Game Review: Agents of Mayhem

I’m running a little behind on this one; everyone else I know who cares finished the game quite a bit ago, but I figured I’d give my thoughts and opinions anyway.

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Agents of Mayhem

Agents of Mayhem is Volition’s new entry (sort of) in the Saint’s Row franchise; for those of you keeping score, you may remember Saint’s Row IV‘s standalone expansion, Gat Out of Hell, which the titular character, longtime fan favorite gangbanger Johnny Gat took over Hell following his untimely death, and was given a pile of possible options as a reward. One of those options was to recreate Earth… with a few changes.

Those changes have led to the world of Agents of Mayhem, a near-future version of South Korea that has been thoroughly soaked in the love (some might say worship) of G.I. Joe, and Transformers – the Saturday morning cartoons that were awesome, not their abominable modern film counterparts – before being deep fried in the humor and mindset of Saint’s Row, rolled in the game mechanics of Crackdown and lightly sprinkled with some minor RPG elements and a dash of Diablo(very)-lite loot and crafting.

Sounds utterly schizophrenic when you describe it that way, and to be fair, it kind of is… but it’s also exactly what I wanted from the game, and I loved it. Let’s go over the bits and pieces.

Story: There isn’t much of one, to be fair. It’s mostly a string of crude jokes strung together with “go here, blow this up, go there, kill that guy” mission targets. The broad strokes are that Persephone Brimstone, formerly bad-guy mistress of the LEGION of Gluttony, has taken control of crimefighting agency MAYHEM and has turned the titular Agents loose against her former comrades, primarily the nefarious Dr. Babylon. Babylon wants to steal a comet to power a doomsday device, to please his lord and master, the Morningstar, and (cue evil laughter) TAKE OVER ZE WORLD! The whole thing feels very much like a season of G.I. Joe, even including the little PSAs from the end of each episode, and the story is about as fascinating and surprising as you’d expect from such situations.

Where the story actually shines, though, is in the interaction of the characters. The random comments and radio chatter between different Agents while in the field, and the personality profiles of each character that can be viewed if you’re willing to sneak into the HR office and peruse them show a surprising amount of depth to the characters. All of them, despite being easily plugged in as archetypes (if not stereotypes), have interesting backstories and relationships with the others, frequently surprising ones. (My favorite is the romance between Friday and Braddock; their discussions regarding Braddock’s safety are great and honestly a little touching. Also of note is Kingpin and Yeti’s ongoing chess match, if only because they actually make it plausible that a Russian mutant super soldier and a stereotypical gang banger are actually mini-Kasparovs in their spare time.)

Really, though, those are just perks for completionists. The story is fairly barebones, but that’s okay. It’s just a wrapper for the gameplay. Final score here? 2/5.

Gameplay: Here’s where AoM shines. Seoul, unlike a lot of similar open-world type games, is relatively compact, going for verticality and cramming plenty of stuff to do in a smaller space over inflated travel times to sell the experience, Controls work very well, and even though all of the game’s 14 playable characters have unique mechanics and abilities, they’re done simply enough that you shouldn’t have any trouble when flipping between them, adapting to the playstyles of each as the situation demands. Traversal is quick, easy and entertaining, with air-dashes, ultra-fast summonable vehicles and triple jumps to get you where you want to go, but still having some appropriate challenge when working out just how to reach that tempting little collectible hovering in the air over there.

The game is smart enough to have a variety of enemies that need different tactics or abilities to take down, but in the spirit of experimentation, isn’t going to completely beat you over the head like some games do (I’m looking at you, Witcher 3) if you, either through accident or choice don’t have just the right Agent for the job. Where there’s a will, there’s a way… though there’s almost always a better way.

The one gripe I have with the gameplay side of things is the Contracts. Once in a while, you’ll receive an Agent or World Contract; they’re basically bounties of the “Do X with Z Y times.” Those are fine; complete them, get a little dose of cash, crafting materials or XP. You’ll be fulfilling these almost constantly, as they don’t require much – if any – additional effort on your part, and with the exception of one Achievement/Trophy, don’t have any real impact on your completion stats. And honestly, you’ll pop that award just playing the game, anyway.

