Agents of Mayhem review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Volition
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

Agents of Mayhem is fine. It has some fun moments. It’s competently made. It has some neat explosions.

I’ve been trying for hours now to come up with a way of explaining what I like and don’t like about it, and that’s all I have in the “like” column. It is, by any measure, thoroughly okay.

As for what I don’t like about Agents of Mayhem…well, that’s a little more complicated, and requires a brief foray into my feelings on the Saints Row franchise.

See, I love Saints Row. I was kind of indifferent to Saints Row 2, but then, when the series went off the rails in the most insane ways imaginable starting with Saints Row: The Third, I was fully invested in it. And, crazy as this is going to sound, I bought in because even though it was ludicrously over-the-top, it felt grounded. Admittedly, it wasn’t grounded in reality; seeing as the last game featured some of the characters being sent to literal Hell, and the game before that had them trapped inside an alien-created simulation of their hometown of Steelport, I don’t think even I could argue that. But it always felt like the series had its own internal logic and laws; insane things happened constantly, but because they happened so often, it became easy to accept (assuming, of course, you were into it — I fully recognize that not everyone was happy when the franchise stopped trying to be a GTA clone).

Moreover, Saints Row felt grounded because of its characters and its setting. Again, given that the series switched gears from Stilwater to Steelport starting in the third game, and that Steelport was an alien simulation by the fourth game, I know this may sound like a stretch, but I always found that I was able to suspend my disbelief and accept it as a lived-in world. In large part, this was because of the characters. They, like their world, were over-the-top in all kinds of absurd ways, but they still seemed to interact in relatively natural ways, and in the process humanized each other.

And, at the centre of it all, was you. You, the player, were given a central role in their bizarre drama as The Protagonist, thanks to a character creation system that allowed you to be pretty much whoever you wanted to be. You interacted with Johnny Gat and Kinzie and Pierce and Shaundi, and in the process became a part of their story.

Agents of Mayhem has none of these things. It’s loosely set in the Saints Row universe, but it’s lacking all those things that made Saints Row games special. The setting is thoroughly forgettable; rather than creating a city and making it feel like its own place, Agents of Mayhem is set in a futuristic version of Seoul, one that’s all space-age cars and neon and rounded edges. There are other people there, and the streets are filled with cars, but they feel like indistinct blurs that just happen to be in your way, who are there just because a city needs to have buildings, cars, and people. It’s a city lacking in personality, which makes it awfully hard to get invested in the game’s stakes.

On top of that, the main characters are forgettably cookie-cutter caricatures. You have an angry black man with a shotgun (Hardtack); you have a sassy Latina (Fortune); you have a mysterious Indian (Rama); and you have a cocky white guy (Hollywood). There are others, and you even get to control more people as your squad grows, but they almost all feel like collections of stereotypes voicing action game clich?s and catchphrases, rather than actual characters. Where Saints Row featured people interacting with humour and heart, Agents of Mayhem simply doesn’t.

In fact — and if you’ll pardon one more digression — that’s another area where Agents of Mayhem is sorely lacking: in the humour department. There are mild jokes here and there, and the game never takes itself too seriously, but there’s nothing here on par with, say, a dildo gun, or intentionally glitched enemies, or recreations of Red Faction: Guerrilla. It all feels pretty generically “funny”, rather than actual, laugh-out-loud funny.

Though really, that descriptor, “generic”, could be equally applied to most other aspects of the game. The cut scenes all borrow heavily from GI Joe; while they may have caused vague feelings of nostalgia deep in my ’80s child brain, I can’t say they did a whole lot more than that, and they certainly never had me invested in the story.

And then, of course, there’s the gameplay — the thoroughly “enh, it’s fine” gameplay. As someone who hates playing online multiplayer, I appreciate Agents of Mayhem giving me a chance to play an Overwatch-style team-based shooter all by my lonesome. It does a perfectly adequate job of giving you a range of destructive options, and if you want things to explode, you won’t be lacking for them here. But — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — sometimes explosions just aren’t enough. Sometimes you want to feel like you’re doing more than just firing bombs everywhere, and for those times, even when you’re playing as someone who doesn’t have explosive weapons, Agents of Mayhem is sorely lacking.

But again: it’s not a bad game. It is, as I said up top, perfectly fine. The setting and the characters and the action: all fine, if totally unspectacular. Given that it took the same developer a couple of tries to get both Red Faction and Saints Row just right, I have no doubt that, eventually, Agents of Mayhem could evolve into something interesting. For now, though, it merely is, and it’s hard to be too excited about any of that.

Grade: B-