Bring the ruckus (and some mayhem) against a ruthless super-villain.
PC Release: August 15, 2017
By Ian Coppock
What could Volition do to take the Saints Row franchise any higher? Saints Row IV gave players godlike abilities and virtually unlimited freedom; how could Volition up the ante from there? More than a few inveterate Saints Row fans loudly suggested taking the series back to the grounded grittiness of its early installments, but the brand as it’s known today was built on silliness. Volition kept silliness in its pocket when it went back to the drawing board, which may explain why its newest game, Agents of Mayhem, is several degrees sillier than the studio probably intended.
In case the purple fleur-de-lis symbols weren’t enough of a clue, Agents of Mayhem is a spin-off of the Saints Row franchise. The game follows the exploits of M.A.Y.H.E.M., a super-cool spy agency battling the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations (or L.E.G.I.O.N. for short). Led by the diabolical Dr. Babylon, L.E.G.I.O.N. has gotten its hands on a deadly dark matter device, prompting the titular agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. to spring into action.
As one might expect of a game with this premise, Agents of Mayhem has a campy, ultra-light atmosphere consistent with Saturday morning cartoons. That motif is evident in everything from the game’s animated cutscenes to the main plot; the name “Dr. Babylon” certainly sounds like something out of Freakzoid! or Animaniacs. Just like those cartoons, Agents of Mayhem prefers to keep its premise simple: retrieve the doomsday device and defeat Dr. Babylon in a futuristic rendition of Seoul.
Players control the agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. from a third-person perspective, and each agent has his or her own weapons and combat specialties. Some characters get up-close and personal with a shotgun, while others keep the fighting at a distance with a sniper rifle. Most characters have powers befitting their personalities; the team’s resident frat boy douchebag, for example, can pelvic-thrust grenades at foes. Players can also upgrade each agent’s stats and unlock new abilities with every level up.
Players can send a team of up to three agents into the field, but Agents of Mayhem only allows control over one character at a time. That said, players can instantly switch to any character in their squad (even during firefights) which is handy for alternating between combat skillsets or in case one agent is on the verge of death. It’s convenient to be able to use the shotgun character for close-quarters combat, then switch over to the sniper class to hit foes who are far away.
Agents of Mayhem‘s squad mechanic is novel, but it’s the only novelty the game brings to the table. Its gunplay is some of the blandest third-person shooting of recent years. Anyone who has spent hours running in little circles shooting bad guys can look forward to doing more of precisely that, and only that, in Agents of Mayhem. While it’s true that each character has his or her own special power, they’re not all that cool to look at. They certainly could do a better job of hitting the bad guys.
Agents of Mayhem also lets players drive cars around the city, but the cars handle like ass. No, seriously, they handle like trying to speed down a highway on nothing more than an unclothed posterior. Acceleration and braking are both incredibly abrupt, while turning the vehicle feels more like trying to turn a big-bottomed yacht. The vehicle camera also insists on facing the rear of the car at a flat angle instead of an elevated one, so good luck avoiding obstacles and pedestrians.
Alright, so Agents of Mayhem‘s gunplay is a snore-fest and the cars handle drunkenly even if the driver is sober… is there anything fun to do in Seoul? In real life, probably, but in Agents of Mayhem… not really. There are two types of side activities in Agents of Mayhem: the first is street racing, which, given how poorly the cars handle, isn’t all that great (although certain missions allow players to race on foot). The other activity is taking over enemy outposts, which involves a lot of…. gunplay. Agents of Mayhem dresses shooting missions up as different types of firefights, but they’re all firefights.
With Seoul apparently being a bust, the only other place for players to hang out is aboard M.A.Y.H.E.M.’s futuristic airship. It’s a cool-looking set piece that divvies up various agent activities and utilities like a shopping mall, but that’s about it. Players can travel back to the ship between missions to hear other agents’ take on current affairs or to buy upgrades from various armorers.
If Agents of Mayhem can’t play cool, at least it tries to look cool. Character actions ranging from jumping to shooting are smoothly animated, though the agents seem to suffer a literal stiff upper lip when talking. The game’s world is also quite lively, utilizing a blend of bright colors and just a touch of cel shading to achieve a stylized aesthetic. Agents of Mayhem‘s rendition of Seoul also benefits from neat object placement (though the game could stand a few more objects).
The big downside to all of these visual achievements is that Agents of Mayhem‘s open world ain’t all that open; in fact, it’s tiny. The entire game world is maybe the same size as one London borough in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Size doesn’t matter if a game can make its world feel lively, but Agents of Mayhem‘s Seoul also feels empty. The map has only a handful of cars and NPCs moving around; sometimes players will stumble onto a street that’s completely devoid of either. Because of these design missteps, Seoul is wasted as an open-world setting in Agents of Mayhem.
If Agents of Mayhem had more vehicles and characters swarming its streets, that might help to explain why this game has so many bugs. As of writing, the PC version of Agents of Mayhem is rife with a few peculiar performance problems (say that five times fast). Players should be on the lookout for everything from the sound randomly cutting out to NPCs walking through solid objects. Agents of Mayhem is also fond of crashing, and crashing frequently. The game’s options menu, while thorough, can only do so much against these issues.
Let’s be generous for a moment and pretend that Agents of Mayhem doesn’t randomly go deaf or send its NPCs off of cliffs; the game still doesn’t run all that well. It has a nasty penchant for unstable framerates that can flare up for no apparent reason. That problem makes some sense when the game gets gummed up over lots of on-screen explosions and characters, but who knew that a stroll down the sidewalk was cause for a game to panic? If the game’s constant freezing is any indication, Seoul’s a lot chillier than it looks (ba dum tssss).
The final nail in Agents of Mayhem‘s purple-glossed coffin is the writing. While it’s true that the Saints Row games aren’t as laugh-out-loud hilarious as core fans say, the writing in Agents of Mayhem is several notches below the humor in the mainline Saints Row games. The jokes just aren’t funny; characters say lines like “home-sweet-temple-turned-field-office” and pause like that’s the most rip-roaring punch line of the century. No, the real punch line is that this game thinks that that’s a punch line.
At the end of the day, it’s also hard to know who Agents of Mayhem‘s intended audience is. The game’s cheesy dialogue suggests that it’s trying to appeal to children who enjoy similarly cheesy cartoons… but its liberal use of profanity and adult humor implies that it’s gunning for adults (as does the M rating). While it’s hard to know who Agents of Mayhem tries to please with its writing, it’s easy to see that it ends up pleasing no one.
Agents of Mayhem is both a disappointment in its own right and a shocking step back from the fun of Saints Row. There are a lot of video games out there that do one or two things blandly, but Agents of Mayhem is one of those rare titles that does everything blandly. The game is just so mediocre; the writing falls flat, the gameplay is rote, and its system performance leaves a lot to be desired. Gamers looking for a new open world to play in and Saints Row fans emerging from hibernation both need to stay far, far away; there’s better mayhem to be had in other, better games.
You can buy Agents of Mayhem here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.