Agents of Mayhem wears the right outfit but doesn’t go far beyond posing in the mirror.
This is Volition’s attempt at hopping aboard the lucrative superhero and comic book train. Fuelled in part by our collective nostalgia, the pastimes of our childhoods are enjoying a resurgence and whilst Volition’s potty-mouthed homage to Saturday morning cartoons doesn’t quite hit the mark, it’ll definitely keep your inner child happy for a couple of hours.
The story is a straight-up good versus evil narrative, presented in bite sized episodes, made even more digestible with animated cutscenes. Grab yourself a bowl of multigrain cereal bespeckled with a rainbow of marshmallow pieces, and you could easily be a decade younger, watching the action unfold from the floor of your living room, with your parents peacefully snoring upstairs.
The Agents of Mayhem are tasked with saving the world from L.E.G.I.O.N., and in an effort to emulate the animated shows of yesteryear, both the NPCs and agents rattle off one-liners at a mile a minute; most of them fall flat and eventually you’ll just tune them out, but there a couple of gems in there that will make you chuckle when you least expect it.
The game is single-player, and although you’re given a squad of three agents, only one is ever active in the field. They’re essentially the equivalent of your weapon loadout. One of your starter agents, Hardtack, favours a shotgun, while Rama – who you’ll unlock later – carries a bow. There are 12 agents total, each with their own weapon, as well as unlockable gadgets that tweak buffs and specials for added variety.
The futuristic city of Seoul, South Korea, offers a surprisingly small play area for a game billed as open world, but it more than makes up for it with the impressive verticality of the map. Huge skyscrapers tickle the underbelly of clouds, and thanks to all of the construction work going on, workmen’s platforms glide conveniently between them. The smaller parts of town house their own secrets too, and you’ll need to ferret around for Crystal Shards to turn into power cores for agent upgrades, and chests containing weapon and character skins, materials, and some sweet moolah.
“The agents serve little purpose. They’re a meatsack attached to the end of a weapon, and that’s what’s going to govern your picks.”
Despite being the self-proclaimed good guys, your agents can shoot civilians without any real consequences. Sure, the police bots will eventually arrive on the scene to exterminate the perceived threat that is you – mid psychotic-rampage – but you can just add their body count to your killing spree tally. It’s best not to let your wanted level get too out of hand, but it’s nice to see that our murderous tendencies have been catered for.
You can also commandeer citizens’ vehicles, or ‘borrow’ parked cars you might stumble across on the side of the road. The world is your oyster and morality is a fuzzy shade of grey.
There’s certainly enough to keep you busy outside of casual murder. The map is riddled with side quests that are separated into categories. If you want to tear around the streets in a fancy car, race around the terrain on foot, or hunt a L.E.G.I.O.N. patrol, you can take a break from the main story and cause as much mayhem as your heart desires.
Control of the city is an ever-shifting struggle between the bad guys and the the (mostly) good guys, and every time territory is contested, the region’s side missions refresh, meaning that there’s always an excuse to go for a wander.
Unlocking agents provides another break from the campaign, as you play through each character’s mission to add them to your roster. If you really want to delve into their stories, you can opt to complete their specific missions to flesh out their backstory a bit more.
The cast of agents is diverse, with the team’s origins spanning the globe. It feels similar to Overwatch in that respect, but there’s a jarring disconnect that would set Jeff Kaplan’s glasses spinning.
Rama harks from India, and when you activate her Mayhem ability, a Sitar solo kicks in. When the curious Mixer, in charge of squad training – asks the musclebound (black) Hardtack what his favourite genre of music is, he replies soul, “of course”. And R ‘n’ B. In a climate where a vocal group is clamouring for diversity, it’s an odd juxtaposition. Is Agents of Mayhem celebrating diversity, or is it a commentary on diversity for diversity’s sake? Or is it just a dumb, fun game that acknowledges that a Sitar is an Indian instrument, and that a black man can enjoy soul music if he damn well pleases?
Whatever the answer is, the truth is that it really doesn’t matter. Ultimately your choice of squad isn’t going to be based on whom you best identify with, or which character you like the most. The agents serve little purpose. They’re a meatsack attached to the end of a weapon, and that’s what’s going to govern your picks.
Rama isn’t my favourite because she’s a strong, fearless woman fighting for her people in India to save them from the outbreak of an horrific plague. I like using a bow, and she happens to be on the other end of it. Hardtack is a shotgun, great for close quarters, and his teleporting harpoon is the bee’s knees. The trials and tribulations of his life don’t factor into it.
“Agents of Mayhem has as much in common with a Saturday morning cartoon as a puddle has with a lake, but for all of its shallow absurdity, it sure is fun to spend an afternoon splashing around in.”
Volition could have easily switched out the agents with a player created character, and doubled down on the futuristic vibe of the game by imbuing the weapons with an AI personality that would serve as much purpose as the agents do. Narratively it would make more sense than a three-man squad consisting of one person teleporting out for another at the touch of a button.
Regardless, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.
The only reason you might feel hesitant at the prospect of switching up your squad is the XP distribution. If an agent isn’t in the field, they won’t receive XP, so it’s likely your squad levels are going to be unbalanced until you find your groove.
But it’s nothing to get your knickers in a twist over, as the difficulty level for each mission can be set anywhere from 0 to 15, with a recommended difficulty seemingly suggested based on your team’s collective level.
Agents of Mayhem is bright, gaudy, and silly. True, it might be lacking in substance here and there, and have about as much in common with a Saturday morning cartoon as a puddle has with a lake, but for all of its shallow absurdity, it sure is fun to spend an afternoon splashing around in.