Agents Of Mayhem
PC, PS4, Xbox One
You can pinpoint the exact moment the Saints Row series redefined itself. Once barely more than a GTA clone, Saints Row: The Third saw Volition swap gangbanging for a frequently silly satire on celebrity culture and violence. In the opening mission, The Boss jumped out of a helicopter towards a penthouse full of corporate goons, backed by Power – Kanye West’s ironic ode to fame and notoriety. The new direction was brash, confident and revelled in excess. It felt right. Skip forward to Saints Row IV, and The Boss was the President of the USA, fighting aliens in VR after the destruction of Earth. After that, Volition was always going to have an escalation problem. Hence Agents Of Mayhem. There’s a canonical link if you want one, but Agents Of Mayhem isn’t Saints Row. This is, after all, a game in which no one man does have all that power. Instead, your potential abilities are spread across 12 characters.
Agents Of Mayhem invites a Saints Row comparison – a parallel-universe version of one of the Saints is part of your Mayhem roster – but it isn’t altogether favourable. It’s an open-world shooter, set in a futuristic version of Seoul, starring a plethora of foul-mouthed antiheroes. There’s Hollywood, the explosionobsessed action-movie star; Hardtack, a shotgun-wielding sailor (who refers to himself in the thirdperson); Fortune, a fast, dualpistol-carrying pirate with a drone; and many more besides. For each mission, you pick three Mayhem agents, and can switch between them instantaneously. Switch, and the character you were controlling disappears, the new one appearing in their place. This makes less sense than having a squad that’s present at all times, but has the advantage that a character’s health and shield recharge when they’re not in use.
There’s a tactical application here: a character’s weapon might be more effective at close, medium or long range, for instance, or be more effective against an enemy’s shield, armour or health. Whittle down a shield with one character, and you can switch to another to finish them off. Or you can begin a sortie at long range, and switch as enemies close the gap. A decent idea in theory, it works in practice, too, and allows for a degree of theorycrafting – but it doesn’t feel very exciting. This is a new game from the studio that gave players a dubstep gun and ludicrous superpowers, but nothing we experience here feels so audacious or surprising. Weapons are sci-fi versions of a standard arsenal: shotguns, assault rifles, pistols and miniguns. Abilities feel more focused around dealing area-ofeffect damage or applying status effects.
The absurd elements are there, but never allowed to run wild. You can triple-jump, but moving around the world feels less exciting than, for instance, Sunset Overdrive (or even Saints Row IV). The combat system is more meaty than your standard open-world game, but it’s no Borderlands or Mass Effect, despite offering similar RPG shooter systems. At least there’s potential in the upgradeable skills. One grants the chance to spawn an explosive clay rabbit when an enemy dies. That’s pretty ridiculous, and all the better for it. If our demo is any guide, there’s no real hook to the systems. This is a collection of familiar ideas, reworked into a colourful, cartoon wrapping. Similarly, none of the characters jump out as distinct during the unordered hodge-podge of missions and sidequests we play, but some are at least likeable. Each agent has a couple of personal missions that flesh out their backstory, and mid-mission banter will fill you in on their specific relationships. Our early favourite is Daisy, a tattooed rollerskater, and a specialist, we’re told, in “fighting and fucking”. Her recruitment mission is told through hungover flashbacks. Later, she butts in on comms during another character’s personal mission for no other reason than she’s a bit lonely, and wants to see how everyone’s doing.
Hopefully Volition will focus on such dynamics and situations. In isolation, it’s easy to imagine Saints Row’s tone feeling unbearable, but its absurd excess was tempered by the genuine heart shown by your crew in their interactions with each other. It took multiple games, but the archetypes became characters. If Volition can keep that momentum going, it now has a much broader palette to work with. Agents Of Mayhem will need it; so far, it’s showing a worrying lack of identity.
There’s a canonical link if you want one, but Agents Of Mayhem isn’t Saints Row
The agents are fighting against Legion, a terrorist organisation with access to advanced dark matter technology. All of which is to say it’s pretty futuristic
Each of the characters has a different moveset. All can triple jump, but some are faster than others, and some – like Hollywood – can dash in mid-air, which is useful for traversing the open world, as well as in combat