Skating around as a roller derby player who is gleefully belching and swearing as she sprays enemies with bullets from her minigun, it’s difficult not to have at least a little fun while playing Volition’s new third-person open world action adventure RPG. Taking place within the same universe as their Saints Row series, Agents of Mayhem [official site] has the same irreverent humour, and this time is poking fun at superhero groups.
A villainous organisation known as Legion (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations) led by a man known as the Morningstar, attacked the world in a deadly simultaneous global attack. Using teleportation technology and dark matter fuelled-weapons they appeared in multiple areas around the world in a matter of seconds, creating chaos. You play as Mayhem (the Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds), led by ex-Legion Minister Persephone Brimstone. Using the teleportation technology and their team of misfit specialists, Mayhem are determined to take down Legion, no matter what the cost.
From the setup, as well as the trailers, Volition have made clear that this is very much their R-rated version of a 1980’s G.I. Joe Saturday morning cartoon. With the over the top characters, outrageously costumed villains, and an abundance of gadgets. It feels like a good fit for them, after their Saints Row series transitioned from a grim gangster tale to what was essentially a silly superhero romp by the fourth game.
Whether on a mission or exploring the open world (set in Seoul), the player chooses a team of three agents and can switch between them at any point. There are twelve agents in total, each with a unique personal weapon, their own special attack, and a powerful “Mayhem ability”. You’re meant to balance your group of agents, making sure you have the right team for the job. When I started playing I just chose three that looked like fun, I soon realised that despite the difficulty being lowered for this preview build, paying attention to your agent’s stats is pretty key.
The combat felt satisfying, and was genuinely enjoyable. Very quickly I found myself cycling through my three heroes, using one to blast away close range with a shotgun, then darting back with a faster character. It’s a mechanic I actively wanted to spend more time with.
One thing I found interesting was that every character was equipped with the ability to triple jump. It would perhaps seem more intuitive to reserve that for the more agile characters. I spoke to the game’s producer, Kate Nelson, about this:
“We had a lot of talk about metrics for the city building, and the reason is because we really wanted to emphasise vertical traversal in our game,” says Nelson. “So the triple jump is the standard thing. Other agents can do an air dash, so Hollywood [one of the agents], when you hit B in the air he can triple jump and then go forward. Other ones can do triple jump and then hold onto the side of a building and vault themselves up. So some of them can go even higher than triple jump, and some of them can go vertically further. So that’s how we differentiated it.”
The emphasis on vertical traversal came through in the preview build. I became reliant on the triple jump. Why dodge an enemy when I can just fly up into the air? In the missions the environments were designed for this kind of movement. Unfortunately in this build of the game we didn’t get much time in the actual open world. However, from what little I did see I’m a bit worried that this vertical traversal will be lost in favour of the usual “go along the map at ground level to get to point B”. To speed up your exploration you can call a variety of cars to you, or just steal an ice cream van if it takes your fancy. The driving handles well, though you can’t move the camera without it snapping back into position, which was irritating.
As well as ice cream vans, one of the many ways you’ll be ploughing through Legion is with a huge array of tech. These gadgets you can unlock are referred to as “Gremlin Tech” (Gremlin being Mayhem’s tech expert). Kate explained that “she [Gremlin] comes up with all these crazy weapons for agents to use throughout the city, so she drops them in caches. They’re pretty fun, they’ll make corpses explode, or they’ll call down an airstrike, or ice will shoot down from the sky. So they’re pretty out-there large moves.”
Between the huge amount of Gremlin tech, twelve characters, upgrades and other gadgets, there’s a lot to get your head around and play about with.
The variety in the actual characters themselves is refreshing, particularly the range of female characters. Kate said that this diversity was actively pursued; “It’s something that we did set out to do because we wanted to make sure that as people were playing that they can see a character and be like ‘oh you know what, I identify with this character’ and we do have female writers on staff and we do have people looking out for that, and so we’re just making sure that we’re representing a bit more diversity, as much as we can, because we are limited to twelve people.”
The humour will not be to everyone’s taste, and for me it occasionally felt forced. The anarchic writing was enjoyable in a preview build but it would definitely wear thin for me in a full game. However, the combat has piqued my interest. If the verticality the triple jump offers is utilised in the open world then I’ll be willing to forgive the constant shouting wisecracks and spend time trying to master the three agent mechanic.
Agents of Mayhem will be released on the 15th August in America and the 18th August in Europe.