Everyone seems more than a little disappointed that Deep Silver and Volition’s, Agents of Mayhem isn’t Saints Row V. I’m fine with it. Agents of Mayhem isn’t without its faults, but the fact that it isn’t Saints Row V isn’t one of them. Yes, I know it’s kind of set in the same universe (or an alternate universe of some such nonsense), but despite sharing a vague similarity in tone and aesthetic, this really is a very different game. If Saints Row was Volition’s take on Grand Theft Auto, then Agents of Mayhem is their take on Crackdown, and with Crackdown now pushed back to 2018, it appears to have timed its arrival perfectly.
You wouldn’t know that from the middling critical response and somewhat lacklustre sales of course, but I for one was pleasantly surprised by this lightweight but mechanically outstanding open world shooter. The world itself is arguably a tad too small and the story is far from memorable, but with a host of fantastic characters, a less toe-curling tone than the occasionally embarrassing Saints Row, and some of the best third person shooter mechanics this side of Gears of War, Agents of Mayhem is the perfect late summer game. It’s the kind of game you can enjoyably breeze through before the heavyweights start showing up to eat all of our free time in the next few months.
Essentially a single player hero shooter, Agent of Mayhem’s big gimmick (and I use the term with no sense of judgement), is the ability to swap between three unique characters at any moment. Yeah, I know, so far so Grand Theft Auto V, but unlike that game, the characters here are incredibly distinct (each character has their own set of skills, weaponry and abilities), and while you can only take three on a mission at any one time, you actually get to pick your squad from a collection of twelve distinct heroes.
Of course, hero shooters are all the rage right now, and as the likes of Lawbreakers and Battleborn have found, Valve’s, Overwatch casts very long shadow over the genre. Sure, this isn’t a competitive hero shooter in the same way as those games, but the cast of Overwatch is so beloved that all other rosters are almost inevitably looked upon unfavourably by comparison. I’m not going to say that Agents of Mayhem has a better cast of heroes than Overwatch of course, but I tell you this much, it stacks up better than most. Like just about every aspect of the game, Agents of Mayhem’s characters are absolutely jam-packed with personality.
Not only are their abilities and skills pleasingly varied, but their unique looks and character specific dialogue are also better than expected. The dialogue in particular, while far from Oscar winning material, is a major step-up from the sex obsessed banter found in recent Saints Row titles. There are still f-bombs aplenty, and the swearing is certainly at odds with the games’ Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, but for the most part, it’s a major step in the right direction.
The story itself isn’t all that great, but with a fantastic cast of characters and even better villains, Agents of Mayhem’s bright and breezy approach to storytelling should keep most gamers entertained between what are rather relentless bouts of blowing things up. I never really cared why I was fighting Legion (or L.E.G.I.O.N – this game loves poorly explained acronyms), and I’m still not sure why the game in set in Seoul, South Korea (beyond the fact that it seems to be replacing Tokyo as the new near-future city of choice in a great deal of popular culture), but honestly, none of that really mattered. The city, despite being a tad small, looks cool and the bad guys, well, like the best Saturday morning cartoons are, well, really bad. Nobody cared why Skeletor was being a dick. The important thing is that he was being a dick and that the heroes had somebody to evil to stop. Same here.
Luckily, stopping the bad guys (regardless of whatever nefarious activities they are up to) is usually super fun. The actual missions are actually quite derivative and more than a little repetitive, but when the core mechanics are as solid as they are here, being asked to blow up bad guys over and over again isn’t as arduous a task as it might sound.
Still, it is a shame that there isn’t more in the way of variety here as the structure of both the world and the mission design fail to live up to the mechanics that drive the game. Whatever characters you choose, shooting and basic traversal (again, more Crackdown that Saints Row IV) is always incredibly responsive and enjoyably robust. Vehicles handle pretty well too, but with the games’ recreation of Seoul being as small as it is, and with most of your characters as agile as they are, driving is often relegated to an enjoyable but largely pointless aspect of Agents of Mayhem’s design.
Agents of Mayhem’s biggest problem though is its complete and somewhat absurd lack of local or online co-op. If ever there was a game perfectly suited to co-op play it’s Agents of Mayhem. It’s a shocking oversight, one that I can only assume was down to budgetary, or more likely, timing issues. Whatever the reason, it’s a big miss and the kind of mode that could have turned what is a perfectly decent game into a potentially very good one.
It’s not as funny as it thinks it is, the game world is too small, the mission design is repetitive and the lack of co-op is a shocking omission, but despite these issues, Agents of Mayhem remains a highly enjoyable open world shooter that is undoubtedly more Crackdown than it is Saints Row. With a more palatable tone than that of the core Saints Row series, a fantastic roster of brilliantly unique characters and some of the best gunplay to be found in any third person shooter on the market, Agents of Mayhem overcomes its shortcoming to deliver one of the more pleasant gaming surprises of the summer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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