Join us as we deconstruct Deep Silver Volition’s Saints-Row-game-that-isn’t-a-Saints-Row-game, Agents of Mayhem.
I recently found out that Deep Silver, owners of the Saints Row series, has been acquired by THQ Nordic. This means that there’s a very slim chance that my favourite series (Saints Row) might be resurrected by the developers of (most of) the Saints Row series, Deep Silver Volition.
I’d love that because the closest thing we have to 5aints Row or Saints Row 5ive (or whatever stupid name they’d give it) is Agents Of Mayhem. It’s not a bad game, but it’s analogous to Netflix’s Bright being considered an unofficial sequel to Lord Of The Rings: It kind of basically works because it hits all the same notes, but it’s not as enjoyable because you sit in the uncanny valley (being similar enough to something else that the flaws become obvious, like the text-to-speech voice for example) for the whole time.
Simply put, Agents Of Mayhem is an open-world mission-based game written by the Saints Row team (Volition) featuring a GI Joe style cast of international law enforcement agents.
Agents Of Mayhem is a spinoff, a sequel, AND a reboot of the Saints Row series. That’s a hell of a statement, so let’s have a little background on the game.Is this what they mean by casual violence? (Saints Row: The Third)
The Saints Row series began life as a Grand Theft Auto clone, and soon evolved beyond it.
Saints Row 2 is more of the same, but with awesome mini-games such as ‘Septic Avenger’ where you use a septic tanker to spray human buttpoop onto buildings and lowering property values by turning areas of the city into literal ‘crappy parts of town’. Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week.
Saints Row The Third (the series actively avoids sticking to any kind of sequel-naming convention) is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but without the janky driving, the wonky combat, and the (mostly) serious story.
Saints Row IV is where most people say the series jumped the shark. It did this by (INSERT SPOILER HERE) which meant that the team needed to go into outer space, and the game became a sci-fi parody as a result.
The next and sort-of-final release in the actual Saints Row series was Gat Out Of Hell, which remains one of the best ‘short games’ (I finished the main story in about 5 hours) I’ve ever played in my life. The Gat of the title is Johnny Gat (who is the personification of machismo sans problematic gender issues), and the story of Gat Out Of Hell concerns his journey to rescue the boss – being the player character from your most recent Saints Row IV save game, or the default boss if you don’t have one – from Satan himself.
To summarise – the Saints Row player character story takes them on a wild ride from protecting one area of a city, to the whole city, to another city, to the whole universe, and then to hell itself.
A wild ride indeed! How could they possibly top that?
At the end of Gat Out Of Hell, Gat is given an option as to how he wants the game to end. One of the options is “reboot the world”. In the official canon storyline, Gat chooses this option.The origin of the Agents Of Mayhem universe, in writing. (Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell)
Therefore, as mentioned, Agents Of Mayhem is a spinoff, a sequel, AND a reboot.
Never mind the game itself. That set-up, the idea behind it, is a delicious flavour of madness and I sincerely believe that Agents Of Mayhem deserves to exist purely for that reason alone.
But let’s explore some of the more ‘interesting aspects’ of the game which make me question Agents Of Mayhem, just for fun, shall we?
3 – I Question Agents Of Mayhem Because I Can’t Work Out If The Game Is Racially Insensitive Or Not.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that this point is here in slot 3 because I want it dealt with first, not because the numbers on this list actually mean anything. Pitchforks down, okay? We cool? Cool.
I’d like to point out the ridiculous situation that modern media makers and content creators find themselves in with regards to utilising racosity. If they don’t use a non-white in a major role then they’re often told they’re being racist or exclusive, and if they do use a non-white in a major role then they often get torn to shreds for not nailing every single obscure aspect about things that they had no way to know about. Unless said non-white is a villain because apparently that’s racism too. Not always (of course), but often.
Agents of Mayhem feels very much like a 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon, which means that it carries much of the baggage that content from that era often carries with it. One way it shows this is by having a roster of culturally-themed agents.
To be honest I’m having trouble working out if they’ve nailed this or not. I mean, it doesn’t really make any difference to the gameplay, but some of us question these things in life, and others of us write articles about them too.
They have a German Agent. See if you can guess which of these types describe him – you can even use that picture just above if you like:
a) Cold-blooded Killer
b) Mixed Martial Arts Expert
c) Psychotic Football (i.e. THE REAL TYPE AKA Soccer) Fan
d) Mad Scientist
None of the characters in the game are overt caricatures (unlike, say, Barret from Final Fantasy VII), but because I’m not from any of the races/cultures myself I don’t know if they’re offensive or not.
I also don’t know if it should matter or not. I mean, is there even anything to worry about? And assuming that there are issues, do we give Volition a free pass for this because it’s legitimate good old-fashioned satire?
