I can look back fondly on Saturday morning cartoons, with their villain of the week and often heavy-handed allegories—I’m looking at you, Captain Planet. Spandex aside, I thought I’d left that behind a while ago, but with Volition’s Agents of Mayhem, I can relive the spirit of stuffing sugary cereal into my mouth while being zombified by the TV.
The 3rd person, single-player action game from the Saints Row team has created its own comic universe. In the Saints Row Cinematic Universe™ a bunch of quirky heroes from across the globe attempt to save the city of Seoul from the evil machinations of LEGION (League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations). However, as I found out in my playthrough, it seems that Seoul actually needed saving from me…
Before getting into mindlessly slaughtering the innocent, there’s some story to sink your teeth into. LEGION has taken control of the nations of the world and the only force left to stop them is MAYHEM. Persephone Brimstone, leader of the heroes, dispatches them to the city of Seoul, South Korea. You are to stop LEGION Minister Doctor Babylon and his diabolical lieutenants in their nefarious plot to build a world-altering device that will grant unrivalled power to the supervillain organization.
When starting the game, I found myself in our hero hub, ARK, where I could upgrade a few of my abilities, check out new weapons, and generally interact with NPCs. Taking inspiration from home bases like that of the Justice League or Teen Titans, it’s all very flashy and high-tech. You have your stereotypical giant screen ready to spit out your objective, accompanied by Brimstone’s voiceover.
I was introduced to the villain of the week, Gaunt, part Justin Bieber pop artist on steroids, part evil tech genius. Everything screams “quirk” in Agents of Mayhem, with expletives being thrown about, pop culture being lambasted, and a pervading sense of over-the-topness. If you enjoy Saints Row, Borderlands, and games of that ilk, then you’ll be right at home.
The style of the story is presented like a Saturday morning cartoon series, introducing the various villains of the week, all led by Doctor Babylon. It’s nice comic animation that evokes an ‘80s/90s spirit. After a brief introduction and mission to find Gaunt, you are dropped into the city of Seoul. For the task at hand, I chose your typical all-rounder Hollywood hero character, equipped with assault rifle and grenade special attack; Hardtack hero, the generally big, beefy dude with a giant shotgun; and Fortune hero, a speedy, duel-wielder. Because you can switch between characters on the fly, much like one of the previous instalments in Dynasty Warriors (if memory serves), you can create fast, fluid combat for any situation.
I began my adventure at a noticeably slower pace than what I was expecting. My mission was to find a lead to locate Gaunt—his garish sports car. I began zipping around the streets on foot at first, taking in the slightly futuristic cityscape. While it’s not pushing graphics to the max, it blends the near-future with eastern-inspired architecture rather pleasingly. I met up with someone who pointed me in the direction of a parking garage across the city, so called up my super vehicle and hopped in the driver’s seat.
Movement and driving will all be familiar to anyone who has toyed with third-person action games in the past—it’s all very intuitive. I zipped around lanes, trying my best to avoid mowing down pedestrians as I swung into an underground garage, wondering when combat would finally kick in. Luckily, I wasn’t waiting too long; after examining a few vehicles, a blessed ambush arrived.
Now, I had never played Agents of Mayhem before (our E3 2016 take on the game was done by someone else). The last game I just happened to have dabbled in was Mass Effect: Andromeda, and I (and the developer watching me) was surprised how quickly I took to combat. The controls are almost identical to the BioWare game, and the general flow of combat is, perhaps, just that little bit faster. I was dodging, jumping, unleashing special moves, and waiting for my mayhem metre to fill up before bringing destruction to bear on my foes.
The whole affair didn’t last too long. The garage itself is a pretty standard environment, with stacks of vehicles to hide behind. As long as you’re running and gunning, switching around characters, then you’ll be fine.
With my enemies disposed of, I jumped in Gaunt’s car and sped off to my next destination, which was a temple/bath house (if memory serves). Here, I had to follow Gaunt’s scent, which was displayed in a pungent-looking vomit-green haze. While the city itself may be smaller than what those who have played Saint’s Row are used to, there is evidently more verticality, which had me hopping up tiers of the pagoda. Near the top, I thought I had discovered Gaunt; alas, it was just a hologram. Cue the enemy wave.
I hopped down to ground level and began letting my guns rip. I was expecting the enemy to make use of the verticality, to force me to hop up and around levels, but, maybe just for me, combat was constrained to just one level. They didn’t put up much of a fight, and I was soon screeching off towards my final destination: an underground club in a dockyard. And this is where I began feeling somewhat disconnected with Agents of Mayhem.
You see, you’re playing a superhero, and they generally do good. But you’re in an open world sandbox, inspired by Saints Row, which means everyone is a target for your malice. Upon driving to my destination, I activated the boost on my car, flew over a ramp… and into a bunch of people. I tried to stop, but only ended up reversing into some poor woman. In GTA and Saints Row (not always), you’re some ambiguous persona with questionable morals. Here, you’re a straight up hero, and when I entered the club and had the public turn on me after becoming mind-controlled, I didn’t want to kill them. I thought, even though the game didn’t tell me, I was supposed to use my melee to stun them while I destroyed the small towers manipulating them.
Maybe I’m overthinking Agents of Mayhem. The combat is fast-paced, if rather familiar. If you’re a fan of the Saints Row games, then it definitely seems like an enjoyable experience. And digging into the quirky story and finding your best combination of characters to upgrade feels like the heart of the game. So, if that’s right up your alley, you can look forward donning your spandex in August, when Agents of Mayhem releases for Windows PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.