When I checked out Agents of Mayhem at E3 last year, I left intrigued but concerned. The game is solid, but at the time, I didn’t really feel like it stood out. Volition has a lot to live up to, both acknowledging the game as part of the Saints Row universe and establishing as a separate, memorable thing, instead of a spin-off of a bigger series.
At a recent preview event hosted by publisher Deep Silver, I had the chance to spend just over an hour with the game to get an idea of where the game is about 8 months later.
Since then, the team has been able to establish the core ideas of the game a bit better.
Agents of Mayhem takes tons of cues from cartoons like G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K., pitting a ragtag group of heroes with marketably diverse looks and attitudes against over-the-top villains bent on world domination.
Agents is a single player game, which can make delivering that team element difficult. To do that, you’re given a group of 12 agents to choose from. At any time, you’ll have the one you’re controlling and two others in your pocket that you can switch to with a quick click of the left and right buttons on the D-pad (the game is coming to PC, but my playtime was entirely with an Xbox controller).
Swapping between heroes is fast and easy. A quick digital effect gives some visual flair to the swap, but there’s no substantial delay. It’s more like switching between an agility build, a tank build, and a high-damage build of a character.
The combat is fun, and switching between the characters feels useful, but in my short preview with the game, I wasn’t sure the differences between the characters were enough to make me want to choose different ones for different missions. I’d hoped before for some kind of traversal abilities, but that’s not happening. Each character has a look and personality, and that’ll have to be enough to carry them.
That comes through in the game’s vehicles, too. As an open-world game, there’s a fair amount of driving to be had, but the cars really just look and drive differently. This was a big disappointment to me, as goofy, memorable vehicles were at the core of so many of my favorite shows growing up. These, though, are just cars.
One thing that remains to be seen, though, is whether that open world will be fun to navigate. Preview events like these are necessarily pretty guided experiences, and I didn’t have a chance to explore at all.
At moments, Agents of Mayhem looks like it might’ve had ambitions toward multiplayer, but Design Director Anoop Shekar was very clear – this is a single-player game. You can share contracts with friends to make money more quickly in the game, but there’s never a moment where you’re jumping into someone else’s game, Crackdown style.
Those hints come in the form of things like the variety of character skins and emotes. Those elements give players a little room to express themselves, and Shekar envisions the emotes being used in live streams and Let’s Play videos of the game.
One element players might miss from Saints Row is the variety of ways Volition provided to let you express yourself through your character. In those games, you could do just about anything to your character. Gender, race, and voice were all just features, and none had links to any other. Here, characters are more static. You’re controlling characters Volition has created and curated.
Instead of expressing yourself through detailed character modification like in Saints Row, Volition wants to see players expressing themselves through gadget choice, ability selection, and agent grouping.
One of the most intriguing bits that did come through during the preview was the focus on humor. The story sections of the game feature 2D-animated cutscenes from Powerhouse Animation that really do a lot to hit home the G.I. Joe feel of the game. These cutscenes were consistently funny and entertaining and did a lot to endear the characters to me.
Some elements of a game just don’t come through in a preview. The feel of the open world. What it’s like to play the game for an extended period. How combat feels as it evolves. There’s a lot to still uncover with Agents of Mayhem.
Despite my misgivings, the core of the game works, and the team knows how to make an open-world game, so I’m optimistic about where Agents of Mayhem will end up when it releases for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 15, 2017.