Shoot, swap, repeat.
My time with Agents of Mayhem is best summed up by an in-game quirk that still nags at me, even after 30 hours of playtime: When calling in your smart-talking AI-controlled supercar, you can stand in a designated zone and perform a flashy leap into the driver’s seat as it races by. Awesome as that move may be, the car always comes to a full stop once you’re inside, forcing you to accelerate from zero instead of keeping a smooth flow to the action – and this feeling of a great start followed by lost momentum kept coming back to me throughout my time with this superteam-inspired third-person shooter.
Agents of Mayhem does a great job of committing to its homage to TV action hero teams, from its cartoon cutscenes to the core mechanic of instantly swapping between different agents in combat. Forcing you to think about multiple characters and how their abilities work together works well in reinforcing the importance these inspirations placed on teamwork, especially since there’s no option for co-op or multiplayer. Framed as an epic battle of backronyms, it takes place after a hostile global takeover by the evil forces of LEGION (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations), and MAYHEM (the Multinational AgencY for Hunting Evil Masterminds) steps in to push back the tide. Complete with some damn catchy theme music and “Knowing is Half the Battle”-esque life lessons between loading screens, Agents of Mayhem doesn’t try to hide its love for shows like GI JOE and Knight Rider, or even newer franchises like The Avengers. The destructive world that’s been built around them is a good fit for the diverse cast of heroes and villains that inhabit it.
In this universe Seoul, South Korea became Earth’s hub of technology (not that far-fetched an idea), and it’s refreshing to see an open-world setting that isn’t a major Western city. Being based there also does a lot to establish MAYHEM as a multinational organization, instead of just another band of gung-ho American super soldiers policing the world.
It’s refreshing to see an open-world setting that isn’t a major Western city.
It’s unfortunate, then, that such a colorful and diverse city and its citizens are never really treated as little more than just window dressing. Civilian NPCs are basically just extra debris to be blown around a fight, and while there’s technically a lot of stuff to do around the colorful streets of Seoul, that’s all those activities felt like: stuff. Aside from stopping one of LEGION’s occasional Doomsday Devices, I never felt any real purpose beyond adding another point to the in-game map or giving me yet another vehicle to clumsily ram off the road. It also seemed like I spent a lot of time in the same copy-pasted, slightly rearranged underground bunkers that serve as LEGION’s bases. Their basic design template is interesting, and both the art style and architecture work well with the cartoon theme, but running through the same steel hallways over and over got old after a while.
I felt a similar monotony throughout the main campaign. Of the villains for each “episode” (every act of the story is treated as an episode of an Agents of Mayhem TV show), only a couple were all that memorable. They each have their own unique themes – for example, the egotistical pop star, or the cyborg with a God complex – but all of their dastardly plots essentially boiled down to throwing wave after wave of the same seven or eight henchmen at me until they ran out of bodies, followed by a fairly predictable boss battle.
I was willing to bench my go-to femme fatales to experiment.
That said, there’s a lot of fun to be had while battling this constant stream of helmeted bad guys, and the multi-character gunplay is as stylish as it is satisfying. Swapping between agents using an instant teleportation tech is similar to switching weapons, and their unique special and super moves offer a fun variety of combat styles to play with. Combined with the litany of unlockable skills, gear, weapons and abilities that the agents bring to the table, deploying your team offers enough options to impress even the most meticulous outfitters.
Do you use Fortune’s Cannonball or Powder Keg specials to cause area damage? Maybe instead you want to focus on her drone’s stun ability, and leave the heavy damage up to another teammate? Or will you instead equip one of the madcap gadgets from your support team – perhaps the Moon Laser (which is exactly what it sounds like), or the one that causes all the nearby pedestrians to explode? There’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in figuring out how all the characters fit into your arsenal. I quickly found that the tough-as nails ex-marine Braddock, the tech-pirate Fortune and the rough-and-tumble roller derby queen Daisy were a great team for my play style, but I was more than willing to bench my go-to femme fatales in favor of experimenting with the abilities of each new agent I recruited.
Each enemy type makes good use of their abilities in combat, too – adding buffs, for instance, shielding that renders other enemies invincible, disabling my weapons and so on – and helps make the arcadey run-and-gun action both frantic and fun enough that I almost didn’t mind the fact that I was essentially battling the same group of bad guys for hours on end. It took me roughly 25 hours to complete the main campaign and unlock all of the recruitable agents, and it wasn’t until I was well past halfway through that I started experiencing any real combat fatigue.
Special Episodes focus on individual characters’ personalities.
The strongest aspect of Agents of Mayhem, to my mind, are its Special Episodes™, optional missions that set the main story aside in favor of shining the spotlight on individual agents. I eagerly jumped into each one when it became available, not because these missions are especially memorable – they mostly stick to the “shoot bad guys in a nondescript underground lair” formula – but because each one gave me a better idea of who each character is and how the agents relate to one another. Little details, like learning about one agent’s crush on another, or the frozen Russian “Cold Warrior” Yeti’s love of 90s Rap-Rock, helped flesh out each character and really let me empathize with the team.
These moments were especially appreciated because while I usually enjoy Volition’s wacky, crude(ish) sense of humor, a lot of scripted moments fell flat for me. It’s not that all the dialogue was overly terrible, but there are constantly stretches of bland exposition coated with a bunch of jokes that didn’t quite land as well as they could have. I found genuinely funny and endearing moments throughout, but for every gag that made me laugh out loud or feel something for a member of the team, there was an equally stale bit of schtick or pop-culture reference. I’m all for having characters that celebrate their own fandom, but some “references” were just characters ripping off lines from other movies or shows without acknowledging it, while others were just egregiously outdated (I thought we collectively agreed that the “Imitating Lil’ Jon from Chappelle’s Show” fad ended in 2006).