The 80s have been working hard for Agents of Mayhem. You’ll probably be at least vaguely aware of Volition’s open-world action game because it’s been putting out a constant barrage of 80s pop culture themed trailers: Magnum PI, Flash Gordon, and Knight Rider and David Hasselhoff have all leant a hand in pulling interest to AoM. You can imagine my shock, therefore, when I played the preview build and found it resembled none of these 80 stalwarts so much as it did the Saturday morning cartoons I watched as a kid.
Most specifically it reminded me of the X-Men one from the 90s, the one with the bomb theme tune and the bit in the starting credits where the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants ran at each other, and then it said ‘X-MEN’ on screen all covered in electricity. It reminded me of this because Agents of Mayhem’s cutscenes are often in hand-drawn-animation style, and the opening one has the Agents of Mayhem and the bad guys from Legion running at each other (these cutscenes are frequently very good, introducing characters like Friday, a comms agent who is British and therefore has the Union Jack on all her accessories).
Technically it should be the Agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M and L.E.G.I.O.N (the Multinational AgencY Hunting Evil Masterminds and the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations, respectively, which you’ll note are both exactly the kind of reach routinely made in Saturday morning cartoons). You pick a squad of three from the agents available and, able to switch between them at will, set out to explore a futuristic Seoul, a many-leveled Star-Trekkian sort of a city, with a lot of white buildings and glinting lights.
The agents themselves are pretty cool, a versatile and diverse bunch who can cover pretty much every angle between them, depending on what you want. Each has a different preferred main weapon and special attack, and they all have not just a double jump, but a triple jump. This is currently exceedingly floaty, presumably to allow for ease of cool mid-air shooting. You start off with Hollywood, an actor who’s big mayhem attack is, just, explosions, happening everywhere, Hardtack, who has a giant shotgun and a harpoon with teleportation powers, and Fortune, who comes dual-wielding pistols and with a friendly drone. These three are packaged as Franchise Force.
As you go through the game you can do side missions to unlock different agents, all of whom could have their own children’s cereal tie in if they didn’t swear quite as much (my favourite was Rama, one-shot-one-kill with a bow). But currently, while the characters themselves are detailed and colourful, some of the environments and missions became repetitive. Corridors and rooms in Legion bases are the same grey metal, and shorter side missions in Seoul were frequently a ‘go here, shoot these waves of enemies’ exercise in not having to pay attention. Hopefully it becomes more varied in the finished build, and as you unpack the game, unlock more vehicles and add more agents. Right now it feels a bit like, if the characters are the animation cells that have more detail on them, then the other bits are the background cells that got reused to save money (‘cos no one pays that much attention to the trees Wolverine is running past, Ernie, we can just subcontract that stuff out).
The Agents of Mayhem are certainly a lot of fun — Colours! Explosions! Grown-up swearing! — but I’m not sure yet if they’ll be sustainably good. A bowl of Chocolate-Frosted-Fuck-Your-Teeth-Up-Sugar-Os is delicious, but could you eat them for every meal? Saturday morning cartoons are great, but could you binge them for 10 hours?
Agents of Mayhem is out on Xbox One, PC and PS4 on August 18.