Agents of Mayhem tightens up the Saints Row formula with its own cast of lunatics


Like Overwatch for anyone who isn’t a team player

“I am private property, please step away.” The high-pitched voice is emitting from a speaker lodged in a saucer-eyed, cartoon squid mascot for a fast-food sushi joint in Seoul, Korea. I am playing as Daisy, a roller derby skater with rockabilly hair who lives in a storage locker and only likes “fucking and fighting.” She’s also blotto and demanding the plastic statue serve up deep dish.

“Objective updated: Get frustrated.” I oblige, bashing the squid until the cops arrive, and then blow them all away with her minigun, too.

Daisy is just one of the 12 playable characters from Volition’s Agents of Mayhem, a third-person shooter set in the broader Saints Row universe that’s coming to PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 15. I played as her and eight others during my hour or so hands-on time last week.

Not long into the brief presentation we were given before getting to play Agents of Mayhem I wrote in my notebook, somewhat sarcastically, “I love Overwatch.” The art is a little less stylized and the tone more “irreverent asshole” (takes one to know one!), but the intent seems the same: don’t just bank on one main character when you can let a broader swath of would-be players pick and choose favorites in an ensemble cast. And that’s baked into the gameplay, which lets you choose a team of three during missions, switching between them instantly.

With a sort of Venture Bros wink, Agents of Mayhem pits the group MAYHEM, led by Persephone Brimstone and her girl Friday, against LEGION, a group that has already killed millions and somehow disposed of all the nukes in the world, leaving nothing to stand against its dark matter-equipped shock troopers. Hence the formation of MAYHEM and the “bad versus evil” tagline — the recent movie didn’t deter a Suicide Squad mention in the presentation– that explains the ragtag group of unrestrained id you’ll be playing as while wrecking up Seoul.

The first mission I played included the first three debut characters. There’s Hollywood, the self-absorbed and empty-headed reality star. There’s Hardtack, the former US Navy sailor of “Ahoy, motherfuckers” fame. And there’s Fortune, the Colombian sky pirate whose parrot is a drone. The tutorial has the three characters meet up, letting you get a feel for them solo. While each character has different stats (namely what range they can shoot at, how much health they have, and how strong they are), they also have different special moves and meter-built Mayhem Moves. Hardtack, for example, can harpoon an enemy with his spear and bring them right in front of him, either to be blasted away with his shotgun or whacked with a melee. The “gang leader/rap mogul” Kingpin, whose identity Saints Row fans might be able to parse, tosses out a boom box, forcing every enemy in the vicinity to dance like Ratchet and Clank‘s Groovitron.

When you have three characters together on a mission, you can swap between them instantly with the d-pad and the game is designed so that you “swap as much as possible.” They’re almost guns with character; you’ll almost assuredly have to swap out Hardtack, whose shotgun range is limited, to kill someone too far off, for example. Or just when another character is about to run out of health.

The third-person shooting itself felt tight, somewhere between Uncharted‘s loose and flowing characters and Gears of War‘s steered tanks. Every character has a triple jump, too, which necessary for getting around the open-world city sections, but also useful in combat, either to close distance or just rain death from above. Certain characters, like the former-Yakuza assassin Oni have additional wall-climbing skills, or other traversal quirks, but the characters all feel more or less the same, differentiated mainly by their weapon-type, specials, and personalities. Also, a world of props to the radius indicator for explosions, which works incredibly well, even while a lot of things are exploding.

I played a bit of the open-world (surprise! It has a large map filthy with little UI markers for all kinds of open-world-type sidequests) as Daisy and it’s reminiscent of the somewhat plain, functional open-world of earlier titles like Crackdown more than the dense, rich cities of Sleeping Dogs or Grand Theft Auto V. There are little quirks with futuristic mascot characters (a later mission took me to an underground lair beneath a barbecue joint topped by a gigantic cartoon pig with a cowboy hat and sheriff badge pointing two revolvers) and splashes of color, especially when vestiges of old world Korea clash with the skyscrapers and technology. Driving also feels better than past Saints Row games (Agents uses a new engine), though it feels a bit heavy, like I’m not quite getting a sense of speed.

But I didn’t mess with much of the open world, which looks dutifully large and task-filled. I also didn’t get to really play with the skill trees and other random upgrades (different cars, for example) that the various currencies and pick-ups (including bright green piles of cash, blueprints, scrap, intel, et al) go towards. I don’t know how to buy or acquire them, but you can change the agents’ default skin. The examples I caught weren’t as elaborate as some of the best Overwatch skins I’ve seen, but Steve Zissou Hardtack is pretty dope.

You can call your main ride on demand, by the way, like Arkham Knight‘s Batmobile, complete with unique jumping-in animations to get you driving quickly. The triple jump animations, too, are all reflective of the individual’s style — the characters are going to be a big selling point. Each has their own unlock and personal story mission so you can get one-on-one time (and a feel for how they play) before choosing whether to slot them in your three-person crew.

I don’t have a real sense for flow its flow or for how engaging roaming its open-world will be, but so far Agents of Mayhem is a solid third-person shooter with a good hook and good sense of humor about itself, starting with the parenthetical in the first objective of the game, “Objective: Open the door (with your gun).” I think that, coupled with Volition’s past Saints Row, should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.