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Agents of Mayhem – Fantastically fun or farcically forgettable? (Or maybe a little of both.)

Content of the article: "Agents of Mayhem – Fantastically fun or farcically forgettable? (Or maybe a little of both.)"

Agents of Mayhem is a game from Volition that has a purple-leaning palette with a prevalent Fleur de Lis motif – but it is not, in any meaningful way, related to the Saints Row series.

It's third person, with a large cast of heroes available, all with distinct personalities and attributes. But it isn't a Battle Royale or other game of that broad type – it doesn't even have online multiplayer.

And then, perhaps most confusing of all, Agents of Mayhem is a game where you always take a squad of three into battle, but it offers no co-op.

All these contradictions appear to have not only left consumers too confused to purchase the game, but it seems to have often left a large number of those few that did buy it disappointed. Six months after release, the game had sold just 300000 copies and was cited as the reason for layoffs by the developer.

It isn't really fair, however, to blame Agents of Mayhem's failures on Wii-U style consumer confusion and disappointment with all the things it isn't. There are also fundamental issues with what it is, that, for a full price game in a crowded market, doubtless contributed to it's fate.

Case in point: As a big fan of the studio's other work, I was an early adopter of the game. However, I was unable to play it until fairly recently, when I upgraded my graphics card. AoM isn't a resource heavy game, but my previous combination of i5 cpu and R9 280x gpu caused a bug that crashed everything to desktop as soon as any button on a controller was pressed. Not ideal. In researching solutions it transpired that, following the game's commercial failure, it was all but abandoned by the developer with several game breaking bugs left unaddressed.

Looking at the above, it's easy to wonder why I bothered with the game at all, but, having clicked the 'Play' button through mere curiosity a week or so ago, I've just now found myself watching the credits roll with 39 hours of playing time under my belt.

It turns out, despite several meaty caveats, Agents of Mayhem is actually pretty damn good fun.

Set in a futuristic rendition of South Korean capital city; Seoul, you take control of a trio of the titular team in a battle against Dr Babylon and his subordinates in the antagonist group 'Legion'.

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This is all presented in a very 'Saturday Morning Cartoon' style, which makes the decision to make a number of the characters hard drinking, chain smoking, and sweary a little bit bizarre, but, other than this, the presentation is exceptional. Future-Seoul is a fairly small open-world map by modern standards, but it's packed with detail and nuance that belies the scale. There's also fantastic design consistency and an incredible sense of verticality.

You select your team of three from a larger pool of twelve (three more available as DLC) who are impressively diverse of gender, race, nationality, and sexuality – but who conversely fall into traditional genre convention and classes in gameplay, albeit with unique idiosyncrasies of style. Daisy is a fairly standard heavy gunner, for example, but takes to the streets on roller blades. Joule is an engineer, deploying turrets as per the standard, but is a full-on fashionista when not battling Legion. The variety of playstyles catered for is impressive, and encompasses everything from melee combatants to snipers – and most iterations in between.

These details are not limited to visual details. Each character is voiced impressively, with many introduced into the game via a 'special episode' mission that delves into their backstory and is then often referenced in communication chatter later in the game.

With all this excellent groundwork in place, it's a real shame that as soon as the game starts, most campaign missions quickly move you away from the open world map and instead take place in an endless procession of near-identical, almost featureless, grey, underground bunkers. Objectives within also lack variety, offering the scant choice of killing all enemies, destroying some doo-dads, or freeing some captives.

On the plus side, combat is a lot of fun, and the dungeons, though visually uninspiring, do offer an unobstructive battle ground. Finding a triumvirate of agents to suit your own proclivities is all part of the entertainment, and the instant tag-team nature allows for some pretty effective combinations – particularly when unleashing an agents special ability after building up their 'Mayhem Meter'.

Outside of the main missions, there are actually plenty of distractions scattered around the map. This allows the player to bring some variety to the game by taking on races, destroying weapons caches, saving hostages, and attacking boss-sized enemies at their own convenience. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an excuse for the unimaginative, and repetitive campaign missions, but, personally, I wanted to explore Seoul, and having characters that can triple jump and air-dash as standard makes doing so a joy, and stumbling across activities that do actually take place in the over-world really brings the game to life.

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I was often put in mind of Xbox 360 classic 'Crackdown' when bounding across rooftops in search of crystal shards and item crates, or calling my agency vehicle to blast from one side of the map to the other. I think this is a far more accurate, and positive, association than any of the other games or genres that AoM gets mistakenly compared to. Crackdown wasn't universally loved, and Agents of Mayhem certainly can't claim to be either, but I'd encourage any fan of Realtime Worlds’ 2007 outing to give this game a look-in, I think you'll feel quite at home.

But I guess there is an underlying negative in that comparison. Crackdown is over a decade old; it came about at a time when open worlds of this kind were still fairly big news. That Agents of Mayhem can only offer fun on this simplistic level then, even at its best, is it worth playing?

An old boss of mine used to enjoy delivering a little nugget of people management that went something like: "We have to change the 'No, because…' into a 'Yes, if…'.

And as there are dozens of reviews in the world that will tell you to avoid Agents of Mayhem because… well… I've mentioned a lot of the problems above, I'm going to instead focus on the reasons why you should give this game a shot, with a ton of caveats to manage your expectations.

As I already said, if you enjoyed Crackdown back in '07 and want to enjoy that superhero style traversal of an open world, give AoM a chance.

If you miss single player games with multiple characters to choose from, that's another thing that AoM does very well. There are 15 in total (including DLC) and although there are 'pre-defined' teams of three, you can mix them up in whatever way you see fit – this makes for more than 450 potential combinations. Each character is palpably different from the others, too, and there’s some RPG-lite levelling if you like that kind of thing.

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If you don't mind creating your own game structure, AoM is massively improved by not letting the game lead you. Spend twenty minutes tooling around Seoul before you start a mission, change your squad up every time you set out, and make use of the 'Contracts' (basically sub-achievements) to drive your activity. It won’t take away the uninspired parts, but it will make them less of a wall to your enjoyment.

If the idea of teaming a sword wielding ninja, a minigun-toting pin-up girl, and an ice giant appeals to you, AoM has your back.

If you ever thought the GI Joe cartoon needed more swearing – yeah, this is definitely the game for you.

Agents of Mayhem is like looking at a pile of individual puzzle pieces that all have interesting little pictures on – but when it's put together the complete image is somehow much less compelling.

But, by overlooking some pieces and rearranging others, there's something worth persisting with here.

I totally get that a lot of people won't want to bother, but for those that do I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.


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