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Review: Agents of Mayhem Gives the Middle Finger to Boredom

Not enough games are just pure, good fun anymore.

These days, a lot of developers put priority into commentating on politics, weaving a rich narrative or developing a piece of work that would be better defined as art than a game. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, mind. It’s just that sometimes, there’s nothing better than a game that lets you switch off your brain, forget the real world exists, and run around a digital playground like a lunatic on steroids.

And that’s exactly what Volition’s latest project, Agents of Mayhem, does.

Best known for their Saints Row franchise, Agents of Mayhem is Volition’s first attempt in over 10 years at a fresh IP — well, kind of. You see, Agents of Mayhem doesn’t completely leave Saints Row behind; that fleur-de-lis logo will be instantly familiar, Johnny Gat is back in the form of pre-order DLC, and the game’s irreverent humour is very familiar. If you enjoyed any of the Saints Row games, then you’ll likely find something to enjoy in Agents of Mayhem — but it has plenty of identity of its own, too.

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A third person shooter set in a futuristic rendition of the city of Seoul, Agents of Mayhem‘s name pretty much sums it up; it’s mayhem from start to finish, and all the better for it. Playing as a team of three agents, your mission is to fight against the evil Legion, killing their troops and ruining their nefarious plans. There’s a story there if you want to follow it, told in a series of nicely animated 2D cutscenes. It’s got plenty of humour packed into it, but mostly, I just wanted to get straight on with the action. To hell with exposition – just let me run, jump and shoot!

To its credit though, the voice acting in the game is top notch. I very much enjoyed the riotous dialogue — filled with more curse words than your nan after a couple of glasses of sherry — that accompanies the game as you play. Each character has their own over-the-top personality, and you’ll get a kick out of what your character has to say for themselves regardless of who you play as. For instance, there’s Sheherazade, a mysterious ninja woman who slices through enemies like melted butter with her two katanas. Or there’s Hollywood, an actor-cum-killing machine, who treats every mission like an action-packed blockbuster. My personal favourite though has to be Daisy, a roller derby rock chick who glides everywhere on a pair of rollerskates, perpetually hung over from the night before.

Along with their unique personality quirks, each agent has their own signature weapon and abilities which can be changed and upgraded as you play. You’ll start off with three characters which you can switch between at any time, and there’s another nine agents to unlock as you progress. You’ll always have a team of three for every mission, but your line-up can be changed before heading into the action.

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Agents of Mayhem is mission based, and while you could technically just run straight through the story, there’s a great deal of side content to stick your teeth into too. The open world map is dotted with the types of mini missions that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent a bit of time with an Ubisoft open world game game — destroy stuff, collect stuff, activate stuff — and there’s also a number of daily challenges you can take part in to gain new loot and rewards. Some of the missions to unlock new agents aren’t part of the main story either, so if you want a full roster of Mayhem employees, then you’ll have to step outside the confines of the main campaign.

To get the most out of Agents of Mayhem you’ll want to spend some time running around the map, anyway. Sure, just like any open world game of its ilk, some of the missions can get a bit repetitive – you’ll be rinsing and repeating the same old objectives time and time again – but the fact that you can complete them with any one of 12 characters, each entirely unique from one another, helps keep the game feeling fresh and massively extends the amount of replayability that Agents of Mayhem can give. I’ve been playing mostly with Daisy as the leader of my pack, and as much as I love her rotten, foul-mouthed responses to everything, I’m looking forward to playing again with another character to see what quips they have for me to chuckle along to.

The map of Agents of Mayhem, though, is both its best and worst feature. The futuristic rendition of Seoul is, for the most part, fantastic. Skyscrapers, floating platforms and sky-level monorails are built around old-fashioned oriental temples; futuristic cars whizz around the streets while neon lights flash around everywhere you look. The downside comes from the fact there’s a lot of repetition. All over Seoul are buildings under construction, many of which you’ll have to visit during some part of the game. The trouble is, they’re all indistinguishable from each other, lacking any real character or interest.

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This is even more noticeable in the frequent Legion lairs you’ll infiltrate. All underground, the lairs are masses of space-age grey; a labyrinth of corridors and big, open rooms filled with terminals and evil-doing technology. Despite being (apparently) unique from each other, even the layout of each is more or less identical. Since these lairs make up a large part of both the story and a set of side quests, their lack of flair is rather disheartening – especially considering how much personality has been injected into the rest of the game.

The blandness of the enemy lairs is reflected, too, in the blandness of the enemies themselves. There’s a limited amount of enemy types who you’ll see again and again, and while slashing or shooting them to bits is relentlessly enjoyable, a little more variety would be nice. The bosses somewhat make up for it, though. With zany personalities to rival those of your 12 agents, each boss has been brilliantly characterised in a way that almost makes it impossible to dislike them –regardless of all the nefarious shit they’ve been up to across the city.

Agents of Mayhem, then, isn’t perfect. Of course it isn’t; what game is? Despite its few missteps in repetition and a few bland design choices that stand out amidst a wash of personality, there’s no denying just how much fun this game is. It’s a game that leaves all seriousness behind; one that attempts to make you forget your real-world worries by bombarding you with crude language, irreverent humour and cheesy jokes that will make you roll your eyes (while secretly glowing with glee). Its type of humour, I think, will be a barrier for some, where it’s perhaps seen as a little too immature for those who prefer a more serious discourse from a game. But to those types, I say, pah. Video games were created as a medium of entertainment, and you don’t get much more entertaining than Agents of Mayhem.

Agents of Mayhem is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the PC version.

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