Fast cars, danger, fire, and…glitches?
It’s hard to believe it, but it’s been over a decade since Volition released Saints Row, a fun, if somewhat unremarkable for the time, ode to Rockstar’s hugely successful Grand Theft Auto franchise. Since then, the Champaign, Illinois-based studio have quietly honed their craft, elevating their open-world crime saga to the forefront of the genre right alongside series that inspired it. Agents of Mayhem is Volition’s latest offering. And while it may not share the name of its predecessor, the game feels every part a Saints Row experience. It’s vibrant, violent, and chock-full of more dick jokes than you can shake a floppy rubber cudgel at. Make no mistake about it, it’s great fun when all things are going right. But a number of serious glitches rear their head all too often, turning this should-be exceptional spin-off into an occasional exercise in futility.
Agents of Mayhem’s story is set against the backdrop of a futuristic version of Seoul, South Korea and centers around the game’s titular organization, M.A.Y.H.E.M. (Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds) as the group works to take down the forces of L.E.G.I.O.N. (League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations), led by the nefarious Doctor Babylon. It’s a familiar story, for sure. But the cheeky, self-aware narrative and cast full of maniacal villains and larger-than-life heroes is a perfect fit for the game’s vibrant, comic book-inspired aesthetics.
Agents of Mayhem finds strength in numbers
What sets Agents of Mayhem apart from the pack is its huge roster of playable characters. While only three are available from the outset of the story, you’ll eventually be able to unlock 12 operatives, each with their own unique weapons and special abilities. The amount of variety this brings to the table can’t be stressed enough, as each agent’s play-style can create for a wildly different experience.
For example, those who like to battle up close and personal will love Hardtack. He’s a surly, shotgun-toting sea dog who shrugs off bullets like gnats and can even hurl a harpoon to reel in baddies then finish them off with a brutal melee bash with the business end of his boom-stick. Into a more subtle approach? If so, Rama’s your girl. This death-dealing doctor can activate stealth camouflage to stalk her prey, then dispatches them with arrows topped with the plague. Once infected, the illness jumps from enemy to enemy, creating a chain caustic death. My personal favorites of the bunch is Joule. She’s an Italian fashionista with a knack for machinery who can craft lethal gun turrets to do her dirty work. Joule also uses a gun that fires arcing bolts of electricity to electrocute foes or heal her turrets, making her a versatile force on the battlefield.
These are just a small sample of the agents you’ll be recruiting. All of the 12 agents introduces new and exciting tactical options. And you’ll want to experiment with all of them to find your ideal squad, because the forces of L.E.G.I.O.N. are relentless. Thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone. While the game sadly lacks any kind of cooperative mode (or multiplayer in general) Agents of Mayhem allows you to take up to three agents into the field at a time, and you can swap between each one with a simple tap of the d-pad. Some agents even have specialized roles, such as programming skills, which will be required to complete certain objectives. That said, you’ll need to choose your squad members wisely.
Heart and Seoul
While Agents of Mayhem’s diverse cast of characters is certainly its strong suit, there’s plenty more to love here. The combat is fast-paced and packs a satisfying punch, navigating the city – either on foot or while behind the wheel of the game’s fleet of stylish vehicles – is a joy thanks to the tight controls and rewarding sense of speed, and the surprisingly in-depth character progression system will have you weighing the pros and cons of every skill point you spend or upgrade crystal you assign to each character.
Saints Row veterans will also be pleased to know that Agents of Mayhem is overflowing with optional content as well. You can burn rubber in a series of street races, save hostages from death traps, smuggle vehicles full of stolen L.E.G.I.O.N. supplies, and overthrow fortresses to expand your reach. Hell, there’s even a meta-game where you send off operatives you’re not using to explore other parts of the world (much like the Assassin’s Creed’s Contracts) to gather valuable crafting supplies and earn extra experience while you’re out on the field. This is one seriously dense package, and one perfect for completionists to dive into during the slow summer months.
When you’re chasing maniacal super villains through the concrete jungle of Seoul or taking down towering doomsday machines atop the city’s pearly white skyscrapers, Agents of Mayhem is an absolute blast. Unfortunately, the game’s campaign suffers from a severe lack of variety at times. The vast majority of missions devolve into tracking down terminals and hacking them with a simple QTE mini game time and time again. And each chapter will have you exploring sterile, nondescript L.E.G.I.O.N. lairs that all blend together. Considering just how much spectacle Volition managed to cram into the Saints Row games, it’s really surprising to see just how few and far between Agents of Mayhem’s memorable set piece moments are in comparison, and that’s a real shame.
What’s more frustrating, however, is the number of bugs and glitches that I experienced during my time with Agents of Mayhem. I mean it when I say that I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a game with more crippling technical problems bogging it down, forcing me to replay entire missions. Here’s an example: One mission tasked me with defusing three bombs scattered around a construction site. After I defused the third and final bomb, I was told I had “just one more to go!” This resulted in me fumbling around for a half hour until I finally realized that the end of the mission simply never triggered, meaning I had to re-do the entire mission all over again.
Other missions tasked me with killing specific targets. Simple enough, right? Well, not really. Because even after they died their markers and health bars hovered over their heads, teasing me from beyond the grave until I restarted from my previous checkpoint – you guessed it – all the way at the beginning of the area.
The worst glitch, however, occurred during a boss fight where I had to wear down my opponent’s massive shield. Once his shield was gone, I then had run over to a computer terminal and activate it to proceed to the next stage of the fight. The thing is the prompt would never display, even after restarting the mission half a dozen times. I literally had to power off my PS4 and reload my save to solve the problem. Yes. The glitches are really that bad in Agents of Mayhem’s current state. Here’s hoping Volition rolls out a serious day-one patch. The game desperately needs it.
Taking the good with the bad
Despite these serious issues, Agents of Mayhem is a wild ride when things work the way they’re supposed to. Open-world games are at the best when they’re pure power fantasies. And with a dozen unique heroes to take control of, it’s safe to say you’ll be feeling pretty damn powerful. The game is also an incredibly content-rich package, offering a wealth of places to explore, weapons and vehicles to unlock, and plenty of extra, character-specific stories to undertake that help flesh out the game’s story.
Agents of Mayhem isn’t perfect; It suffers from a serious lack of mission variety that starts to wear on you after awhile, and the sheer number of glitches you can encounter in just one sitting is beyond belief. Still, it can be easy to forget about all of that when you’re trading lead with a sadistic boy band singer with a cult of mind-controlled fan-girls. The game has it’s lumps to be sure, but fans of the genre who can look past these issues will find a densely-packed sandbox title that revels in its absurdity. You just might want to wait until Volition irons out those kinks with a patch or two before plunking down your hard-earned cash.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Deep Silver ; Developer: Volition ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 15, 2017 ; ESRB: M ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Agents of Mayhem given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher