Rated M for Mayhem
Listen, I’m no longer the kind of gamer who spends a lot of time pouring over numbers in a bid to find the best bang for my virtual buck. Games have gotten really good at cramming tons of gear and weapons and skills into their offerings such that parsing the data to min-max a build could very well be a full-time job. Even being a lowly consumer of this information leaves a whole lot of crap to sort through. I get the appeal: I used to revel in games that came with 300-page manuals (back when games came with manuals) and there’s some part of me that really wants to get out of the tutorial of Crusader Kings II with my sanity intact.
Agents of Mayhem is kind of the anti-stats game. It’s easy to hit the ground running (and you will do a lot of running) and you’ll never once miss the chore of crunching numbers because you’ll be too busy whoaing at the absurd, over-the-top kinetic action and laughing (or at least chuckling) at the bonkers characters that populate the game.
If you’ve played the Saint’s Row games, then you know 75% of what AoM offers; I consider this a Good Thing because I loved the SR series for its open world setting and it’s insane characters, plots, and gear (the only well-known game series where you can wield a jelly dildo as a weapon). If you’re new to the SR universe (of which AoM is a part, although admittedly a “spin-off”), then the Agents might actually be a better introduction to the setting than the existing SR games.
You play as a team of three Agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M (Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds), with “Mayhem” being the “good guys” supergroup much like S.H.I.E.L.D., complete with a floating HQ called the ARK. The ARK serves as your base of operations which you can return to in between missions or whenever you want to get away from free-roaming the futuristic vision of Seoul, South Korea. While at the HQ, you can upgrade your team and their weapons, craft new auxiliary armaments, pimp out your rides (of course), buy perks for your team with the money you collect, and even train at various difficulty levels in the holographic simulator.
When you’re ready to return to Seoul, you can accept a mission from the storyline, a mission to unlock Agents that you haven’t collected, one-off missions for advanced loot, or just to wander the city in search of action. The story is basic Saturday morning cartoon fare: Mayhem is fighting the forces of L.E.G.I.O.N. (the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations), complete with cannon-fodder henchmen, tougher middle-tier bosses, and analogous named villains that are perpetrating the bulk of the evil that you’re thwarting. As you make your way through the city, you’ll encounter drop-in mobs that spawn around you on occasion to keep things lively, static mobs that seem to be going about their dastardly deeds, and even event mobs that end in a tougher enemy that drops better loot than you’d get from mowing down henchmen. With more focused missions you’ll engage in actions such as assaulting enemy held territory that requires you to “hack” terminals (a simple mouse-button QTE) in order to claim the area for Mayhem. When you’re unlocking new agents, the game takes you through a preamble which you play with your team, but which eventually switches you over to the new Agent so you can play through a snippet of his or her backstory and how they relate to the Mayhem organization. If you’re tired of working for The Man (who is actually The Woman), you can scour the city for one-off trials like racing, track down loot chests, or just engage in some namesake fun.
The action can be incredibly frentic. Enemies can spawn in from any direction, and often while you’re focused on mobs in other directions. The game doesn’t pull punches in that respect and it’s super easy to find yourself running in circles and weaving through enemies with the trigger held down simply because you’ll be guaranteed to hit something in the process. When the battle is done (or when it slows down a bit) you can collect dropped cash or materials, which isn’t something I’m a fan of because I always suspect I’m leaving loot on the street.
In order to help with the second-to-second action, it’s easy to cycle between characters (sort of) using the mouse-wheel. When you start you’re given a team of three — Hollywood, Fortune, and Hardtack — which means no real customization, but that’s OK because Hollywood is a decent ranged character, Fortune is a decent crowd control player, and Hardtack is a decent close-ranged character. Each Agent has two special attacks: their signature special, and their unique “Mayhem” ability. The signature attack is regulated by an individual cool-down, but the Mayhem ability is regulated by a “Mayhem meter” that fills when enemies are killed. The Mayhem meter is also individual to each character, so there’s a bit of planning there if you want to rely on a specific ability for an upcoming segment. Like Master x Master, another team-based game, any Agent that isn’t active will heal damage over time, although collecting the purple fleur-de-lis that mobs will sometimes drop can heal and pump up the Mayhem meter at the same time. I have to say that I do not like the mouse-wheel cycling mainly because I never remember which direction to roll to for a particular character, even though it shows their order in the lower right corner. I tried using the number keys, but that didn’t seem to do anything. I’m not sure if there’s a keybind for an alternative method of character switching.
Seoul is a big city, and I’ve heard that it suffers from “open world syndrome” — i.e. so big as to provide a lot of space but is mostly absent of purpose on its own. When you’re on a mission you’ll get sent to specific locations, and will often be required to go somewhere else. You can travel around by “nicely” carjacking a vehicle, or you can summon an AI Mayhem car which is a lot faster and comes equipped with a nitro boost for those hot pursuits. Each vehicle handles differently: the tiny smart-cars have no pickup but are pretty easy to control, while lumbering buses are like rolling cinder blocks that are good for ramming other vehicles in missions where you need to stop a rolling target. Whenever required, use the Mahyemmobile, because it’s the perfect combo of speed and handling. If you’re on a free-roam, there are things to do. I’ve seen various terminals at random locations around the city, and based on my experience with Saint’s Row, I assume these will trigger street races or other one-off activities that can earn you cash or loot. There also seem to be open-world events, like waves of mobs that culminate in a mini-boss and which drops better loot than you’d get from random enemies.
At the end of the day, though, AoM has one mission: balls-to-the-wall mayhem, and in that it succeeds. Explosions are big. Combat is satisfying and can get crazy. There’s a lot of upgrades to be had in the service of customizing your Agents and building your mission team. It also retains the SR humor, which is a little on the juvenile side (Hollywood launches grenades with a hip-thrust, and Braddock threatened to “put [her] foot so far up her ass that she’ll sneeze boot polish”) but when offered in the context of stupid and silly fun it’s pretty obvious that it couldn’t be presented any other way. It all just fits together really well. I don’t think that AoM is a “first-tier” game (something you focus the majority of your gaming time on) but I don’t think it was designed with that in mind either. It’s the kind of game you turn to when you want an oversized reaction to a really angry and violent action that can scratch a virtual itch and maybe put a smile on your face in the process.