Volition’s Agents of Mayhem couches tired gameplay in bland world design and populates it with a cast of grating one-dimensional caricatures.
After DLC-turned-sequel Saints Row IV, Volition’s intent to capitalize on both their prowess with entertaining open worlds and the inclusion of slapstick super powers seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. The decision to spin the ideas into their own franchise appear inspired, but the end result is far less than the sum of its parts. Despite its pedigree, Agents of Mayhem is pointless. Worse, it just isn’t much fun.
Agents of Mayhem is a single-player, open-world hero-shooter. The game and its many hyphens are placed in a futuristic vision of Seoul, South Korea, in which every citizen drives the same two or three cars and are apparently so collectively depressed that they can’t even be bothered to animate when they’re shot at by orbital lasers or hit by speeding vehicles. The game is wrapped in a style that suggests Grand Theft Auto by way of Crackdown, with the character of neither. The game’s rendition of Seoul itself is so small that I genuinely believed for the first third of the game that I was merely playing in a single district of a wider virtual world. I wish that had been the case.
The eponymous agents of the MAYHEM crime-fighting organization are the one-liner equivalent of a rat king and just as funny. You will choose three of these superpowered characters at a time as you take on the evil LEGION, switching between them at the click of a button as you run through endless waves of faceless foes. Along the way, acquired experience and materials allow for upgrades to their overall strength, as well as specific “gadgets” for further customization of their respective loadouts. It isn’t a bad idea at all, on the surface. It just never does anything interesting with it.
Agents of Mayhem begins well enough. The opening minutes of the game are spent popping between a set of benign characters with just enough differences to hit the right notes in a tutorial. Nothing that happens is particularly interesting, but it works as a taste of things to come. Unfortunately, it isn’t a taste. It’s the whole meal.
Mission design never strays very far from dumping you into a visually boring environment and then spawning (teleporting!) enemies into that area for an arbitrary amount of time. Sometimes there are jokes. Usually, those jokes are as inspired as Uranus puns. Sometimes they are literally just Uranus puns. If you’re here for the sort of self-referential, witty, yet delightfully vulgar approach that Volition has showed us in the Saint’s Row games, you will be soundly disappointed.
Agents of Mayhem attempts to disguise its lack of vision with a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic that wears itself thin almost immediately. Doctor Babylon and his henchmen are barely interesting enough to be a running gag, let alone the featured antagonists. Periodic cutscenes feel less like an intentional artistic choice than the fastest way to animate storyboards on a budget.
Graphically, the game looks inferior even to Volition’s own previous work. Textures are blurry, the city is featureless, and every location is similar enough that it is virtually impossible to gauge your location in the city by sight. It looks like the test material for a game that won’t see the light of day for at least a year or two, and it plays much the same. This would be egregious on its own for a $60 game, but it gets worse: The game performs terribly despite its uninspired and archaic appearance, with frequent slowdown haunting even the most mundane activities.
Fortunately(?) there isn’t much to explore. The city is peppered with lots of nondescript boxes to blow up, crystals to collect — ten of which will earn you an “upgrade core” — and the aforementioned handful of side activities. Only your three selected agents gain any experience for your work, however, so you will need to rotate them around and grind out upgrades for each if you don’t want to end up being cornered by your own choices.
The campaign isn’t long, but it manages to overstay its welcome nevertheless. Somehow, it is simultaneously the best and worst part about the game. Best, because it provides the closest thing to variety that the game will offer, and a few locations specific to your missions. Worst, because its ultimate moments are less enjoyable than the filler content for any other Volition title. The side missions you do to unlock and upgrade your agents are virtually identical, which means that after the first two you know what to expect from the next dozen or so hours of “optional” content.
Is Agents of Mayhem as bad as it could be? Certainly not. There are character abilities that can be fun to play with, and building a team of complimentary brothers (and sisters) in arms can be temporarily amusing. But when those characters and the world they inhabit are so empty of inspiration, it’s difficult to care. Add tired mission design, frame it in terrible technical performance, and you have a game that isn’t just missable; it’s bad.
Before this review, I hadn’t met a Volition game that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. I know they are capable of better, because I have seen it myself. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
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