Super Saints: Hands On With Agents Of Mayhem

Agents Of Mayhem [official site] explicitly plants Saints Row in a futureworld of supervillains and interplanetary metahuman agencies. I use the word ‘explicitly’ because Saints Row IV was already at least part way there, using the grammar of a superhero comic if not the language. I played through a mission of Mayhem recently and while I immediately missed some aspects of Saints Row, as an action game, Agents is streets ahead.

Saints Row IV is a brilliant game and one of the few that has ever made me laugh out loud. That it does so from its opening moments right up to the end credits is incredible. I like to compare the trajectory of the series to the Fast and Furious films, which similarly transitioned from brooding cars and crims drama to action comedies that revel in self-aware excess and ever more ridiculous feats.

In the Fast and Furious films, the central conceit or gag is that no matter how inappropriate vehicles might be for a job, the crew will always plant themselves in a driver’s seat. Whether it’s a heist or a kidnapping, a flotilla of fancy cars are the only way they can see themselves pulling off the job. If they had to deflect a bit of space debris that was heading toward off, they’d somehow manage to incorporate muscle cars into the operation, catapulting them into orbit and nitro-boosting their way to a happy ending.

For the Saints, it was their criminality that defined them even when they’d clearly moved into stories and situations that didn’t rely on their gangland background. Whether they were global celebrities, presidents or Earth’s last hope in the face of an alien menace, the Saints were always the Saints – loud, brash, purple, anarchic, violent and amoral.

With Agents of Mayhem, Volition are jumping forward in time and across the globe to Seoul, shedding the skin of the Saints for a new beginning. There are twelve agents to choose from, with three available on any given mission, and each has special abilities (superpowers) and distinct weapons that lend themselves to certain approaches, but they’re all good at one thing: beating the crap out of LEGION (League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations).

Mayhem (Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds) operate outside the law, meaning they have some of the anarchic qualities of the Saints, but despite taking place in a future version of the same world and having surface similarities, Agents is a very different game to its predecessors. And that, a quick hands-on suggests, is because it’s actually a good action game rather than a so-so action game with a delicious wrapper.

Yes, I said Saints Row IV was brilliant right at the beginning of this write-up and it is, but the driving, shooting, jumping, climbing and melee combat is fine. Just fine. It does the job. Take away the charisma of the characters and the writing, as well as the weird missions that interrupt the ordinary flow of the game, and I wouldn’t be playing just to enjoy the actual activities – exploring the city and fighting enemies is functional rather than exceptional.

Agents of Mayhem, as much as anything else, looks to be Volition’s attempt to provide something exceptional on the action front. It’s impossible to judge having only seen a single mission but everything is pointing in the right direction. Gunplay feels much weightier, with shotguns causing kickback and hurling enemies across the room, while sniping in the heat of battle flips the entire approach to combat on its head. And you can switch at any time, swapping between the three agents taken on a mission with the push of a button.

Far from a simple way to bulk up on abilities, the agent-swapping is the key to the game’s flow. I used Rama, a bow-wielding sniper, to set up traps that sucked enemies into a mini vortex, and then switched to shotgun-wielding bruiser Hardtack to wade in and take the cluster out with a few blasts. Agent Hollywood is also a good call when enemies are grouped together, able to unleash a pyrotechnic display fit for the multiplex.

That latter is a ‘Mayhem Ability’, requiring a fully charged special bar to activate. The charge is shared between characters, so you could use the sniper, Rama, to pick off smaller enemies from a distance, building mayhem, and then switch to Hardtack to utilise a skill designed to take down a larger boss enemy as soon as the charge is full.

Switching agents is instantaneous, allowing for the construction of interpersonal combos, and while the mayhem charge is shared, health is agent-specific, so swapping out can be used as an emergency escape if someone has taken too much damage. They’ll recover while out of the field and while there was no real threat to survival during the mission I played (I suspect we were playing on easy to ensure nobody died while learning the controls), the final fight ramped up the challenge significantly.

It’s a fight against a supervillain and his bride, who is a K-pop idol that also happens to be an AI in hologram form. The mission begins with the idol on the side of Mayhem but she betrays you at the mid-point, having fallen for one of Legion’s crew, and the mission ends with you crashing the wedding, which is taking place on a giant skybarge, above Seoul.

This whole subplot is delivered in a tone that treats the agents and their predicaments sincerely – the humour is in the character work and the ludicrous situations unfolding rather than the setting itself. Essentially, Volition don’t expect you to find the basic idea of antihero superagents smashing up a city hilarious; just as in the later Saints Row games, they seem willing to explore the weirder corners of this new world for jokes rather than expecting any inherent humour of the premise to do the heavy lifting.

