Agents of Mayhem could be great if Volition finds the right balance
No I in Mayhem
From the developers of Saints Row IV, one of the most entertaining games of 2013, comes Agents of Mayhem. After combating time-traveling aliens as the President of the United States and defeating Satan as Johnny Gat, the series really had no room further to escalate. So instead, Volition have taken a (slightly) more grounded approach which is more akin to The Third and then its predecessor.
Instead of a singular customisable character, you control a group of unique upgradable agents, in squads of no more than 3 at any given time. You are members of the organisation named M.A.Y.H.E.M (Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds) and you do battle in the futuristic, open world city and capital of South Korea, Seoul. The main antagonists of Agents of Mayhem, L.E.G.I.O.N (The League of Evil Gentleman Intent on Obliterating Nations) who already appear to have a firm grasp over the world, are comprised of cartoonish monologuing villains such as Doctor Babylon and Morningstar. I know, I know, Persephone Brimstone, the French leader of MAYHEM has a picture of Joan of Arc hanging in her office alongside her own portraits. It’s all very on the nose.
Agents of Mayhem is clearly aware that it’s a video game, which can be refreshing if handled well. The Saints Row franchise (barring the original) is the video game equivalent of Austin Powers: it’s stupid and it knows it. But by removing the constraints of logic Saints Row could focus solely on the idea of fun. There’s always a place for that in the market but again, only if it’s executed well. If you want to see a failure of this approach, look no further than Sunset Overdrive, a game so insulting even I found it uncouth. If Agents of Mayhem doesn’t repeatedly reference Reddit and call the player a twat every 5 minutes it should be fine.
There is a slight concern of mine, however; a lot of characters are introduced at the start of the game and I’ll be honest, I could remember only two of their names. Hopefully the proper time is given to allow the player to familiarise themselves with the cast before more are thrown into the mix.
The first hour or so of the game, while consisting mainly of tutorial level encounters, did showcase much tighter combat than in any of Volition’s previous games. It reminded me a little of Mass Effect (the good one) with its abilities you can activate, and offered a MOBA esque single player experience, enjoyability of which will depend entirely on what obstacles the player will face. Which is where my main reservations lie.
What I played offered a large variety of options: There was a shotgun wielding behemoth who utilised a hook to pull enemies into close range, an archer who was exceptionally useful at long range, could turn invisible and fired a special poison arrow, even your typical white-male protagonist had a role. The weapon, aptly named Hollywood, was equipped with an assault rifle, a worrying number of grenades and a million-dollar American smile that I swear should be able to blind enemies.
The point is that each character has different abilities, traits. types of damage and effective range which opens up possibilities of combination attacks and squad formations. This is a double-edged sword, however, with this much variety accessible to the player, the enemies they face need to be just as diverse, if not more so. If the player’s arsenal is a conglomerate of answers, the game must pitch the right questions, questions that cannot be answered by most of their options. If character X beats 90% of the enemies, why would you ever swap?
Switching between agents was wholly unnecessary in the early stages of the game; understandably, there are 12 different agents to be introduced and I had only just met the 4th, we are still firmly in the tutorial stage and are likely to remain there for some time. Agents of Mayhem appears to be aiming for the complexity of a MOBA so to not overwhelm the players, it opts instead to aim at the lowest common denominator and take things slow, too slow for some maybe. The difficulty must ramp up quickly, otherwise some people may drop out before Volition get the opportunity to show all their cards.
I saw a lot of potential in what I played of Agents of Mayhem and if Volition build upon the groundwork they’ve laid out for themselves, it could turn they were holding another royal flush. It won’t mean a thing however if all the players get to see before they move on is a single ace.