If your childhood was anything like ours then it likely had a healthy dose of Saturday morning action cartoons. They were fun, over-the-top and thoroughly entertaining. It’s no surprise then that Volition’s follow-up to their Saints Row franchise takes Saints Row and throws it in a blender with a healthy dose of action cartoons. The result is Agents of Mayhem (AoM), a third-person, open-world action shooter set in a futuristic version of Seoul, South Korea. So how well does AoM capture our childhood? Pretty well it turns out but unfortunately that’s not the whole story.
AoM tasks you with taking three agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. (Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds) and, through the course of ten episodes, stop Dr Babylon and L.E.G.I.O.N’s (the League of Evil Gentleman Intent on Obliterating Nations) plan for world domination. The plot sounds a bit hokey, and it is, but it’s a fun and entertaining yarn that captures the Saturday morning cartoon vibe perfectly. Each of the twelve playable agents are fun to play and have code-names like “Yeti” and “Hardtack”. They have cool weapons at their disposal as well as a MAYHEM ability which, when triggered, allows you really dish the hurt on your LEGION foes. Swapping between agents is quick and, with the right team makeup, allows you to make light work of most situations. Everything about AoM is direct and to the point. With a few exceptions each episode is split into three parts and in the end pits you against one of Dr Babylon's lieutenants.
It’s a shame, then, that this repeat in formula for each episode is perhaps AoM’s biggest fault: it’s just too repetitive. The first part of each main episode sees you identify the lieutenant you’re taking on, part two sets up the finale and part three is where you finally take them on. Each boss battle pits you against waves of foes with you taking out your main foes weak points in the gap between each wave. This cookie-cutter approach sucks the enjoyment out the further into the story you get. Whilst the bosses themselves are interesting and well acted they’re let down by having them all do pretty much the same thing when you finally go toe-to-toe with them. The missions are all pretty similar too and you’ll start noticing that you’re visiting the same LEGION lair or location and taking out some LEGION footsoldiers. Perhaps LEGION are big on recycling (ironic given their intentions) or, more likely, it has something to do with the city of Seoul itself more than anything else.
Setting AoM in Seoul is rather refreshing. It’s nice to see a non-Western location being the focus and, from the many vantage points, the futuristic sheen of the city looks wonderful. Purple tints are everywhere so those who have voyaged through all the Saints Row games will feel right at home. Traversing the city can be done in a variety of ways: you can commandeer a civilian vehicle, call in an agency car, go by foot or drop into one of the five warp points located throughout the city. The latter are locations your agents will spawn if you’re starting things from Mayhem’s HQ, the Ark. You’ll rarely want to use any of the civilian cars as they’re slow and, well, boring. Considering you can call in a Mayhem car almost at will (there is a cooldown), they serve little purpose other than to run you over occasionally. Perhaps this is the NPC civilians’ way of trying to be interesting as they’re essentially just fodder with little to no character about them.
Given how good future Seoul looks then, it’s a shame to see such a small map. Modern open-world games have, of late, generated maps that can take quite a while to completely traverse. To see one that would barely pass as a district in some of its competition is a bit of a letdown. You could argue that it keeps things tight and action close at hand. Whilst this is true, we were hoping to see more of futuristic city Seoul. Different districts or nearby towns perhaps? At least something to break things up and give the city a little bit of diversity and character. It also meant that, during our playthrough, our city became annoying to get across quickly. Because we’d ignored a fair few side missions until later in the game’s story we could barely turn a corner without running into the game’s villainous outfit, LEGION’s, doomsday contraptions or patrols. The lack of map size also, as mentioned, resulted in repeated use of locations for many of AoM’s missions. Once you’ve visited the same lair for the third time you start to wonder what the point to all this is.
And that’s a shame given how well put together the story is. Alongside the missions you play out there are wonderfully animated cut-scenes showing real dedication to capturing that Saturday morning cartoon vibe. The voice acting is excellent and I would genuinely like to watch something like AoM were it an actual cartoon. The script is tight, the humour is on point and thanks to letting the silliness seep into in-mission chat between characters you really start to give a damn about the agents under your control. You may not care about the city and it citizens due to its almost complete lack of character but at least you can give a damn about something. Their stories can be further expanded if you decide to take on the side-missions that reveal more about the agents and their motivations for joining MAYHEM.
Outside of the missions and running around trying to save Seoul from LEGION you can also send out agents to various places in the world. You start with only one location unlocked but, complete each mission in a region and you get a key to unlock the next. The incentive is that you get resources and collectibles as you do so. There’s no finesse here though and no ability to take over the mission yourself. You just send someone off and a few minutes later things complete. We never had one fail so it seems the only thing that will determine your choice of agent is whether or not they are a native to that region and by extension reducing the time it takes to complete. Alongside this you can level up your characters and with them gain new abilities. You can even level up the Ark and with it reduce things like vehicle cooldown or have your agents regain health quicker when they’re swapped out.
So far then, so good. AoM isn’t particularly spectacular but it’s silly and fun and what’s not to like about that? And then you meet the bugs. During our playthrough we had to attempt one early boss fight several times until, at least, we were able to hack the terminals we needed to. It got to the point where we were considering wiping our save and starting from the beginning such were our frustrations. We had another which glitched out but let us complete the mission anyway and we lost count of the number of times we’d be happily driving down the road only to have a troop dropship appear out of nowhere and ping our vehicle halfway across the next street. We also had an amusing situation where our agent was stuck in their MAYHEM startup animation where no matter what button we pressed they just started their animation again from the start.
All-in-all AoM is a fun game to play with plenty of collectibles and missions to go off and complete that will keep you playing for hours. Whilst the main story itself takes a little over fifteen hours to complete it will take even the most efficient agent the same again to level every agent and complete every mission. There’s no multiplayer to speak of, however, so once you’ve got every trinket there’s little reason to keep playing. AoM is let down by its lack of ambition which is strange given the Volition’s past experience. In an effort to curb its scope and keep things to a limited play area it Volition hamstrung itself without really trying. We’re hoping there will be some DLC in the not too distant future that might expand MAYHEM’s adventures. However, as things stand, AoM is a distinctly average game saved by some interesting characters and fantastically animated cut-scenes.