My colleagues have, over the past few days I've been playing Agents of Mayhem, been asking me what it's like in the context of Saints Row, developer Volition's extremely famous and popular franchise. This is because Agents of Mayhem is set in the Saints Row universe. It features characters from it (including perennial favourite Saint lieutenant Johnny Gat as a DLC agent), the Mayhem logo looks like a futuristic version of the Saints Row fleur-de-lis, and there is a lot of purple.
Thus: 'Is it like Saints Row?' No. 'Does it have a story like Saints Row?' No, not like that, but it does have one. 'Is it as funny as Saints Row?' It's not as anything as Saints Row. I'm not entirely sure what it is. I don't think it is either, to be honest.
The basic framework, though, is that it's a third person action adventure. You play as the titular Agents of Mayhem, picking from a roster of different agents with different skills to form a team of three. You can switch between them at will when you're on missions in Seoul, South Korea, but can only change your team back at Mayhem's base, which also has an R&D department, vehicle department and so on, and one of those world maps to send spare agents off on missions elsewhere that take 12 minutes for them to complete.
The Agents themselves are one of the best parts of the game. They're entertaining, distinct people with backgrounds and skills that make sense. The game also does some decent world-building in revealing, for example, the relationship that uptight dispatcher Friday has with hardass military trainer Janel Braddock, or R&D tech Gremlin developing a crush on one of the field agents. Daisy, an ex-military roller derby girl with a minigun, self-described as 'a brick shithouse' who 'only cares about fucking and fighting', has an introductory mission where she flashes back to being drunk, yelling at a fast food ordering kiosk, and getting into a robot fight club, somehow. Daisy was my favourite, and represents the flashes of being potentially excellent that you sometimes see in AoM.
The characters all have different skins, as well, and a good number of them have one that's a riff on characters like Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and even classic cartoons like ThunderCats (giant Russian 'Cold Warrior' has a Panthro skin, and one for his weapon called Gun of Omens). These Legally Distinct Cartoon Hero Variant kind of skins are, in my opinion, some of the best jokes in the game. The rest of the time it struggles to replicate the irreverent but well-observed tone that Saints Row had. Though it pains someone as casually profane as I am to admit it, saying 'fuck' is not, in and of itself, actually a joke.
So, you take your team down into Seoul, which remains a very nice, clean lined futuristic city, with a lot of skyscrapers to jump around on, and a lot of ramped architecture, almost as if it were designed for a sports car to cain it around. The traversal both on foot and in vehicles is fun, which is good because for every mission you must drive to a checkpoint, start the mission, then drive to another series of checkpoints until eventually you either face some waves of Legion enemies, or you find a secret Legion base where you face some waves of Legion enemies. Sometimes there's a boss fight, which is quite fun. There are a lot of lasers.
The combat, and switching between your agents, is also quite fun. The explosions are massive and colourful, and each agent has a distinct play style to get used to, which means team building for missions is actually quite critical. Each agent has a Mayhem skill too, which translates to a massive attack that deals huge damage or applies debuffs (Daisy, for example, can overclock her minigun and fire it without danger of it overheating). AoM was fun for the couple of hours I played at preview, but the longer you play, the more you notice issues like the controls not responding if too many explosions are happening at once, and the more the repetition grates on you.
You're left feeling like Agents of Mayhem could have been much better as it's own thing, leaning into the cartoon style that influenced the animated cutscenes, rather than trying to chase the popularity of Saints Row. It's like it's being pulled in two different directions and ends up not fulfilling either one, which is a shame because if it had just picked a lane, you can imagine Agents of Mayhem would have been rather good.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed on), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 18 2017 (EU) August 15 2017 (NA)