For the record, I think they did a great job treading the fine line between ‘being inclusive’ and ‘pandering’, which is to be commended in this day and age. For a nonracial example: there’s an LGBTQ couple in the game, but it’s not obvious who they are. This is in line with the idea that a great LGBTQ character is just a great character who also has to deal with LGBTQ issues, which is something I can get behind.
Oh, and the German agent is a ‘Psychotic Soccer Fan’ (named Red Card), but he’s not inappropriately violent or anything like that, he’s just very very excitable.
2 – I Mostly Question Agents Of Mayhem Because Of The Technology Used In The Game.
In Agents Of Mayhem, you control three characters, but only one at a time. So, for instance, you’ll use a long-ranged character to take out the long-range enemies and then change to another character to take out those closest to you. Because it’s a fast-paced action game, it has a unique mechanic for this: When you change characters, the game removes the character you were using and teleports in the one you just changed to.
In other words: Your agent is immediately replaced by another agent via teleport technology.
I’ll be coming back to this ‘teleport tech’ malarky in a bit.
The Saints Row series is the story of a villain. Heroes don’t spray fecal matter onto residential areas for cash, they don’t create city-states purely to screw with the government, and they certainly don’t (SPOILER for Saints Row IV).
I mention this because I must question Agents Of Mayhem once again – why does playing Agents Of Mayhem feel like I’m playing for the bad guys?
For example: not long after I started playing Agents Of Mayhem I came across my first hostage, who was physically tied to a bomb. After pressing my ‘use’ button, the task indicator changed from ‘Interact’ (with the bomb) to ‘Destroy The Bomb.’
But there’s still a hostage attached. A mistake, surely?
I assumed it was a glitch, and went on to ignore (for hours) all the hostages in the game until they appeared in a main story quest. I figured that I would then refund the game due to the glitch, because I obviously can’t get past this at the moment and I don’t have time to beta test games I already bought (I AM LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU, FATSHARK). Being a notorious miser, however, I figured I’d at least try it out.
This is when I found out that the hostages weren’t glitched, they were just terribly designed from a ‘heroism’ viewpoint.
I had to blow up the bomb so that the hostage could be put into a spherical shield which would then, due to the explosion, go flying around the city in random directions.
Instead of, oh I don’t know, using the aforementioned teleport tech to teleport the hostage directly out of harm’s way instead of just wasting it on agents that could easily travel in groups of three anyway.
Yes, let’s just needlessly traumatise the civilians of this Saints Row spinoff world – even though we’re supposed to be heroes this time.Pictured: ‘Heroism’ (Agents Of Mayhem)
You can also craft/loot special consumables that do helpful things, like call an air strike or heal your agents. Pretty neat, huh? Except…
In another example of the ludonarrative dissonance (when the gameplay is the exact opposite of the story that it’s trying to tell) that makes me question Agents Of Mayhem, you can also craft a consumable which will allow you to outright kill civilians and ONLY civilians.
What possible ‘heroic’ purpose could that have?
Is the tech some advanced sort of satire that’s lost on me, or is it just badly designed from a narrative viewpoint?“They explode but not really with excitement.” Pffft. (Agents Of Mayhem)
1 – I Have No Mouth And I Must Question Agents Of Mayhem‘s Possible Sequel
As a game, Agents Of Mayhem is a fairly enjoyable console-tastic parody romp with a decent storyline and often cringe-worthy dialogue (one mission is spent talking about the comedy inherent in the word ‘Uranus’). I mean, cringe-worthy is my style of humour, and I still found myself rolling my eyes.
Having said that, I may just reinstall the game again purely for two reasons: The bombastic way that Agent Hollywood pronounces the word ‘rendezvous’, and that truly funny car alarm (a repeated loop of someone singing “get the f*ck away from my car, ooh hoo” which is now stuck in my damn head).
My favourite part, by far, was the cutscenes – and I’d like to be clear that that’s not a back-handed compliment. As far as technique goes, they swap between ‘full animation’ and ‘animated web comic’ and I loved every second of them.
I only finished the game because I played it immediately on release, so it was quicker for me to finish the game than it was to wait for the cutscenes to appear on YouTube. And I haven’t played it since. I’ve wanted to, but then I remember about the design flaws, and decide against it. I do this every few months. Contrast and compare with Saints Row The Third which I installed well over three years ago, have never uninstalled, and still play regularly.
As a game, Agents of Mayhem felt (to me at least) a lot less exciting than it should have.
I wouldn’t buy Agent Of Mayhem 2, assuming such a game would be made.
But I would buy the pants off of every single Agent Of Mayhem animated release ever.
Of all the questions I have about Agents of Mayhem, this is the one I want to ask Deep Silver Volition the most:
“WHERE IS MY DAMN AGENTS OF MAYHEM CARTOON ALREADY?”This ingame picture doesn’t have anything to do with this article, but I mean come on JUST LOOK AT IT. So good. (Agents Of Mayhem)