Following the release of 2015's Gat out of Hell, the Saints Row franchise was caught in a bit of an uncertain place. Developer Volition had seemed to stretch the franchise to its limit squeezing out every drop of absurdity, adding superpowers, aliens and even a musical set in Hell. Instead of continuing to tread this beaten path, Volition instead branched out, creating a new hero-based game called Agents of Mayhem, which is set in the high-tech world of Seoul, South Korea. The title is the studio's first new IP since the launch of Saints Row in 2006 (although there is some crossover with its main franchise) and offers the individualistic mechanic of being able to switch between a cast of heroes during combat.
As a spiritual successor, Agents of Mayhem's roots within the Saints Row universe remain firmly embedded throughout, from the agent's obsession with purple, to their familiar looking emblem and the same oddball sense of humour. Two of the unlockable agents are also returning characters from previous Saints Row titles. Kingpin, perhaps better known as Pierce, makes a reappearance, alongside the Russian brute Oleg who now goes by the name of Yeti. There's even the option to play as series favourite Johnny Gat as a DLC bonus. While it wears its past proudly on its sleeve, Agents of Mayhem introduces enough of its own flair and individual mechanics to set it aside from its predecessors.
During the action, you'll have the ability to switch between three agents - with the chance of unlocking more by completing specific operations. None of these agents feel identical - for instance, Rama is quick and nimble and uses an auto-aiming crossbow for ranged attacks, whereas Hardtack is much bulkier and more cumbersome and can fire powerful shotgun blasts. You're given the option to customise a team of three agents before launching a mission; this requires a strategic approach, as you'll want to pull together a trio with complementing abilities. An agent like Yeti, for example, who can stun foes with his ice cannon, pairs perfectly with an agent like Hardtack, who can deal additional damage to stunned enemies. Each agent can easily be switched between by pressing the left and right buttons on the D-pad, which feels fluid, even in the midsts of a gunfight.
Agents also have their own set of special, weapon and passive gadgets, which can be unlocked over the course of 20 levels. With these gadgets, you can shape your character's abilities by altering factors such as weapon damage, health replenishment and secondary weapon effects. This is expanded on further through an upgrade skill tree, similar to that from the Borderlands series, where you can assign unlockable points to enhance certain character attributes. Each agent also has their own special attack known as mayhem abilities, which can be unleashed after building up your kill count. Triggering these abilities makes for some of AoM's most entertaining moments - take Kingpin's mayhem ability for instance, which is similar to the groovatron in Ratchet & Clank and the Dubstep Gun from Saints Row IV, forcing enemies to get down to the beat of a giant boombox.
Triple-jumping across the rooftops on a stream of purple neon and collecting crystal shards in a similar fashion to Crackdown, made for some great fun in the open world of Seoul. Besides this, though, we found many of the objectives outside the main story to be bland distractions consisting of nothing more than checkpoint racing, rescuing hostages and eliminating troops and vehicles. A staple of the Saints Row series has always been its goofy side activities with insurance fraud, trail blazing and tank mayhem being a few that instantly spring to mind. Granted, Agents of Mayhem is its own separate title, but it's difficult not to think how well Volition handled these aspects in previous releases.
The technological haven of Seoul, South Korea, provides the backdrop to your adventure and is decorated with cherry blossoms, traditional Asian architecture, and towering cityscapes. While the city is a joy to explore its streets admittedly feel barren and empty; lacking the illusion of being a thriving futuristic utopia. Titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Watch Dogs 2 seem to handle this aspect much better as they feature streets filled with pedestrians who can be seen engaging in conversation and recreational activities such as playing instruments and yoga.
Agents of Mayhem offers an impressive 16 difficulty levels, with each step of the ladder providing more handsome rewards for brave players. There's also an ample amount of playtime, with 50+ missions and numerous side objectives and unlockables to keep you occupied. What is lacking, however, is the ability to play the campaign alongside a friend in a co-op. Instead of this there are contracts, where you can team up with others online to complete small-scale objectives within a set time frame. While the addition of some multiplayer functionality is appreciated, we did feel the lack of co-op was pretty disappointing, as one of Saints Row IV's best features with regards to its replayability, was having the option to play with friends.
As it was in the Saints Row titles, you have a home base which here is known as The Ark, where you purchase new upgrades, engage in VR training exercises, and embark on global conflict objectives. Global conflict, much like war table operations in Dragon Age: Inquisition, allows you to send out inactive agents on your behalf to scout out cash and other resources. VR simulations provide the perfect way for you to test out newly unlocked agents, allowing you to engage in programs which span across each individual enemy type. The requisitions desk also allows you to exchange cash for agency upgrades, which benefit you in ways such as your earned XP, driving boost rate, and health replenishment.
Agents of Mayhem's visuals are wonderfully vibrant, sporting a cartoonish flair that isn't too dissimilar to that of Overwatch. Cutscenes are also completely animated, appearing like a Saturday morning cartoon from the early '90s. However, while it looks great, performance issues are prevalent particularly when fighting through waves of enemies, as the frame rate is soon to stutter. We also encountered glitches where the enemy AI would helplessly get caught on objects and our game crashed twice, forcing us to replay missions from the start. Hopefully, these issues can be smoothed with a future patch, as currently, they hamper the title's otherwise excellent combat.
If you're one of the many fans growing increasingly impatient for the release of Saints Row V, then you should definitely consider checking out Agents of Mayhem. It may have its fair share of technical flaws and slight imperfections, but it's still an undoubtedly fun game with plenty of personality. The ability to switch between a team of three agents on the fly presents an extra layer of strategic depth and its beautiful cartoonish world and wacky humour makes for an engaging ride from start to finish.