Agents of Mayhem is as good a Crackdown as any
Crackdown 3 may be too little too late if our hands-on with Agents of Mayhem is anything to go by.
Let me say this first: I've mostly steered clear of the Saints Row series. I toyed around with a Video Ezy overnight rental of Saints Row II for all of two hours before putting it down, and gave the series another crack when Gat Out of Hell went free on PlayStation Plus with similar results.
Sure, its juvenile humour has a place with younger audiences and the chaotic, anything-goes gameplay is fun for short mindless bursts, but the complete lack of direction and complexity in those games did nothing to pull me in. So I approached my hands-on with Agents of Mayhem with low expectations. To my surprise, I walked out of the session grinning from ear to ear—and it wasn't thanks to the dick jokes.
Agents of Mayhem definitely has strokes of Saints in its DNA. It's a rampaging power trip through a sandbox city. Though this time, rather than being set in the dull fictional cities of Stilwater and Steelport or the even lousier Hell (seriously, how do you make Hell boring?), you traipse around a futuristic Seoul, South Korea. We didn't get to see a whole lot of Seoul during our playthrough, but what we did see was designed to facilitate super-powered leaping and stunt-driving, with huge buildings to scale and ramps aplenty.
What I didget to see was an in-depth look at the available characters, the titular Agents of Mayhem. What surprised me most about the Agents was the sheer diversity of characters, abilities and customisation options. While there are no explicit classes for Agents, they roughly translate to your usual tank, ranged, stealth and support roles. The naval officer Hardtack is a meaty close-range tank, who drags opponents close with his harpoon, while the engineer Joule feels more like a support character with turrets she deploys and the ability to heal with her primary weapon (which deals also damage to enemies). While this system helps keep the gameplay fresh with constant character rotations, there's not a whole lot of strategy at play here.
Hardtack is good for blasting thick chunks of health off stronger enemies at close range but isn't agile enough to deal with bigger groups of enemies (though his room-clearing ultimate will do the trick). Whereas Joule's turret and primary combo allow you to clear crowds of weaker enemies with twice the efficiency. This came in handy when we were forced to take on a crowd of mindless pop fans who were being controlled by one of the Legion's many ridiculous villains, August Gaunt (think Bieber in 5 years). There are certain missions where your team just won't hack it, and you will need a specific type of character (i.e. a hacker) but the game will let you know if you're going in ill-equipped.
Each agent also has their own individual story arcs, which are told with AoM's Saturday morning cartoon-style cutscenes. We got the chance to play through one chapter of Oni's (a stealth hitman in an Oni mask) story missions. We were still able to juggle between all three characters, but sticking with Oni meant we got to make the most of the mission-specific dialogue. It played out like a shorter, snappier version of Taken, with the Agents of Mayhem tracking down a villain who has kidnapped Oni's daughter.
Agents of Mayhem slathers itself in satire and parody. That works wonders for the game's overall theme, which feels like GI Joe meets South Park (so Team America, I guess), and lets Volition fully embrace what it's been all about since day-dot which is a) not taking itself seriously and b) making you feel like an unstoppable wrecking ball. And from just about every angle, AoM looks and feels a lot like Microsoft's laboured exclusive, Crackdown.
This is bad news for Crackdown 3, a game that's been a beacon of hope for those looking to justify their Xbox One purchases for over three years now. Agents of Mayhem may not have Crackdown 3's large scale destruction (which is exclusive to multiplayer anyway) and it may not have Terry Crews, but it does give us what the Crackdown series initially sold us on back on Xbox 360 – the ultimate super-powered fantasy let loose on a sprawling playground.
To be honest, I haven't seen enough of Crackdown 3 to make a proper judgement call. But that's the problem. That game has been through nine circles of development hell and all credit to the folks who have poured their sweat and tears into it but Microsoft has done it no favours. Crackdown 3 releases this November and we still know so little about it. Little stunts, like casting Terry Crews, don't inspire confidence either. It just comes across like Microsoft is afraid to show too much of Crackdown 3 before release.
Meanwhile, Agents of Mayhem releases next month (15 August), isn't tied to a particular console and will scratch that super-powered itch that Crackdown 2 left.
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