly those cliché-y tales, which it certainly tried at some points, but was never clever enough to make it work, letting it end up as just another boring hero tale. Additionally, the writing is even worse than in Saints Row 4, at least in the beginning, throwing jokes like: Uranus = Ur Anus, at us. Luckily, it gets better during the following hours, leading to a more seriously written script.
!Minor Ending Spoiler!
I also NEED to point out how bad the ending of Agents of Mayhem is. I´m one of those persons that despise open-ended or even half assed endings in order to set up a sequel, if I don´t get a proper ending, how should I feel like I achieved something? Now, guess what Agents of Mayhem pulled off, exactly, once I beat the endboss, I got an ending that is so open, half assed, incomplete and only made to tease a sequel, I felt ripped off after beating it. Honestly, why did they think this would be a good idea?
!Minor Ending Spoiler!
On the other hand, where Saints Row´s stories also couldn´t impress with twists or smart writing, most of their missions were entertaining and had some amazing moments from time to time, like a fight against a giant energy drink. At the very least, the creativity and absurdity of certain missions could truly entertain me and keep me interested in Saints Row´s story. Now, imagine a game lacking of all those ideas, only consisting of running from A to B, running through the ever same halls and doing the ever same things, then you have Agents of Mayhem. To be honest, the lack of any memorable, absurd moments was probably the biggest surprise of the game. From the ~50 missions it has to offer, I only remember 2, mostly because they had some new locations.
Volition seemingly tried to keep their creativity or craziness locked down, in order to make Agents of Mayhem a more serious-toned game. Especially towards the end we have some pretty jokeless sections and even a “scary” level. Nonetheless, in exchange we´re offered missions, which send us through LEGION lairs, consisting of the same rooms over and over again, the eversame shooting passages and an overall unremarkable campaign. I definitely expected more creativity from Volition.
In exchange the overall presentation of the story and Agents are superb from time to time. Beginning with the stylish animated intro from the 80s, to the various animated story cutscenes and Agents introductions, I felt constantly reminded of these old classics. Unfortunately, most of these story cutscenes never have much to say, except the typical cliché-y backgrounds of our enemies, unless they introduce a new agent. On top of that, Agents of Mayhem is also clustered with tons of little things, like a car jumping animation, custom jump animations for each agent, TV spots each time you teleport to your HQ, the ARK, and even things like custom voice lines for every single agent, for every mission. All of these things combined create a truly unique, fresh style for Agents of Mayhem, something I was worried about, since it´s set in the Saints Row universe.
Speaking of positive things, not everything about Agents of Mayhem´s story is bad, in fact, the agents are probably the best characters Volition´s ever written. Partially, due to their constant interaction with others during missions, custom voice lines for every situation, the Agents feel alive and human but most importantly, they are believable. To unlock new agents, we have to complete so-called Agents Missions, in which we learn the background and motivation, as well as practicing their individual abilities. Through the mentioned stylish animated cutscenes, we can get an insight of their reasons to join Mayhem and much more. Once we completed their individual missions, we not only know them as a play style but as a person. If we wish to pursue their storylines even further, Agents of Mayhem offers us various additional Agent Missions, to dive into their lore, sadly, they too suffer from the same unremarkable, boring design as the rest.
Another thing the agents spice up in contrast to previous Volition games is the Third Person Shooter gameplay. As a baseline we´re still presented the same kind of Shooter we know from Saints Row, a coverless, fast one with some bullet spongy enemies. Now, each of our agent comes with his own weapon, ability, ultimate and passive abilities, so, instead of switching the weapon against certain enemies, we switch the agent since every single one of them presents a completely different play style. We can also triple jump and dash now, allowing for a way faster movement.
While, your typical minions die in seconds, we´ll encounter more and more bullet sponge enemies the further we progress. In combination with the pretty dumb AI, especially the second half is dominated by giant health bars and a lack of overall feedback. If you didn´t like the Saints Row gameplay, Agents of Mayhem won´t change a thing there. Nevertheless how hard Volition tried to give you control by letting you choose between 20 different difficulties before each deployment. On one hand, it´s only a poor help and doesn´t change the still lacking feedback. On the other hand they even penalize you for choosing lower (but more fun) difficulties.
However, the fact we can vary the gameplay by always mixing our squad moves the focus from the boring getting bullet sponges to the very fun to play agents and motivating leveling system. As in Saints Row, we can level up each of our 12 agents individually, giving us access to little percentage based enhancements and overall improvements to life, damage etc. By completing missions or open world activities we also obtain gadgets for our agents, individual power ups or even ability changing modules.
To craft special gadgets, have access to all of our agents and all our other menus, Agents of Mayhem´s ARK serves as our little hub world. Here we have all menus for all our agents on one place, enhanced by purchasable upgrades, crafting and everything you could need for your agents. The ARK can truly be called “home” or at least, our base, serving as the perfect way to make the menus a bit more interesting.
Sadly, once we deploy from the ARK and land in Seoul, Agents of Mayhem´s open world, we´re quickly greeted by an empty, boring, unremarkable one. Similar to the main campaign, Volition failed at filling this quite big world with interesting content. From capturing outposts to unlocking fast travel points, all activities are so generic, I didn´t care about them. At least Saints Row made them interesting through its humour but due to Agents of Mayhem´s seemingly focus on a somehow more serious tone, the open world suffers from the same problems as the main campaign. The lack of character customization options, which isn´t a bad thing, didn´t help at bringing more content to the world either. After my initial hours, I just used it to start missions, without ever touching the activities.
Since Agents of Mayhem isn´t the most beautiful game, featuring a more comic/plastic-style look, the open world could never truly impressed me. Nevertheless, it´s still a very stylish game, drawing heavy influences from Saints Row, featuring the same colour palette and overall graphic style, I enjoyed looking at it for the most part. Surely, textures could be a bit sharper and the draw distance of cars in the open world is pretty laughable, but because of the generation change Agents of Mayhem is definitely the best looking Volition game, even though it suffers from the same problems. The PC version runs pretty solid though, giving me a rock solid 60fps at 2k with a 1070, only brought down by tons of explosions.
When Agents of Mayhem was announced I feared, that it could draw too much inspiration from the Saints Row franchise, ending up as a game without identity. Now, after completing the game, I fear, that it didn´t draw enough inspiration from Saints Row. Where Saints Row 3+4 never had a great story or amazing gameplay, the pure craziness and over the top action made them more than just entertaining to play.
Agents of Mayhem on the other hand may offer the best gameplay of all Volition games with its diverse agents, faster movement and ton of customization options but fails at delivering an entertaining campaign. Gone are the crazy battles between energy drinks or flights in space ships, exchanged for shooting the ever same enemies in the ever same corridors and environments, doing the ever same objectives for 50 missions. Except 2 missions, which are either different in setting or presentation, the open world and campaign are simply boring.
Honestly, if Agents of Mayhem wouldn´t feature the name giving agents, which are truly the best characters I´ve ever seen in a Volition game and ones I could truly sympathize with, set in a charmingly presented world, I don´t know if I could have completed it. Yet, at the end, because of the agents, the fast gameplay and stylish presentation, I still had a lot of fun with it.
[A Review Code was provided by Deep Silver]