Agents of Mayhem is a spin-off of the Saints Row series featuring a Saturday morning cartoon-style story, on-the-fly character swapping, and 12 distinct playable characters. Read on to learn how well it scratches the open-world itch.
Saturday morning spin-off
Agents of Mayhem takes place after Saints Row IV: Gat out of Hell, although you needn't have played Saints Row to appreciate it. On a fateful day known as Devil's Night, a terroristic organization known as L.E.G.I.O.N. sprang up and attacked the world's governments, crippling them. A former lieutenant of that villainous team, Persephone Brimstone, later defected and formed the M.A.Y.H.E.M. organization to battle L.E.G.I.O.N.
The conflict between these two teams closely resembles that between G.I. Joe and Cobra, with each side employing numerous larger-than-life characters (mostly defined by a personality trait or nationality) and plenty of bantering whenever they clash. That's the basic concept of Agents of Mayhem, to marry a G.I. Joe-style world with the gameplay of an open-world third-person shooter.
Further driving the point home, most of the cinematics make use of hand-drawn animation. It's a cool way to bring the story to life, although the actual animation often leaves something to be desired; and later in the game, you'll encounter motion comic-style cinematics instead of real animation.
During actual missions, the story mostly comes across through phone calls and other dialog. Curiously, conversations sometimes have long, awkward pauses during driving portions – seemingly as a result of rushing the game out the door. But what Agents of Mayhem lacks in polish, it mostly makes up for with fun gameplay.
Meet the agents
Agents of Mayhem differs from Saints Row in several ways. The tone is much more serious and cartoon-like, and the gameplay prioritizes shooting over superpowers. But the biggest innovation this one brings to the table is a switch to predefined characters instead of custom characters. Each of these agents has their own distinctive character design (such as Yeti, a Mr. Freeze-like icy Russian soldier), personality, weapons, and abilities.
Players start with access to three playable agents: Hollywood: an actor turned agent, Hardtack: a hulking one-eyed demolitions expert, and Fortune: a female agent with a robotic drone and (terribly fake) Latino accent. Eventually, nine more characters can be unlocked by completing character-specific missions found throughout the world map.
Every time you start a mission or leave your sprawling, upgradable home base, you'll select three agents to take into the field. Only one character is playable at a time, but you can swap between them at will via the D-Pad. Inactive squad members recharge their health over time, encouraging players to swap frequently.
As you unlock more agents, it's important to build a balanced team. Agents come in three classes: DPS, tanks, and specials. They also get traits like armor penetration or air-dashes that make them suitable for different combat situations. Characters also level up through use, unlocking new abilities and allowing you to allocate upgrade points to that agent's unique traits. Completing missions also gets you gadgets, three of which can be equipped per character. These provide interesting buffs and tweaks, such as enhancing a character's special ability, improving reload speed, boosting health, and more. It's quite a satisfying upgrade system on the whole, as is swapping between characters on the fly.
The squad-based system is a satisfying way to differentiate Agents of Mayhem from Saints Row and other open-world games, but it's a shame the game doesn't support cooperative play. Tearing into L.E.G.I.O.N. with a friend or two in place of your AI squadmates would be a blast. Perhaps we'll see multiplayer introduced in a sequel.
Combat and traversal
Twelve playable characters wouldn't mean much if the gameplay didn't pass muster, but Agents of Mayhem's combat is really solid. You move pretty quickly, and the generous aim assist makes hitting enemies a snap as long as you aim decently close and they're within range.
Most characters can dash, although some have distinct abilities like a stealth mode instead. Everyone gets two special abilities that show off their personality and background, such as Hollywood the actor summoning a hail of explosions while he puts on sunglasses and poses for the camera. Triple-jumping and air dashing make things even more dynamic.
That triple jump comes in handy for navigation and exploration – this is an open-world game, after all. Three jumps is pretty fair, but I do miss the exaggerated powers of Crackdown and Saints Row IV. Flight or some other way to gain altitude in a hurry (not to mention a good ground pound) would be even more fun. Instead, you'll mostly have to drive between locations and then take stairs or platforms to reach the highest heights.
The futuristic version of Seoul, Korea in which the game takes place is a bit smaller than in some genre games, but still offers lots of things to do and plenty of verticality. Crystal shards spread throughout the world will offer upgrade points when collected, similar to Crackdown's orbs. You can emit a radar ping for nearby points of interactivity but not the actual shards, which is a shame.
The actual missions you'll encounter aren't the most diverse out there, but they're still enjoyable. Your goals generally include destroying specific devices, hacking computers (via a simple and enjoyable minigame), or killing groups of enemies. Sometimes you'll need to drive or do some platforming mid-mission as well.
Missions don't all take place on the world map. Your agents will often need to raid L.E.G.I.O.N. lairs, exterminating their inhabitants and destroying enemy tech along the way. They're enjoyable to start with, but they all look and play pretty much the same. That repetitive lair design is a shame considering how much more colorful and interesting the actual city is.
The Xbox One version of Agents of Mayhem features an ample 49 Achievements, worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Naturally, these reward you for capturing different kinds of structures on the map and destroying various enemy emplacements. You'll also need to collect outfits for every character (via completing certain missions), level all 12 characters up to 20, and collect all vehicles.
The hardest Achievements will likely be for finding every shard on the map and for completing every operation (a type of mission) on the highest difficulty. Assuming someone makes a good shard guide, reaching the full Gamerscore shouldn't be too daunting.
Agents of Mayhem is an interesting project for developer Volition. Rather than make yet another Saints Row, they decided to spin off and experiment with a different tone and gameplay tweaks. The result is a cartoony sci-fi shooter with a clever squad system and truly diverse array of characters.
The more serious tone and occasional lack of polish might disappoint players hoping for a true successor to Saints Row. But considering this is essentially a different brand and hopefully the first game of many, it certainly stands on its own as a quality open-world game. Just don't be surprised if it gets a stronger sequel down the line.
Agents of Mayhem costs $59.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
- The closest thing you'll get to an open-world G.I. Joe game.
- Control a squad of three agents, swapping between them at will.
- 12 highly distinct characters, each with unique weapons, traits, and powers.
- Enemy lair design is uninspired compared to the design of the open world.
- The story could use a little more humor and zaniness.
- Could have used cooperative multiplayer.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.