It becomes rare these days that any game comes out where we aren’t making some kind of comparison to another title or two. Depending on the elements it has and the way it combines them, the human mind finds comfort in comparing things to the familiar. For the sake of maintaining that sense, let me paint a picture of what Agents of Mayhem is by using a palette you might be familiar with. Take Saints Row as the canvas and foundation, add a splash of G.I. Joe, then give it a final coating of Overwatch, and you’ll find yourself getting pretty close to Agents of Mayhem. These are comparisons and inspirations that Deep Silver Volition have referenced themselves on numerous occasions, and those who have played the game have endorsed those correlations.
We’ve previewed Agents of Mayhem a number of times before, each time eager to see what Volition can do with life after Saints Row. In a world dominated by the L.E.G.I.O.N. (henceforth Legion), a mysterious woman has banded together a group of misfits to help fight that evil, specifically in a futuristic Seoul, South Korea. These heroes are known as M.A.Y.H.E.M. (henceforth Mayhem), though it’s hard to call all of them heroes in the proper sense of the term. Some of them are just here for their own selfish purposes, but as long as their goals align with Mayhem’s, they are happy to join the fight and use all of the cool technology this organization has at their disposal.
With a cast of twelve agents to play as, it’s surprising that Volition was able to create such personality and depth across the character roster. While some characters are much more fleshed out than others, there’s still a good understanding of not only who each of the playable heroes are, but also the supporting cast of characters stationed on the ARK, Mayhem’s flying base (think SHIELD helicarrier from Marvel comics). There’s also a fair amount of backstory and personality to the enemies you’ll be fighting, which is nice not having yet another faceless boss character, even if some of them are terribly cliched. It’s actually those cliches that make up some of the parody that permeates this world.
Known for riffing on pop culture with the Saints Row series, it was to be expected that Volition would continue that trend with Agents of Mayhem. Surprisingly, while the game is exceptionally over-the-top in a lot of ways, it actually dials down some of its parodies and references to a subtle nuance. It feels that each element is more naturally ingrained within the game and the story they are telling as opposed to just being in the game for the sake of a pop culture reference. This subtlety means you may miss a lot of the references if you aren’t looking for them, or conversely find a reference where there wasn’t meant to be one. Though it’s a departure from their usual style, it gives them a chance to focus on the gameplay and amazing Saturday morning cartoon styled cinematics that bring the story to life.
Pick Your Team
Agents of Mayhem allows you to select three of your agents to send into the field. Though you can only play as one at any given time, you can swap between these three at will. Maybe you want Rama for far away enemies, Hollywood for the mid-range encounters, and Scheherazade for some melee sword strikes on close-up baddies. You can also select agents based on their different abilities and how you might want to combo them. Each agent plays differently enough that I found myself regularly switching it up early on, though by the end I had found my go-to team that I tended to rely on and rarely varied from what felt good to play as. In some ways I wish the game would have forced the selection of different heroes throughout the campaign, though I understand them wanting to let players have the freedom to play with the characters they wanted.
While the combat gameplay is a lot of fun, I found that the lack of mission variety made it wear thin before the end. The campaign ends up having a bit more variety than the side missions (which rely far too heavily on the use, reuse, and reuse again of the same old boring Legion Lairs), but most of the missions amount to checkpointed combat, moving players from one area to the next, and then throwing waves of the same old enemies at them again and again. The side missions are supposed to be exploring each of the characters in a little more depth, but other than the voiceovers, the missions themselves tend not to have anything to do with the characters themselves, forcing gameplay that has next to nothing to do with the story being told.
This disconnect between the stylish Saturday morning cartoon styled narrative and the uninspired missions really brings Agents of Mayhem down. The open world doesn’t feel lifeless, as much as it seems like Seoul has no soul. The city is devoid of truly meaningful things to do. Every little side mission, open world event, and outpost feel like platitudes placed in the game because someone read the manual on what open world games ought to have. In fact, I would almost argue that Agents of Mayhem would have benefited more from not taking the open world approach. Instead of focusing on telling a fun and over-the-top story of the fight against Legion, it might have been better to further flesh out the characters’ backgrounds and personalities, along with streamlining the gameplay. The open world feels like an afterthought, just for the sake of having an open-world.
Agents of Mayhem Review - Find Your Seoul (PS4)
Finally, there were a number of bugs that cropped up during my 20 hours playing (which included completing every available mission in the game). These ranged from voice lines repeating over and over again, to some extremely odd visual glitches, and even three or four progression halting ones which required me to exit and restart the application to resolve them and continue moving forward. I also noted a number of times when the game would start chugging when there was even a moderate amount of action on screen, more than once causing the death of one of my agents.
There’s a lot to love in Agents of Mayhem, which makes the pitfalls harder to swallow. An imaginative story and cast of characters is burdened by an uninspired and soulless open-world. Exciting character combat gets pushed out of the limelight by notable slowdown and other bugs that inhibit gameplay. In a day where open-world games are evolving and giving players a lot more depth, meaning, and life, Agents of Mayhem feels like a step backwards. Volition ought to consider either abandoning or stepping up the open-world if they decide to continue the franchise.
Agents of Mayhem review code provided by publisher. Agents of Mayhem version 1.01 reviewed on standard PS4. For more information on scoring read our Review Policy.