A little Seoul-less?
Game: Agents of Mayhem
Publisher: Deep Silver
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Agents of Mayhem is a weird game. Coming from Volition, the purple-hued purveyors of the Saints Row franchise, it seemingly sets its stall out very clearly from the get-go, with an opening mission entitled “Operation: Spinoff”. However, if you’re expecting a pseudo-sequel to the demented fun of the Third Street Saints, you might come away from it a little disappointed, barring a few notable cast members.
You see, AOM is set in the Saints Row universe. You can play as Johnny Gat, and if you’ve kept up to date with everything the Saints have to offer, you’ll immediately recognise the founder of your group, Persephone Brimstone, as someone that Johnny hauled in at the end of Gat out of Hell. The issue that I have with it is that whilst it leans heavily into that, it very rarely makes any explicit mention of the Third Street Saints.
Set in Seoul (hence the cringe-worthy pun of a strap line), AOM centres around the dastardly Doctor Babylon and his LEGION organisation, who are intent on retrieving a mysterious and powerful crystal from outer space, in order to inflict chaos on the world. So far, so “80s cartoons”, right? It’s a feeling that works really well, from the cheesy dialogue to the anime-esque cut scenes, the game definitely has the look and feel that it’s going for, just with a slightly more expletive lined edge. At its core, it’s a relatively standard Open-World game, with a few neat little touches that help it stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The game, somewhat obviously, centres around the MAYHEM organisation, and the multitude of Agents that work for it. You pick a squad of 3 characters, and deploy into Seoul to try and put a dent in Babylon’s plans. You can flick between your Agents with Left and Right on the D-Pad, allowing you to create some interesting combinations of strike teams. Do you want to strike a balance between brute force and speed, should you put an expert hacker in the mix to allow you to penetrate LEGION’s defences more quickly? It’s a series of questions that you can, and should, ask yourself before beginning each mission.
Bouncing abilities off each of your team of 3 definitely invokes a great set of mechanics, and can absolutely be a whole heap of fun, when done correctly. If you choose the right team for the right mission and learn to utilise the relevant strengths, then you’re in for a treat. Mowing down enemies with brutal efficiency as Gat, before terrorising them as Oni, before plopping down a turret to mop up any survivors as Joule is as satisfying as it is fun, and finding the perfect team is something that you could quite happily play about with for hours. There are plenty of Agents available to you, and they’re unlocked either through the main story missions, or via a series of side-quests that you can pick up at any point from the ARK, your base of operations.
Also available at the ARK is an Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood style “deploy and retrieve” style world map. You can drop any agents that are not currently in your squad into any region in the world and pick up XP and other useful items, as well as root out LEGION bases that will earn you a heap of goodies as well.
The major issues that I have with the game are three-fold. First up, is the mission design. Whilst Saints Row has always been about the outlandish, the outrageous and the downright insane, AOM settles into a rhythm and seems almost afraid to break out of it at times. The most impressive moments are the boss fights against Babylon’s Lieutenants, although these still devolve a little bit into “Go over here, shoot this thing, now go over here and shoot this thing for a bit”. It doesn’t help things that the LEGION bases are all remarkably similar, to the point that it reminded me a bit of the No Man’s Sky base-building update from earlier this year. Bases are filled with the same generic looking “sci-fi” rooms, with very little to distinguish one base from the next, save for the pathway you take through them. Admittedly the missions do get a lot more varied after the first few hours, but it doesn’t leave the best first impression, that’s for sure.
The second big(ish) problem that I have is that the technical aspects of the game aren’t quite where they need to be. I played through it on the PS4 Pro, and even on Sony’s flagship machine, it struggled to maintain a constant frame rate. Sure, it’s at 60 for a lot of the time, but it dips and fluctuates so wildly at times that it’s hard to call it consistent. It’s not unplayable by any means, and most people may not even notice it, but it definitely leads to some moments of stuttering gameplay that could have possibly been eliminated with either cutting back on a couple of things or a little more polish. There were also a few bugs that I encountered, including one audio glitch on a boss fight that kept some (intentionally) irritating music going much longer than it should’ve done, and at one point I was unable to progress in the game at all, although a restart of the game fixed it for me.
The final issue that I have leads me nicely back to the start of the review. I feel that there will be an awful lot of comparisons made to the Saints Row franchise, and rightly so. AOM references an awful lot of Saints Row without ever being explicit about it. From the purple that permeates every screen, to the reworked fleur-de-lys emblem, it’s reminding me at every turn that this game isn’t a new Saints Row, and it’s ultimately to the game’s detriment.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed Agents of Mayhem, because I absolutely have, but it makes me wonder who the game’s for. Fans of the Saints Row series will likely see it as a game that strays too far from the path, and casual fans will undoubtedly see it as too self-referential for its own good at times. However, if you’re willing to put those concerns aside, Agents of Mayhem is a fun Open-World game, with enough interesting mechanics and comedic moments to keep you on the hook for a while. It’s just not quite the same thrill as riding a nuclear missile heading to earth while Aerosmith plays, then dropping in through the roof of the White House.