And if this small taster is representative of the full meal, this will be a game that makes you smile more than it makes you laugh. For all that Saints Row IV delivered on the laughs, it was also packed with charming characters. Seems odd, given that they’re a bunch of horrible bastards, but the Saints are enjoyable company. Same goes for the Agents, based on what I’ve seen (just four of the twelves). They’re ready with quips and good natured back and forth, and they’re a properly international bunch. The in-depth and splendid character customisation of Saints Row is out, which breaks my heart just a little bit, but Volition are aiming to provide as much diversity as possible in the twelve characters, and that goes for backgrounds, backstories, aesthetics and playstyles.

As I see it, there’s a definite balancing act here: even half an hour with Mayhem is enough time to declare it superior to Saints Row as an action game, but the focus on a specific set of characters in a more tightly focused experience means some aspects of the Row have been cut away.

In between raiding the wedding and fighting goons in an underground base, I had a brief dash through the city streets. Mayhem’s Seoul has far more character and colour than Steelport, and seeing traffic swerve and crash in an attempt to avoid the fights breaking out made me hopeful that it’ll feel just as (if not more) vibrant and chaotic as well. It’s impossible to tell at the moment though, and it’s not even clear how much vehicular carnage you’ll be able to cause.

This isn’t Saints Row: The Future or Saints Row: The Superheroes, and it might be missing elements of that big urban canvas that Volition’s series has offered in its finest moments. Instead, Agents of Mayhem is perhaps best understood as a singleplayer take on character-driven action games like Overwatch and Battleborn, a skill-based third-person shooter that favours knowledge of the protagonists over a twitchy trigger finger.

There’s a long wait to see if it all comes together and I hope that it’ll still be possible to cause consequence-free trouble in the city between missions, but Agents of Mayhem already feels solid and satisfying. The humour feels almost as close to No One Lives Forever as Saints Row, and the futuristic superheroics allow for that Crackdown vibe that Volition have come close to harnessing in the past. I’m eager to see more.

Agents of Mayhem will be out next year.

From this site

27 Comments

  1. vecordae says:

    The entire article is showing up on the front page. So, it’s either ya’ll are really excited about this game or maybe ya’ll just forgot to add a bump.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Hooray, goofy Crackdown!

  3. Urthman says:

    “Agents of Mayhem is perhaps best understood as a singleplayer take on character-driven action games like Overwatch”

    Yes. That’s exactly what I want.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      I was gonna say, this sounds a bit like an Overwatch simulator–as in Overwatch the in-game organization, before they were shut down and scattered by non-specific scandal and reduced to squabbling over control points with a bunch of johnny-come-latelies. A global special ops group that are also kind of superheroes, with chargeable super abilities? I wouldn’t be surprised if this game was first inspired by the early betas of Overwatch.

    • Legion1183 says:

      +1

  4. Chemix says:

    If I recall correctly, in Saints Row IV, the Earth was annihilated, and everything took place in an alien matrix. So if this stays in that universe, then… is this still taking place in the matrix?

    • Det. Bullock says:

      I heard there was an ending in Gat out of Hell that restored Earth somehow, never played it so I can’t be sure.

      • WorldMaker says:

        It’s an ending to SRIV itself. Saints gets Deus Ex Machina time machine. It would have been interesting to see a Saints Row game with time travel that hinted at.

      • JakeOfRavenclaw says:

        One of the endings to Gat out of Hell does involve God rebooting the universe, and another involves the Saints finding a new home planet for humanity; but I don’t think any of them are meant to be taken as canon.

        Also, as WorldMaker noted, the SR universe now features time travel (in addition to intergalactic alien empires and matrix-style simulations), so really they can write any story they want at this point ;-)

        • April March says:

          That’s without even counting the first two Saints’ Row games were very explictly set in the past of the Red Faction universe, which never mentioned Earth being completely destroyed by an alien overlord in the early twentieth century. (Or, if my theory is correct, around 2040. Let me grab my binders…)

  5. Radiant says:

    “Out next year” *heartbreak emoji*

  6. zerosociety says:

    In Gat Out of Hell’s “God Recreates the Earth” ending, the Earth is reborn with the cost being the Saints never formed into the Saints and all lead different lives. Yet, what we do see is Gat, Kinzie and Matt Miller now appear to work for some sort of police/law-enforcement agency and are trying to figure out why a mysterious fugitive has turned herself in to them.

    The fugitive, of course, is now recognizable as MAYHEM’s founder: Persephone Brimstone.

  7. a very affectionate parrot says:

    This looks like Crackdown with a Volition coat of paint, which is by all means a very good thing since Crackdown was extremely entertaining and this seems like a natural evolution from the wonderful superhero madness of 4.
    I do hope they continue with the Saints Row series though, bring it back to the less insane but still brilliant style of the second game. I understand why the first one gets so much hate (even though personally I enjoyed it far more than any GTA game, just the simple touch of being able to enter stores when they’re closed and fill your car with stolen goods elevated it above other crime games) but the second one is unjustly maligned. It’s not as OTT as the later games but I feel it really hit a sweet spot between both making a gangster power fantasy and lampooning it. One minute you’re helping a bored housewife deliver weed via attack helicopter, the next you’re watching a surprisingly emotional cutscene featuring a character who until then has mostly just been an ultraviolent joke.
    Plus I think it’s one of the first games to include characters singing along with the radio, which literally every game with a radio feature in it should be forced to include by law.
    TL;DR this sounds like a great game and the natural evolution of Volition’s trajectory since SR3, I just hope they don’t forget about Saints’ Row, the open world crime game genre shouldn’t be dominated by Rockstar’s hamhanded ‘satire’.

    • SaintAn says:

      I had no idea that some people don’t like SR1. It’s a masterpiece that I guess is misunderstood. And that multiplayer was some of the most original and fun I’ve ever played. Really hope to get a PC port one day.

      • malkav11 says:

        I had no idea anyone had strong feelings about SR1. It’s not bad but as far as I can tell SR2 is that but better in literally every single way. What makes it stand out for you?

      • KDR_11k says:

        SR1 was nice (it’s what made me follow the SR series) but the lack of checkpoints was painful… There’s a lot of other things that SR2 did much better than SR1 but that’s the biggest difference IMO.

    • KDR_11k says:

      I think setting-wise SR2 was the best, the city felt alive and was mostly more than just level geometry with many kinds of shops and such everywhere. The story also felt like it had the most character with each of the three enemy gangs having their own arc. 3 had some good improvements like the running car jacking that really improved the flow of the game but meanwhile the lack of food slowed the combat back down with mandatory cover seeking… That’s why I think 2 and 3 share the crown of the series, 3 has some good gameplay improvements but the content wasn’t as interesting as 2.

      4 didn’t feel like it fully committed to the superhero thing with the super abilities feeling badly welded onto the GTA-ish gameplay of the series and of course the simulation removed even more character from Steelport which was already inferior to Stilwater in that regard. Compare the super powers of SR4 to, say, Prototype. You CAN get a gun in Prototype and shoot people with it but the game is designed around powers that vastly outmatch any firearm and make on-foot humans practically irrelevant as threats (as a result you can use a gun to rapidly switch from target to target and shoot each dead in split seconds if you’re just fighting soldiers). Also the super movements feel much more naturally integrated into the character’s moveset and flow together. SR4 just felt super clunky in comparison but then again you could argue that your character in SR4 isn’t as used to superpowers as the one in Prototype.

  8. Legion1183 says:

    If they had to deflect a bit of space debris that was heading toward off…

    What is this planet “off” that you speak of??

  9. Hyena Grin says:

    The lack of co-op in a game that revolves around teams of three is just… why. =(

    Some of the most fun I’ve had with friends has been in SR4, playing through the game and the DLC together. This would’ve been an instant buy, because of that, but if they’re cutting co-op then I dunno. I never had the urge to play Saints Row single player.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Probably because adding co-op means basically making two games, and co-op, in a stark contrast to about 8 or 9 years ago, is in every single bloody game now, and it’s nice to get some games designed without it in mind for a bit of a break.

  10. tricerarock says:

    The characters are what I couldn’t stand about the SR games. And the recycled environs. And that 4 made vehicles pointless.

  11. PaulV says:

    I’m so hyped right now!

  12. The Algerian says:

    “”and while I immediately missed some aspects of Saints Row, as an action game, Agents is streets ahead.””

    Seems like Pierce succeeded afterall, despite Jeff’s attempt to put his expression down.

    • Anti-Skub says:

      Streets ahead is a fairly common phrase, it wasn’t created by Community. Someone tweeted Dan Harmon (the writer) saying that Modern Family was streets ahead of Community, and he started mocking them on twitter and wrote the line into the show because he thought they’d just made the phrase up…they hadn’t. It’s just not used much in the US.

      • The Algerian says:

        In what kind of messed up alternate dimension is Modern Family streets ahead of Community is what I’d like to know.

  13. Madzack says:

    You know what would be awesome? If Volition takes inspiration from No Man’s Sky and make an open universe space pirate game with a Saints Row spirit.