In an era when everything gets picked over, trolled from every direction, analysed to death and over-thought, a game such as Agents of Mayhem – which merely aims to provide a dollop of good, old-fashioned fun – harks back to a refreshingly bygone age.
If you define a guilty pleasure as something which you probably shouldn’t enjoy but do, then Agents of Mayhem is a classic guilty pleasure. It’s a game which you could criticise in many ways, yet which is irresistibly enjoyable to play.
Agents of Mayhem is in effect a spin-off of developer Volition’s Saints Row franchise. Although it’s fundamentally different in many ways, it has that Saints Row vibe which involves over-the-top third-person-shooting, ridiculous weapons and lots of blowing stuff up.
But unlike Saints Row, Agents of Mayhem is a squad-shooter, after a fashion. You embark on every mission with a three-agent squad, controlling one at a time but switching between all three according to what enemies you’re faced with.
Does it feel like the successful spiritual successor to Saints Row for 2017?
Agents of Mayhem review: OTT Overwatch?
The agents are very much at the heart of Agents of Mayhem. We suspect that Volition has been scrutinising Overwatch. Similar to the latter title, each agent in Mayhem has a special ability, along with a triple-jump, a dash or a smokescreen and, when you kill enough enemies sufficiently spectacularly thereby building up a meter, a Mayhem Ability.
Mayhem Abilities are gloriously preposterous: Braddock’s, for example, consists of a tactical nuke which she marks with her cigar, while Kingpin spawns a giant boombox which makes nearby enemies dance compulsively while he shoots them in the face. If that sort of madness sounds appealing, then you’ll love Agents of Mayhem.
And that’s not all you have at your disposal. Mapped to the left bumper of your controller is so-called Gremlin Tech (Gremlin is Mayhem’s in-house gadget geek). Such tech must be crafted and is pretty varied, ranging from a gun which launches a giant bowling ball, via various useful temporary buffs, to the likes of a Mulligan, which revives downed squad members. It comes particularly in useful when you’re in a dire situation and need to mount a comeback.
Agents of Mayhem review: Story and missions
In terms of its general structure, Agents of Mayhem differs little from the Saints Row games. Its main hub is the Ark, Mayhem’s headquarters, which floats in the air above the future-Seoul where the game is set. From there you can pick the latest story mission, or select from a number of missions which open up new agents or follow those agents’ particular agendas, filling in their back-stories in the process.
Plus there’s Global Conflict, a mini-game which details Mayhem’s worldwide struggle against its perennial enemy, the evil Legion. This lets you send unused agents to each territory in the world, seeking out intel; sometimes they find Legion lairs which you must clear out with a three-man team (which is ideal for levelling up newly acquired agents, and earns valuable Legion Tech which gives agents permanent buffs).
Story-wise, there are some genuine laughs to be had: essentially, you must cope with Legion-induced crises, then take down head honcho Dr Babylon’s henchmen one by one, before taking on the big boss himself.
The story missions are split into episodes, and often include segments of driving, mild puzzling and on-foot platforming, before building up with waves of foot-soldiers, followed by a boss.
You could quibble that they follow a well-worn formula – Agents of Mayhem isn’t one of those games that morphs into something different as it progresses. But there are some well-aimed barbs at subjects like selfie-generation narcissism and auto-tuned modern pop-stars (one legion henchman, August Daunt, offers a great piss-take of Justin Bieber, while another, Aisha, consists of five AI-generated K-Pop stars).
Free-roaming brings plenty of rewards, too: there are pop-up missions galore, ranging from finding and destroying Legion tech to timed races across the rooftops or around the streets, plus there are loot crates and crystals to collect. It’s all pretty basic and straightforward, but there’s no doubting that Agents of Mayhem is a pretty meaty game.
Agents of Mayhem review: The fun is in the combat
But what makes Agents of Mayhem surprisingly moreish is its third-person combat, which is way more tactical than it might appear at first, and really takes off once you start taking an interest in your agents. There are countless systems which allow you to upgrade them in various ways (plus they level up) so that, before long, you can turn them into spectacular (and very enjoyable to watch) death-dealing machines.
Which is just as well, since you’re routinely assailed by vast swathes of Legion enemies, with wildly varying attributes. For example, some can render their surrounding colleagues invulnerable, so you need to take them out first – but to do that quickly, you need an agent whose specialisation is taking down shields. Then you can swap to one with greater firepower.
All the way through, you encounter such tactical dilemmas: upgrading your agents in particular directions and picking the correct team is paramount. And Volition has really nailed the feel of its control system: there’s a fair amount of snap when aiming, although you’re rewarded for headshots and the like, and the triple-jump and dash allow you to move around like a superhero, which is vital as Legion hits you with some major firepower.
For all its guilty pleasure fun, Agents of Mayhem isn’t immune from criticism: we did encounter a few minor glitches (although, mercifully, not many), which is typical of an open-world game in which various systems are at work.
We also didn’t really connect with future-Seoul in the way that we would expect to in such a game environment (it’s no Grand Theft Auto, for example), as it’s too easy to summon a car and drive to your marked destination, without getting a sense of the city’s layout.
But Agents of Mayhem has plenty to offer by way of good, uncomplicated third-person shooter fun and spectacular explosions. Factor in a surprising level of tactical complexity and some genuinely amusing sequences, and you will discover it contains a great deal of fun and satisfaction.