Across its lifespan, the Saints Row series has transformed from a crime-ridden turf war to a super-powered battle against aliens in a virtual reality. With that massive tonal shift and an obscure connection to the Red Faction universe, the Saints Row lore has become a mind-melting mess. However, franchise icon Johnny Gat hit the soft reboot button for the universe during his trip through the Underworld in the standalone Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell expansion, creating an all-new Earth that allows a fresh start for the series. The first step in that new direction comes in Agents of Mayhem, a surprisingly robust hero-shooter spin-off that is slowed down by its ties to the original franchise.
Agents of Mayhem centers on a global conflict between good and evil. A group of supervillains known as L.E.G.I.O.N.—short for the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations—has overthrown the world’s governments. This event, called Devil’s Night, has forced M.A.Y.H.E.M.—the Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds—out of hiding to protect the world in one last stand, led by the no-nonsense Persephone Brimstone.The game happily embraces mustache-twirling villain clichés, plastering the experience with cheesy one-liners, funky theme music, and cartoony visuals, complete with mid ‘90s-styled animated cut scenes.
Agents of Mayhem does not take itself seriously, allowing the over-the-top absurdity and wonderful cast of eponymous Agents to bring forth plenty of heart and personality. Twelve characters are unlocked by completing their corresponding side missions, yet only three are available from the start: Hollywood, Fortune, and Hardtack. Recruiting the various Agents provides the player with that character’s backstory and reasons for joining M.A.Y.H.E.M., offering a pleasant break from the overarching story of stopping evil. The writing is strongest in such character-driven missions, giving some Agents a chance to shine amid a plot where they otherwise do not. The player has room to explore the past of the bow-wielding Rama, for example: She joined M.A.Y.H.E.M. to save her people from a mysterious infection through a deal she made with Brimstone. Her lines carry weight in light of the context of Rama-centered side objectives, though when teamed with the wannabe rapper Kingpin or the subzero super soldier Yeti in the main story, Rama’s ideology of fighting for her people comes across as stiff and out of place when the rest of the dialogue is far lighter and more comical.
Such mismatched personalities are apparent throughout the game. Agents of Mayhem’s humor-heavy writing and absurd plot do not always allow each Agent to stand tall, though, by no means, are these stories any less worth exploring. Luckily for the player, even when the writing falls short, gameplay constantly conveys much heart. Each squad consists of three Agents who can be swapped out on–the–fly in the field, creating a surprising amount of gameplay depth. Every character comes with unique abilities, skins, and weapons—alongside skills to unlock and upgrades to acquire—and modification slots for weapons, abilities, and overall traits. Such variations create many different options for gameplay, considering most of these mods and skins are found in chests, unlocked through missions, or crafted using resources found throughout Agents of Mayhem. While modifications are not randomized, the sheer number proves challenging for the player to collect all of them for their favorite Agents. Considering the dozen playable characters, each with five or six slots for unique modifiers, the player has considerable gameplay possibilities to explore. Hours can be spent perfecting a team composition, equipping the ideal combination of mods, and pouring skill points into one’s favored branches.
Agents of Mayhem is deceptively open-ended and flexible in gameplay, wisely distracting the player from the dead simple shooter gameplay. Some hostiles come equipped with heavy armor, or favor knives and swords over guns, though the same four or five enemy types become dull quickly. Switching between Agents and changing their load-outs manages to keep the experience fresh, yet once the player has found the ideal combinations of skills and mods, firefights become a breeze. Even the overpowered Gremlin Tech becomes a throwaway feature because of the simplicity of combat, rarely begging the need to activate these consumables. Pure boredom or clicking the wrong button will be the two main reasons Gremlin Tech is used, which is a shame considering some of these power-ups are fun to see on the battlefield.
Seoul, South Korea, is L.E.G.I.O.N.’s latest target.In this reality, Seoul is the epicenter of technological advancement, providing the city with a sleek, surreal aesthetic. The pink cherry trees and red Asian architecture stand out among the white and blue structures, with the occasional green park or orange construction site granting Seoul visual diversity. Collectible Shards, chests, and side objectives are spread thick throughout the open world as breadcrumb trails, encouraging free roaming and exploration. This recreation of Seoul looks unique in motion, but when the player takes a second to stop and take in the atmosphere, the soullessness of the city as little more than another open-world sandbox becomes clear. Inhabitants walk and drive around without purpose and often do not even steer clear of combat hotspots. The lack of a minimap—which has been replaced with a player-triggered pulse scan to highlight collectible objects—means the game’s map has to be accessed through the pause menu, halting the action abruptly. Seoul is fun to traverse because of the Agent’s abilities—some Agents clamber onto walls, while others can dash in mid-air—though when the majority of activities have been completed, players will find themselves cruising flat roads or hopping between rooftops without purpose. Players can still cause a ruckus by destroying vehicles and battling the L.E.G.I.O.N. troops that will come rushing, but those firefights are merely a distraction that breathes artificial life into Seoul.
Agents of Mayhem comes across a drab Saints Row spin-off at first glance. The experience is weakest when it tries to mirror what Saints Row stood for: being a humorous open-world game. Meanwhile, the writing does little to compliment the swappable Agents mechanic and the city of Seoul is uninspired at best. These shortcomings are mitigated somewhat by the sheer fun inherent in the core gameplay, but this single positive is not enough to help the game exceed—or even match up to—some of its predecessors.
Reviewed on PC.