But then there’s Connected Contracts. There’s three assigned per day, and they’re designed to be done by groups of people. Players (my experience has been between 1 and 7, but I suspect there isn’t a hard limit; it’s just there’s not that many people playing or using them, I think) all chip in towards a common goal, which is usually something ridiculous. Like kill 1,800 enemies AND pick up 400k in cash AND harvest 4,000 crafting materials. That takes a while. Like, all day. Even with multiple people working on it. And for the kicker, if the last kill/pickup/whatever occurs and you’re not online and playing at the time? Sorry, Charlie; the contract is removed, and you get no reward, regardless of how much you’d put into the kitty that day. Like the World and Agent Contracts, these are almost entirely optional, with the exception of the related Trophy, but for completionists like myself, it’s annoying. Final score? 4/5.

Graphics and Sound: Here’s where Mayhem shines. The art style is done perfectly, looking just like you’d imagine if G.I. Joe had the money to spend on well-done CG; the animated cutscenes between episodes look like lost episodes of the cartoon that someone decided to overdub with rude humor and vulgarity. As is to be expected in a game tied to Saint’s Row, there is an overabundance of purple in the color scheme, but it doesn’t hurt the game, in my opinion, and unlike a lot of third-person shooters, at least Mayhem acknowledges colors other than brown exist. There’s great graphical touches and easter eggs everywhere (the doves flying out of Johnny Gat’s sleeves when he uses his Mayhem attack, or Hollywood’s sunglass-flipping explosions during his ultimate come to mind) and the animation is beautiful, again giving each Agent a distinct personality and style despite the large roster. (Try looking at each character’s triple jump animations for examples; you can very easily infer a lot about Daisy’s attitude compared to Joule’s just on their animation alone.)

Sound does an amazing job as well. The basic sound effects are all fairly stock, but suit the game as a whole; half the noise is lifted from Saturday morning cartoons (complete with the strangely satisfying pew-pew of cartoon lasers), while the remaining effects are the standards in an open-world crime game. The voice acting is where things really stand out, though… again, with such a large cast (14 playable Agents, around 10 support characters, your car, and six LEGION bosses) it’s impressive that they have as much diversity and instant recognition without any difficulty in telling who said what, even if the subtitles are off. Nobody’s phoning it in, either; they’re all great performances, conveying the right mood in all the right places.

A random touch I really liked? Every Agent has their own dialogue in contextual situations, none of it feels canned (except for the “I picked up a thingy” for collectibles, but I can forgive that one), and it never comes off with you saying “what did that have to do with what’s going on?” Even better? The generic grunt badguys have the same care. They address the Agent currently in play by name (or code- or nick-name), acknowledge if you switch mid-combat, and react appropriately to changing situations, health remaining (both yours and theirs) and what weapons and tactics you’re using. It’s honestly probably better done than a game of this type deserves, but amuses me greatly… especially because there’s games out there, frequently lauded for their AI (Gears of War and F.E.A.R. come to mind) who can’t provide appropriate reactions half as often as the dialogue system of Mayhem manages.

The little “background” voice tags are hilarious, too. The ongoing Uranus jokes, though a little juvenile (though, c’mon, you’re playing Volition’s love letter to Saturday mornings; what did you expect?), they’re usually enough to get at least a chuckle. The “announcements” when sitting in MAYHEM HQ or in LEGION bases are brilliant. (“Taco Tuesdays are permanently canceled since the incident. THANKS, CARL.”)

And then the soundtrack. While the majority of the game’s “music” comes from the screams of your dying foes and the pew-pew as you’re “firin’ yer lazers,” there’s two bosses who are very musical indeed… during the missions that lead up to their apprehension, you are treated to some surprisingly great K-Pop and boy-band music that is fitting, well-produced, and quite funny… and over the end credits you get an ensemble heavy metal/rap/pop tune with pretty much every Agent and Minion throwing in at least a verse, which served as a suitably epic end to my time with the game. If they offered the soundtrack, I’d totally buy it. Final verdict? 5/5 on this count.

All told? Agents of Mayhem makes me happy. If you liked Crackdown, and you enjoy the attitude of Saint’s Row, and think that putting those into a blender with old-school G.I. Joe sounds like a great idea, you should give this a try. It’s on PS4, PC and XBox One.

Final score? 4/5.

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