Agents of Mayhem is fine. It's fine and it's also not Saints Row. I thought I should get that out of the way early, lest my own review be weighed down by the long shadow SR (more specifically SR3) and what it did/meant to open world games as a whole. Where something like Grand Theft Auto chose a more direct, real world satire approach, Saints Row went in the complete opposite direction, delivering a game that managed to be both goofy and full of heart.
Agents of Mayhem is fine. I feel like I need to keep iterating that because it is. But that's all it is. Neither revolutionary nor genre breaking, AoM is an open world game that trades in the more focused narrative of SR's Boss for that of 12 of the titular agents. Players choose a squad of three, with only one of those three active at a time, though they are free to switch between those three at any time as long as they're alive. Each agent has their own specific weapon, a special skill and a Mayhem Power, a move akin to a super that either flat out kills, disables, or leaves vulnerable all the enemies in an area. Squads can be changed out at the ARK, the game's hub and the central area for MAYHEM, an organization made up of... well, a pretty diverse group of people willing to stretch that line between right and wrong to accomplish their goal.
At its heart, AoM is a spy thriller, though it leans more towards Austin Powers than James Bond. It grabs secret organizations, underground lairs, gadgets, weapons and under the radar experiments, jams them into a blender, and then spreads the resulting "juice" over an open world, a future version of Seoul, South Korea. In a world connecting twist, MAYHEM is owned/operated by the Ultor Corporation (yes, that Ultor) and run by Persephone (who was last seen helping one Johnny Gat get through Hell). See, it's not Saints Row, not only because it's thematically different, but the whole thing takes place AFTER the Saints rewrite history at the end of SR4. None of this is ever spelled out directly, but given other in game goodies, it's pretty clear what they were going for.
The 12 agents are, without a doubt, the stars of the show, and each is introduced through fully animated shorts dropping a little bit of background about who they were before Persephone recruited them. The whole cast, save for one or two, are a complete gas, and offer one of the most diverse character offerings in terms of women and people of color I've ever seen on offer. MAYHEM was not slacking in their recruiting methods, taking the best and brightest from nearly every major point on the globe. My personal agent highlights include: Daisy, a Rollergirl armed with a mini gun and quad skates; Kingpin, the alias of some gang leader named Pierce from some place called Stillwater; Scheherazade, a middle eastern assassin who ran out of f**ks years ago; and Oni, a Yakuza hitman who is hunting any and all of his brothers/sisters that joined up with LEGION.
Who are LEGION, I hear you asking? LEGION is super villain conglomerate led globally by The Morningstar, shows up very little and looks super devilish, and more locally by Doctor Babylon. He leads an equally colorful cast of nefarious characters, each complete with a set of quests called an episode that concludes with a boss fight with said character. These serve as the set piece moments, with the brawls taking place at a venue like a sold out concert, and a Jabba the Hut-esque cruise ship. I don't really want to spoil any of them, as their reveals are one of the more entertaining parts of the whole package, and each brings their own surprises to the table personality wise.
The overall story is where stuff starts to fall down. Building off of such a varied group manages to elevate the pretty humdrum story, but it's basically your standard evil group wants to take over the world and a gathering of anti-heroes focus on taking them down. While there are surprising individual moments when dealing with the villains, there's nothing at all surprising regarding the outcome.
Outside of character introduction scenes and secondary side missions, where agents approach situations alone, allowing for more individualized characterizations and some of the best writing in the game, most conversations in the game fall flat. I imagine that planning out conversations was difficult being that any character could be present at almost any time, so most just amount to a quick acknowledgment using the agent’s primary personality trait, i.e. Daisy is gruff and non-technical, Oni rarely speaks, Braddock is quick, to the point, and curses constantly. It’s a fair shortcut, granting little bits of reaffirming characterization, but it’s still disappointing. Given the size of the cast, I also don’t see a way around it. It says something that I don’t care to lose any of the characters, except for Red Card, who can go back to the soccer pitch anytime he wants, and yet none of them hit the highs that the Boss and his compatriots hit before they changed time itself.
The biggest disappointment, though, is the open world. Seoul is soulless, an almost by the books future city with rounded cars, mindless masses, and an underground composed almost entirely of different versions of the same evil lair. 80% of the missions you would go on consisted of driving to a place, scanning the environment for something to hack, hacking said thing, and then going into a lair. Each lair was a series of rooms that would either have you hack 2-3 terminals, clear out goons or some semblance of the two. Rooms were reused between lairs so often that the only surprise would be which door they programmed to let you through to the next section.
Seoul has things to do between missions, the map abounds with points of interest and odd jobs, as well as the occasional LEGION garrison to take over. Nothing stayed permanently gone or controlled, which proved a huge pain when I was trying to rack up enough money for some of the end game research, seemingly every few missions the garrisons would reset, thereby locking out AoM’s version of gang payouts. Sure, I could have just run a thousand vehicle return missions at $2k a piece, but after the first couple… no, just no.
AoM’s Seoul also never really felt like a city, not in the same ways that a place like Steelport did. There were districts where the style of building would change, and the city itself was dominated by a set of skyscrapers joined in the center by various terraces, but nothing felt unique or different enough to take notice of. The only real landmark was the Asian inspired temple I would warp down from the ARK in front of, and I only really remember that because one of the early missions leaves it sundered in twain, it’s innards still smoldering many missions later.
Sadly, the same repetitiveness affects the enemy types as well. LEGION has only one set of soldiers, and due to a miscommunication during Kingpin’s intro mission, I killed at least one of each less than two hours into the game.
20 hours later, my time with Agents of Mayhem was fine. I enjoyed the mix of agents, especially their personal missions, but felt beaten down by the repetitive missions. The boss encounters were enjoyable, but the slog through the hordes of minions to get there was not. Were it not for the overwhelming need to finish, I probably could have written this review 10 hours in and never looked back.
Agents of Mayhem is fine. It is. But that’s all it is.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!