Agents of Mayhem (Xbox One Review)
Open world games are in abundance these days and for a select few none have ever surpassed the Saints Row franchise. Over the top, nonsensical, and outrageous, Saints Row oozed humour and chaotic fun. I, for one, praised Volition’s efforts in ramping up the zany design with ever entry in the series, but it has been four years since the Saints were last on the street. Instead of returning to the ever growing gangster’s paradise, Volition have sided with their new take on open world games, Agents of Mayhem. Sporting the iconic purple fleur-de-lis, the Agents now hold centre stage.
First and foremost we should probably discuss Agents of Mayhem’s (AoM) connection to the universe surrounding the Saint’s, just to get it out of the way. AoM is its own entity and should not be seen as a sequel to Saints Row, but should be viewed as a spin-off. With the ending of Saints Row IV’s Gat out of Hell DLC, Johnny Gat is granted one wish from the devil and he retcons large chunks of the Saints Row franchise, creating the alternative universe which hosts the Agents of Mayhem – to cut a long story short. So, this merging of ideas but not necessarily story creates a world that boasts the tongue in cheek comedy expect of Saints, as well as some of its characters, while trying to carve out its own identity. Oh, there’s a lot of the colour purple too, as expected.
Agents of Mayhem ensures that it sets itself apart from Saints Row in the opening moments of its story. Instead of the tried and true formula of gangsters making a name for themselves, players are introduced to the heroes and agency of AoM, M.A.Y.H.E.M. Designated with the task of stopping all supernatural and earthly threats, you’ll find yourself clashing with M.A.Y.H.E.M’s elusive arch-nemesis “The Morningstar” and his band of devious villains, L.E.G.I.O.N., led by Dr. Babylon; or D-babs for short. Although not much is known about The Morningstar or their motives before we are thrust into the newly ret-conned Earth and dropped in to the futuristic utopia of Seoul, South Korea.
The open world itself isn’t too large, in fact you’ll most likely speculate, at first, that the map would eventually open up to be much more grandiose than it would initially appear, though that would incorrect. Most open world games spoil the player with a multitude of choices and activities to undertake in the vast expanses they inhabit. However, Agents of Mayhem is far more intimate. AoM scales down to a more reasonable sized city that, although marvellously designed, lacks depth. Scenery is just that, buildings are nothing more than set pieces with little to no interaction and the requirement to revisit these locations time and time again relies on the player to be enamoured with their design all over again. Thankfully this plays in to AoM’s longevity, which is something I’d normally be against. My time with AoM was about the 10 hour mark, and that’s with hoarding the various collectibles scattered about the world as well as attempting to level up the various members of cast through the copious number of side missions. So, I cannot fault the small map or punctual missions as they perfectly fit the amount of time you’d be expected to play Agents of Mayhem.
Seoul’s small size takes its toll on the Xbox One. The frame rate would dip often and steadily build its way back up to a more comfortable position. These frame drops weren’t egregious, but did get in the way of my own response time in the midst of combat. This was amplified by the fact that damage feedback was feeble. Even though my character was getting bombarded by incoming fire, I could not tell I was getting hit. Meaning I had to constantly avert my eyes to my health bar every two seconds and ruin my concentration.
It has been mentioned a few times before, but Seoul is a tiny city and that can’t be stressed enough, but it doesn’t start to ware on you until you actually start AoM’s main campaign missions. Missions are divided into different categories; Tasks, Agent Operations, and Main Operations. Tasks are bite sized events that take mere seconds to complete and give an instant injection of Xp and Money to the player. Then there are Agent Operations that usually include 3 missions to undertake to fully unlock a new character, governing backstory and their place in M.A.Y.H.E.M. And lastly we have the Main Operations were the Agents of Mayhem take on a big bad from their maniacal enemy L.E.G.I.O.N. The thing is, none of the above really differ from one another. The only real difference players will see in the mission structure is the boss battles, which are fantastic in their own right, but all other mission objectives work off of the initial events that I mentioned; Tasks.
A good chunk of the missions within AoM are a copy and paste job. Missions usually grab up to three different objectives from the ‘Tasks’ that players can freely complete in the open world and package them together as a narrative to make it seem bigger than it is. These ‘Tasks’ range from stealing vehicles, to saving civilians, to killing enemies and so on…It’s safe to say that with most missions taking this approach to their overall structure, things got boring fast. Agents of Mayhem’s only real saving grace between missions are the cutscenes. Gorgeously animated cartoon segments that show off character origin stories and unveil the latest foe you’ll fight. These animations are few and far between, but they are a delight to view when the time comes.
Ultimately the focal point of AoM are the Agents. Conforming to what many players love in videogames today, Volition have implemented their own “hero” shooter in their own style. Each Agent has his or her own unique personality with skills, weapons and unique ethnicity; creating a diverse cast of zany heroes. Every Agent comes with a skill set that can benefit another cast member. Some Agents jump higher than others, whilst some have expert hacking skills. Finding the correct team formation that works well is a must for harder difficulties. And that’s where the real appeal is for Agents of Mayhem, creating your own deadly combo of heroes that you’ll grow to love. For me, freezing everyone with Yeti and then switching to Hardtack to finish them off was my synergy of choice, but there are plenty of teams to play with. It’s sweet and satisfying to find a team that you adore and by far the most appealing aspect of Agents of Mayhem.
Unlocking extra skins and gadgets for your Agents works in a similar fashion to every player and developer’s beloved ‘LootBox’ system. There will be numerous boxes randomly spread throughout Seoul; on rooftops, in buildings or even inside world geometry, everywhere. Lootboxes work as you would expect them too. Each box has a chance to drop a new skin, vehicle blueprint for unlocking cars, gadgets for Agents, or even just a load of cash and materials for building said gadgets. There are also tons of upgrade crystals scattered around Seoul, 350 of them to be exact. So, you can let loose your inner hoarder and go, jumping, dashing and searching for every last collectible there is.
Agents of Mayhem also brags some passive activities known as ‘Contracts’. Contracts are more like challenges than anything else, goading the player to kill a number of enemies or complete specific missions with a set team. Players can even undertake Contracts together in their respective game worlds by joining an existing Contract within a given time limit. However, none of this has any major impact on gameplay as the rewards are extremely insignificant. If you have actually been playing AoM in a normal fashion, undertaking objectives and completing missions will net you more than enough resources to see you through to the end, so the contracts kind of go amiss later on.
Volition has essentially created their own open world hero shooter in the universe of Saints Row. Taking staple elements that are becoming increasingly popular with each passing day; Hero Characters, Loot Boxes, and Open Worlds. Splicing popular elements from other games has previously worked Volition’s favour, but the lack of mission diversity, other than bosses, holds AoM back more than I’d have liked it to. The small world to explore meant things got boring and repetitive. Although, AoM isn’t so long that it becomes a total burden. If you were a fan of Saints Row then Agents of Mayhem could go either way for you, but there are nice nods to the combined universe. But, it can also be lighthearted fun and the humour is on point, as expected from Volition.