Agents of Mayhem, revealed recently just before E3, is the latest and greatest from Deep Silver, the people behind the incredibly popular Saints Row series. The game takes place loosely within the Saints Row universe, but Agents is a different beast. While it features open world gameplay, it feels less like Saints Row (itself inspired by GTA), and instead more like arcade-y third person shooters with a heavy comic book style inspiration.
You control M.A.Y.H.E.M. (the Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds), a group of heroes that Deep Silver described as “amoral,” “anti-heroes,” and “chaotic neutral.” They swear, blow things up, and don’t really pay any mind to it, though they are working to stop the super-villain group L.E.G.I.O.N. (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations). As you would probably expect from the people behind Saints Row, Agents of Mayhem doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and dedicates fully to being as silly as possible.
The game itself is a fast-paced third person shooter. You roll out with a squad of three characters that you can control one at a time, but can quickly switch to others whenever you want. You could balance your team out with members that are effective at different ranges or have very different abilities from each other, or just pick your three favorite. There were only four at the demo playable, but the game will have much more at launch. Every character we saw had a very distinct flavor and personality which is reflected in their play style.
I heavily preferred the agile, dual-pistol wielding sky pirate Fortune that can stun large groups of enemies and then pick them off from short to mid-range. Each character also has an ultimate ability of sorts that charges up over time in combat. Fortune’s, for example, is a drone that helps you in battle automatically.
When the situation called for it, I could instantly switch to another character better suited to whatever I was dealing with. You could start fights from afar with a bow-wielding sniper, and then as you move into closer quarters, switch to Hashtack, who uses a shotgun and specializes in close combat.
While snap on the fly strategy switches seem to be Agents of Mayhem’s angle, it’s hard to say at this point how well it’s pulled off. Fortune felt way more powerful than the other characters I could use, and I didn’t see a good reason to switch out. The enemies did nothing to force my hand either, as they were all very squishy and mindless. It’s probably designed that way since the game keeps track of your style points on screen while fighting (melee kills, double kills, multi kills, etc.), but I was a little disappointed that I was so easily able to just beat the whole demo as one character. It felt like I was playing the game wrong, and Agents of Mayhem didn’t do anything to encourage me to play otherwise.
Also the mission structure was nothing special either. While running and gunning was definitely satisfying, the reason for my violence felt repetitive. Go into an area, kill some people, find a checkpoint/objective to blow up or activate, and move on until I reached the boss area.
Again though, this could have been an easy early mission, and I only had four characters to choose from. It’s very plausible that future, more difficult missions will require more careful decision making when it comes to character choices and strategy in battle and interesting mechanics. The framework for fast-paced strategy is definitely there so hopefully it gets taken advantage of.
Aside from gameplay, the mission I got to play was about trying to protect a highly intelligent AI K-pop star from falling into the clutches of L.E.G.I.O.N. The AI tries to lead the M.A.Y.H.E.M. team to her, but as it turns out, she’s already switched sides because she has fallen in love with a member of L.E.G.I.O.N. and led everyone into an ambush. The exchanges between the on and off-screen characters were entertaining and the mission’s story was interesting to follow, despite the dull objectives. I’m hopeful that this mission is a one off disappointment when it comes to its gameplay, and other ones will get all the parts (story and gameplay) moving in the right direction.
Also, although we didn’t get to see it ourselves at E3, Agents of Mayhem will feature a base of operations that you can build up. You’ll be able to recruit playable and NPC agents, and improve the characters you have access too. Given Deep Silver’s strong history of deep customization in the Saints Row games, it’s not crazy to think that Agents of Mayhem carry that tradition on in their own way.
The framework for a really fun game is all here. The issues I had with Agents of Mayhem are the easier things to fix. Its defining gameplay characteristic seem to be the synergy between the characters. As long as the end product features better mission/objective variety than what was shown at E3, so we can actually enjoy what makes the game fun, then there’s not a whole lot to worry about.