Agents of Mayhem may be an open-world action game shares a developer and an extended universe with the Saints Row franchise (more on that last bit later), but the most intriguing mechanic I encountered during my gameplay demo at E3 2016 borrowed from the fighting game genre. Rather than bind players to a singular protagonist, in Agents of Mayhem you deploy a team of three super agents and swap control of them at will — even mid-jump.
It felt just like Golden Age team-based fighters like the Marvel vs. Capcom series and Tekken Tag Tournament, down to the fact that agents recover health when tagged out. And just like those games, while you could brute-force your way to victory in an Agents of Mayhem mission using just one agent, strategic swapping opens up glorious combos that allow you do things like quickly close distance with your speedy ranged agent, then instantly swap to your lumbering tank to unleash a deadly shotgun blast.
That’s just one of many surprising revelations from my time with Agents of Mayhem, which to be honest underwhelmed me in its initial trailer but whose facets quickly showed themselves when playing:
To start, Agents of Mayhem is flat-out fun in its moment-to-moment interactions. Combat in the demo was all about enabling wanton destruction. I particularly enjoyed Hollywood’s Mayhem ability, which set off fireworks all around and caused regular citizens to cower in fear, and a consumable that mimics Mario’s famous invincibility star, allowing me to bowl through crowds of enemies and send them flying.
Agents of Mayhem is also colorful. The entire game takes place in an alternate-reality Seoul, drenched in bright colors like purples and yellows. Each mission is also preceded by hand-drawn animation straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Indeed, developer Volition noted that shows like G.I. Joe and He-Man were some of their chief inspirations for the game.
Finally, Agents of Mayhem is funny. The combat, the visual design, the story — all of it works in the service of the game’s humor, which sends up not only superhero fare but geek culture in general. For example, the mission I played culminated with my agents crashing the wedding of a mechanically augmented technophile to the world’s most sophisticated AI — who also happens to be a K-pop superstar.
That’s not surprising for a game that shares DNA with the over-the-top comedy of games like Saints Row: The Third, which allowed players to wield a mind-controlling octopus while dressed as a giant hot dog. What is surprising is that the franchises actually share an extended universe. In essence, Agents of Mayhem takes one of the more absurd endings of Saints Row IV — where the Saints discover time travel — to create a reality where the events of the Saints Row series never happened.
What that means is in Agents of Mayhem you’ll see similar motifs (notice how the game’s logo echoes the fleur-de-lis of the 3rd Street Saints) and perhaps even characters — although they’ll have no knowledge of their Saints Row incarnations.
We’ll see if Agents of Mayhem lives up its influences when the game launches in 2017.