I’ve loved Volition’s games for a long time, all the way back to when they made space shooters for PC.
Saints Row was a revelation. They were the first out of the gate with an open-world crime action game on the Xbox 360, and it seemed like the entire design philosophy was to take everything from GTA and try to do it better.
They mostly succeeded.
The gameplay of even the original Saints Row still holds up now, I’d argue…and I wish that game was easy to play on a newer platform. It’s the game that introduced me to New Year’s Day.
My first Red Faction game was the one on the NGage. The NGage was a ridiculous phone from Nokia that was trying to be a smartphone before anyone had any idea what a smartphone should be. It was okay.
But Guerrilla was where I really got into the Red Faction series. That game was, and is, still so cool, thanks to its plethora of destruction-based gameplay moments.
Both Red Faction and Saints Row exist in a larger fictional universe. In fact, Volition sets all of their games loosely in the same storyline, which is a fun touch.
Agents of Mayhem came out last year, and is a spiritual successor to the Saints Row games set in that same overarching Volition storyline. I didn’t buy it at launch because something seemed very wrong with it.
Instead, I waited till this past weekend, when it was 12 dollars on Xbox. It’s been 12 dollars on the PS4 and PC many other times as well.
Something is very wrong with it.
The online scuttlebutt is that the game was supposed to be a 1–8 player Borderlands/Diablo clone, but then they got their budget cut by the publisher. And then they couldn’t get the multiplayer system working right. So instead of just throwing out the assets they’d spent years on…they shoved a single player game out the door.
Having played a bit of it…I totally believe this story.
The problems begin right away, with the sound mix in the logo videos as soon as you boot the game. The sound is obviously in stereo, not full surround, and most of the audio comes out of the center and the left side, with almost nothing on the right.
It sounds terrible.
This wonky audio is present in every single video file in the game, which includes all of the animated cutscenes. Those cutscenes are well-written and voiced, but the animation looks like it was produced hastily. Sometimes it’s cool…sometimes it’s still images.
And all of the sound is coming from left-of-center.
Thankfully for someone sound-obsessed like me, the sound balance is just fine in the actual game. But everything is very…thin. When there’s no battles going on, the city of Seoul is dead silent. And although the music that’s here is fun, including a fully voiced Agents of Mayhem theme song…there’s barely any of it.
The graphics are just as bizarrely inconsistent as the sound. The underlying engine tech seems to be the same that powered Volition’s earlier Saints and Red Faction games, and it seems just fine.
But the art oscillates between cartoon fun… and flat barren surfaces.
The characters are the standouts here, visually. It’s obvious that a lot of work went into them because this was meant to be a grindy leveling game where you had to look at these characters for hours and hours.
Problem is, the looting and leveling mechanics seem basic and threadbare. Treasure chests are just kind of everywhere, and the upgrades are very minimal and hard to notice. Also, none of the stuff you pick up changes the iconic visual look of the agents, so it’s hard to show off a cool gun to your friends.
You know, aside from the part where it’s not multiplayer so you couldn’t show them anyway.
The action gameplay has no problems on its own. Shooting, jumping, and driving are all just as fun as they’ve been since Volition threw out the book back in 2006’s first Saints Row game.
But the level design is non-existent.
Well okay. There are levels and areas in this game. But they are all the same generic cube room or hallway. This helps keep the performance up for sure, and in a bygone era where this might have had random dungeon generation or something, these levels would be just fine.
The samey level design of the different encounter areas robs the game of any of the personality it works so hard to build.
I’ll probably keep playing this for a while just to hear more of the fun voice acting and unlock some of the Saints Row characters. But man. This literally seems like it’s half a video game that got a nice pass of final visual polish tech-wise, and was then shoved out the door.