|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Pub: Deep Silver|
|Release: August 15, 2017|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Agents of Mayhem is a game with an identity crisis. It wants to follow the absurdity of its Saints Row cousin, but finds itself more grounded and conventional. It wants to be an Adult Swim show, but is trapped in a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s begging for multiplayer, but sadly you’re stuck playing with yourself. Yet, there’s still a lot of meat on its bones. It’s an open world loaded with things to do and goodies to sniff out. There are plenty of options to customize your agents. It’s peppered with crass comedy. And it’s just a blast to play, literally. But for all the fun, explosive bits of action, there’s an equal amount of sterile monotony.
The cast is all over the map, again literally. The support crew found in their respective nooks of MAYHEM's hub, called Ark, consists of a snobby Italian car enthusiast, a booze loving, tam o’ shanter weaponsmith, a Middle-Eastern collector of antiquities, and a by-the-book British operations dispatcher, just to name a few. The playable characters are also a mix of personalities. There’s a hard-assed military drill instructor, a self-absorbed TV star, a German soccer super fan, a Motherland-loving Russian soldier with an icy cold exterior, and about a dozen more unique individual. The stereotypes are blatant, and it falls into Volition’s brand of humor that slaps political correctness hard in the face. The characters are all interesting, each with their own side story, but all rally behind MAYHEM to take down a global nemesis: Doctor Babylon and his dastardly plan to destroy the global powers and control the world. I was compelled to allow my toddler son watch the seemingly harmless cartoon action, but would then would hear Hardtack toss out f-bombs or see Daisy stroking her minigun between her thighs and quickly dismiss that thought.
Every agent has a unique skill set and weapon of choice, making each potent in different situations. Some soak up damage and hit hard with melee attacks, while others have a wider array of damage over time and debuff attacks. Some can perform a mid-air dash, while others can climb walls or turn invisible. Each time you exit the Ark, you must choose a trio of agents to wander the streets of Seoul, South Korea. Only one agent is active at all times, but a clever feature called Agent Swap allows you to instantly switch characters, giving you a fresh set of tools for the one swapped in and allowing the one swapped out to regenerate health and shields. At lower difficulty settings, there’s little more strategy than simply running, gunning, and swapping out when your active agent’s shield depletes. However, if you crank up the difficulty dial (there are 15 difficulty levels, by the way), you’ll quickly discover the necessity of customizing each agent to complement one another and maximize your damage output.
Characters can level up, equip gadgets, enhance stats, craft weapon attachments, and bolster their special abilities, giving them many unique loadouts to exploit. You could, for instance, immobilize a handful of enemies with one agent, swap to another and pelt them with damage over time via plague arrows, then swap again and mow down another group while the restrained batch’s health whittles down. Doctor Babylon, following typical supervillain tropes, has an endless army of soldiers to toss at MAYHEM’s agents. They are nimble, aggressive, and can easily swarm a player with overwhelming numbers, making combat a symphony of explosions and flailing bodies from start to finish. However, there isn’t much diversity overall in the bestiary. A few golems and boss fights aside, most of the time it’s the same cookie-cutter, armored troopers that offer little variety in tactics.
Outside the adrenaline rush of combat, there is an extreme disconnect in design and a lack of engagement. The open world of Seoul is yours to explore, and the futuristic architecture is loaded with finely chiseled stone and metal, smooth neon trimming (most of it purple, of course), and holographic projections. Everything from the civilians to the vehicles to the specks of nature are squeaky clean. It’s too clean, in fact, and doesn’t resonate with any of the destruction from battle. Vehicles cruise along, despite being caught in a crossfire. Genocide against civilians triggers no consequence, beyond alerting Babylon’s LEGION goons. Bullet holes fade from buildings, leaving the backdrop blemish-free after every violent engagement. You can wander the streets and scale buildings in search of treasure chests containing cash, crafting resources, schematics, and skins, but this soon becomes tedious, likely prompting you to pick a fight just to break up the monotony.