E3 Hands-On with ‘Agents of Mayhem’: ‘Saints Row’ Follow-Up Feels Criminally Underwhelming

Volition stakes its Seoul on the success of this super-heroic successor to the world of Saints Row, but Agents of Mayhem doesn’t leave a great first impression.

Agents of Mayhem takes place in a post-Saints Row future, though it’s unclear just how much influence that the purple gangsters of developer Volition’s previous open-world crime series have had on the “MAYHEM” crime-fighters. Still, their membership includes both Pierce and the just-announced (and presumably resurrected) Johnny Gat from previous Saints games, so we aren’t straying too far from Volition’s ongoing universe of sandbox mayhem.

After the viral success of Saints Row 4‘s super-powered hijinks, the development team has decided to double down on slapstick anarchy. Agents of Mayhem offers at least ten different playable characters, each with their own skills, strengths, weaknesses, and upgrade paths. Choosing the right three for a given mission, which you can then switch between playing as on the fly, into a futuristic parody of Seoul will be crucial to success.

Mission difficulty is extremely scalable, allowing you to balance risk versus reward before you’ve pulled the trigger. On the ground, swapping between said squadmates is instantaneous and allows for powerful combinations of both active and passive abilities. It’s more than choosing the right weapon for the job — knowing who is better at disrupting shields, who can punch through armor, and who has a penchant for computer hacking is an important part of deciding who hits the streets.

Vehicle gameplay doesn’t look especially impressive or robust, but it remains present. Whether or not it’s worth the time to slip into one of the many vehicles on the streets of Seoul remains to be seen, but Saints Row 4 rendered automotive transportation utterly pointless with its super-powered hijinks so there may not be much reason for concern.

Agents of Mayhem recalls nothing so much as an especially crude Saturday morning cartoon, with easily as many one-liners as bullets. Volition’s recent games have always had a sense of humor that can be hit or miss, but the humor is (mostly) endearing. Agents of Mayhem doesn’t stick with me as much as past efforts in the demo I played, but I could see myself growing attached to members of the crew given time.

Unfortunately, the game’s promise seems to have stalled after the concept stage. When I sat down to actually play, I found a game that felt like the leftover missions from an open-world title, with none of the freedom that implies. Though my team was aesthetically different, playing each of them was an exercise in holding down the trigger until the bloated life bars of faceless enemies depleted, and I moved to the next checkpoint.

There were hints of progression — you can collect vehicles, experience, and shards. But the vehicles felt pointless, and I didn’t have enough time with the game to stretch my legs with some of the advancement. Switching between characters has all the gravity of weapon swapping. On one hand, it wasn’t cumbersome. On the other, it just didn’t seem to matter very much.

The game’s visuals were similarly uninspired. Everything is just a little too smooth. Character models are simple, stiffly animated, and overly shiny, making the game feel more like an HD remake of a last-generation title than the heir apparent to a beloved franchise. The animated cutscenes felt more like a storyboard stand-in for real cinematics than something to ship with a finished title.

As an ardent fan of the Saints Row franchise, Agents of Mayhem felt criminally underwhelming. Given some time in the open world, with a wider variety of team members and the opportunity to play with the character advancement system, my opinion could change. For now, however, all it did was make me wish for a true successor to the absurdly creative GTA knockoff that inspired it.

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June 15th, 2017 by
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