So far we've heard bits and pieces regarding Volition's upcoming Agents of Mayhem, such as the fact that we'll be playing as these amoral Agents fighting against an evil force in South Korea. However, we finally got some hands-on time with the game during a preview event in London and there we got to see how the Saints Row developer's latest project delivers these wacky, off-the-wall ideas. After all, it's not like they haven't done these kinds of things before.
In the demo we played a handful of missions, one being a tutorial, another being an Agent introduction, with the rest offering some insight into the missions you'll be taking on and the different agents you'll be using along the way. Story-wise, there's not much to say that hasn't been said; you're an Agent of Mayhem charged with taking down Legion, an evil private army terrorising the world, but each hero is an amoral figure doing it for their own reasons. As you might expect, this manifests itself in characters who don't play by the rules, who make wise-cracks, and who pretty much just work for themselves.
The trouble with these agents is that their personality can often be painfully unfunny. The whole point of them being amoral is to skew the expected hero portrayal and make them rebellious and edgy, much like we saw in Saints Row, but we were surprised when we heard the unimpressive dialogue. In the opening mission, for example, you play as Hollywood, a reality TV star turned soldier, Fortune, a Colombian ex-sky pirate, and Hardtack, a big guy with a shotgun. The interchanges between these three resembled a kid's cartoon in a lot of places, but with clichéd lines spiced up with swearing, producing this very weird disconnect. This did pick up as we played, as Daisy's story mission produced some more believable and humorous moments, but for the most part it felt like it was trying too hard.
Agents of Mayhem is set in the Saints Row universe, and we didn't even have to play the game to understand that. As we walked in the door, the whole room was adorned with purple, the colour of the 3rd Street Saints, with big Fleur-de-lis symbols everywhere you look, the symbol of the Saints. But that's not all, as the agent called Kingpin is Pierce Washington from the Saints Row games, and there's plenty more references to be found. If you're a Saints Row fan, you'll definitely find nods and references to appreciate here, even if the story isn't directly tied to that of the Saints.
You'll especially like it if you're a fan of Saints Row IV, however, if you're more of a fan of the earlier games, the ones more grounded in reality, but that still had the tongue-in-cheek approach, and if you didn't get on with the later, more whacky games, this probably won't be for you. Agents of Mayhem is high-octane, unrealistic, colourful action through and through, and the tongue is more bursting through the other side of the cheek rather than in it, as there's almost no serious content - it's all laughs here, even if there is a private army killing millions of people.
This applies to the gameplay too. Obviously this will change based on which agent you choose, as they all have different weapons and gear, but the gist is that you control them in third-person, in an open-world, and shoot at enemies (like you do in Saints Row), with the emphasis here is on quick movement and never standing still. Triple jump helps with this a lot, and this added manoeuvrability means the action is kept constant, so you're never bored, and when we played on the slightly easier difficulty provided to us by Volition, even then we found standing still was a sure fire way to get yourself killed.
Then there's the special attack, mapped to the right bumper, and the Mayhem ability, activated by hitting the left and right bumpers together. Much like abilities in other hero- and character-based games like Overwatch, these allow you to perform special attacks and moves with a cooldown, your Mayhem being available once you accumulate Mayhem points, at which stage you can then unleash a devastating attack. These work as expected, and decimating a room full of grunts with one of these moves is just as satisfying as you'd expect.
Volition knows its third-person gameplay, and all of this works together to produce a satisfying package. The movement is smooth, the explosions are bombastic, the guns are satisfying to use (even the silenced pistol an agent called Oni uses), and we reckon there's something in there for everyone. It's poised in between the overt ridiculousness of Saints Row IV's superpowers (nobody can fly in Agents of Mayhem, from what we can tell), and the more grounded, but extra zany characteristics of Saints Row: The Third.
We didn't get to see a ton of missions when we played, but from what we saw these were pretty much your standard open-world missions. There was the 'destroy x amount of these' objectives, but there were also more story-focused ones in the campaign (or critical path, as it's called here), which provided tighter experiences such as reliving a drunken night out or taking on the evil Doctor Babylon, so we're guessing it'll be a mix of both in the full game.
Of course there were some technical issues when we played, such as cars clipping through objects, but considering it's due for release in August, and the world is pretty expansive, we can't complain too loudly on that front. There's plenty of time to polish, and the demo we played was more to deliver a flavour of what we'll be doing, not a view of the entire world.
There's a reason we've mentioned Saints Row so much when talking about Agents of Mayhem, and that's because the similarities are so stark. Having wrapped up the Saints story with an alien invasion and a trip to Hell itself, there wasn't much else to do in the series, so instead Volition is taking the well-worn formula and is making something that feels very similar, but that's also a bit different in terms of theme. It's a shame that the humour and dialogue sometimes falls flat, but if you like Saints Row, especially the later and crazier ones, the chances are you'll like Agents of Mayhem. If you didn't, we don't think there'll be enough new ideas here to draw you in.