Game development is hard. Imagine writing a term paper that will determine your future. You have two years to do it. The twist is that every six months, you have to cut out a random section of the unfinished paper that you think shows off what the whole paper is about and show it to your professor. And how your professor reacts to those snippets will affect your final grade. (Insert whatever you do for living here, if 'term paper' isn't close enough to home.)
I don't envy developers. Making a demo for E3, PAX, or Gamescom is not an easy task. They can't just copy a section of code and call it day; the demo has to be built for the show itself. From the body of an unfinished game. If you have a sprawling 40 or 50 hour epic, which 10 or 15 minute chunk shows off all the mechanics of your game correctly?
The first time I played Agents of Mayhem, I got the basic gist of where Volition wanted the final game to go, but the experience itself wasn't all that amazing. AoM is essentially a follow-up to Saints Row, but the E3 demo last year was a linear experience that didn't let players explore Agents' futuristic version of Seoul. There were only three agents to play around with in a single, straightforward mission.
This year had a much better showing, much closer to what fans want from the studio that brought you Saints Row, while also being its own thing.
Last year, I called Agents of Mayhem "the G.I. Joe game you've been waiting for. Volition has leaned hard in that direction, with a cast of 12 characters (14 if you pre-order) from around the globe. The team is led by the mysterious Persephone Brimstone and funded by Saints Row's Ultor Corporation to fight the villainous LEGION and its leader, Dr. Babylon. The agents include Hardtack, a burly black version of G.I. Joe's Shipwreck; Hollywood, the team's public relations manager and former actor disgraced after killing an extra; Yeti, a Russian man of ice that some fans will recognize as Oleg from Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV; and Daisy, a derby girl and heavy weapons expert.
I chose the assassin Oni, the bow-wielding Rama, and the hacker Joule for my team. Each agent has their own base weapon, specific stats, special ability, and traits like Shieldbuster or Master Programmer that help them tackle certain missions or enemies. You have a general squad level, which feeds into every character and make your whole team stronger, but there are character-specific levels and unlocks that add a bit more flavor to your favorites. There's also a host of skins, many of which are references to other properties, like Hulk, Iron Man, Harley Quinn, and even Thundercats.
Once you've chosen your squad, you can wander around the Ark, the Agents' high-tech base. The Ark will level up over the course of the game, unlocking new stations with further customization options. The Wreck Room lets you test out your Agent team combinations, the Vehicle Bay offers a choice of talking cars (hey, Knight Rider) that you can summon in the open-world, and there's a research station to unlock more Gremlin Tech, which are additional gadgets of destruction you can deplay in the field. There's also the Global Conflict station, which allows you to send out the Agents you aren't using on timed missions for experience and items.
When I was ready to go, I chose a mission and difficulty level (from a total of ten), which allows players to choose how hard they want the experience to be. From there I was teleported out into Seoul, but not before getting a quick team-banter moment with my chosen squad. Our mission was to take down August Gaunt, a Justin Bieber-style pop star who uses his fame and gadgets to control the minds of unsuspecting people. The mission briefing is delivered through a fully-animated cutscene, playing up the 80's cartoon love inherent in Agents of Mayhem.
The mission chain involved me using my chosen hacker character in a garage to find Gaunt's favorite talking car, which I then stole and used as a exploding door knocker at the next location. After following the trail of Gaunt cologne to his hotel room, I was greeted by a host of LEGION soldiers who I quickly dispatched. Finally, I busted into one of Gaunt's exclusive warehouse parties, where he used VR headsets to take control of dancers and attack me. It was all weird, all tongue-in-cheek, and very much in the Saints Row style of humor.
Most of all, it was a fun demo. Over the course of the hour, I got a feel for the mission structure, the Agents and their sense of progression, and even how open-world traversal and exploration would work. I went from lukewarm, but hopeful, to a bit excited about the prospect of playing Agents of Mayhem. Crackdown 3 is offering a similar experience, but from the demos I played at E3, this is the better game currently. Agents of Mayhem just has more of a rough charm to it.
The difference between last year's E3 demo and this one was staggering. And that's part of the problem developers have to deal with when showing off their games. Because they will be judged, from every trailer, piece of art, and demo. That's the point of marketing, to offer something for players to judge (hopefully in a positive manner). I'm glad Agents of Mayhem has gotten to a point where I don't have to reserve that judgment. All in all, it looks like it'll be pretty enjoyable and a lot more than just an odd speed bump between Saints Row: A Gat Out of Hell and a potential Saints Row V.