Agents of Mayhem hands-on: Saints Row meets SHIELD

Is the Saints Row universe super without the Saints?

Agents of Mayhem

I’m relieved Volition is making something other than Saints Row V. Which is not to say they’ll never make one—or that it’s not secretly in development right now. Who knows?

But if it is, it’s being developed alongside the all-new Agents of Mayhem, which Volition revealed right before E3. It’s set in the Saints Row universe, but trades the town of Steelport for Seoul, South Korea and the Saints themselves for a group of superheroes known as the Multi-national AgencY for Hunting Evil Masterminds or M.A.Y.H.E.M.

Yes, it’s a thinly-veiled parody of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. And yes, they lifted the “Y” from the end of “Agency.”

All great, at least in theory. But after playing a demo of the game recently, I’m a bit worried—worried that maybe Saints Row isn’t quite as enjoyable without the Saints.

Doppelganger

It’s definitely a Saints Row premise. Our demo mission tasked us with saving a woman named Aisha. Well, “woman” is maybe putting it a bit strongly. Aisha is a stand-in for the real-world Hatsune Miku, who—if you’re unfamiliar—is a Japanese pop-star who, oh yeah, is also an AI.

So yeah, we had to rescue Aisha (AI-sha) from the bad guys in the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations, or L.E.G.I.O.N. Except, of course, that Aisha’s actually in love with a Legionnaire named SteelToe and suddenly our job is to crash their wedding.

It’s silly. Not as silly as some parts in Saints Row III and IV, but silly.

And on the surface, Agents of Mayhem sounds like it should be a reskin of Saints Row IV. Superheroes? Didn’t we just do that one?Agents of Mayhem is a different beast entirely though. Where Saints Row let you create a character to lead the Saints, Agents of Mayhem has more in common with recent hero-based shooters like Overwatch or Battleborn. You’ll have a roster of about a dozen heroes to choose from, and bring three into missions as a “squad.”

The weird bit is you only use one character at a time—literally. This isn’t a squad shooter. The other two characters simply don’t exist until you swap to them, at which point they seamlessly replace the one you were playing as. It’s like a co-op game that’s...not a co-op game.

Agents of Mayhem

Anyway, you’re supposed to swap between characters to take advantage of their different abilities. In tight quarters? Hardtack is probably most useful, with his shotgun and harpoon. Lots of weak enemies? Maybe Hollywood’s assault rifle can chew through them. In our demo it was a non-issue though. Enemies were so easy that swapping characters felt more like a novelty than a necessity.

More important: None of them won me over in my admittedly brief playtime. Hollywood came closest, with his Johnny Gat-esque antics, but I sort of missed the Saints I’d gotten to know. In fact, I found myself wondering if Volition had done Agents of Mayhem a disservice by linking it in any way to Saints Row. All it does is invite comparisons.

You’ll also notice I’ve so far mentioned quite a bit about shooting and not much about superpowers—for good reason. We’ve yet to see the majority of the roster, but the four characters in our demo were “superheroes” of the Hawkeye/Black Widow persuasion, not the nuke-punching, leap-tall-buildings type we played in Saints Row IV.

So it’s mostly a lot of Saints Row-esque third-person shooting, which isn’t really the best aspect of that series. Characters do have a MAYHEM power, but these function like Ultimates in Overwatch—you charge them up over time and then unleash them.

Agents of Mayhem

MAYHEM powers are awesome when you get them—particularly Hollywood’s, as he calls in an airstrike on his position and turns the area into a Michael Bay-esque explosionfest. But for a game called Agents of Mayhem, the minute-to-minute action feels pretty tame. Definitely more grounded (read: generic) than what I’d expect from the studio that brought me the joys of a dubstep gun and a recliner with built-in rocket launchers.

Bottom line

And so I find myself worried. I miss my dapper English chap from Saints Row and worry a move to pre-constructed characters won’t hold the same weight. The guns are solid but nothing spectacular or creative. The superpowers aren’t very super. And the best aspect of the game—the writing—I saw so little of in my fifteen minute demo that I can’t really comment yet. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say the mission was an instant classic like when we first demoed the opening Saints Row IV in all its presidential glory.

I believe Volition is one of the most talented comedic studios in the modern game industry. If anyone can pull off Agents of Mayhem despite this lackluster first showing, it’s them. But so far, it’s not hooking me.

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