Last week, Game Rant had the opportunity to get some hands-on time with Volition’s Agents of Mayhem, and we’re happy to report that the game looks set to be a must-play title when it launches this summer. While the game isn’t a part of the Saint’s Row series proper, it feels like a true evolution of the ideas that made those games so much fun.

Our demo started off with a section of the game’s tutorial mission, which introduces the game’s central conceit: the ability to switch between three different characters on the fly. Volition has worked very hard to ensure that the cast of Agents of Mayhem is as diverse and possible, and that effort has produced some truly dynamic combat gameplay.

The tutorial mission tasks players with bringing three different characters to a rendezvous point deep within the bowels of an enemy lair. The three agents in question are Hollywood, a vacuous celebrity who wields an assault rifle, Hardtack, a sailor who excels at close range thanks to his shotgun, and Fortune, a sky pirate who combines dual pistols with a helper drone.

Even in the early going, it’s easy to see how these varied characters impact gameplay. A character like Fortune is capable of picking off enemies at a distance, but if she’s suddenly swamped by a group of foes, someone like Hardtack can take her place instantaneously to start clearing house.

Once the tutorial was over, we were given the opportunity to try out a few more characters. Agents of Mayhem will ship with 12 different heroes, 9 of which were playable in this demo — and each had their own gameplay quirks and special abilities that made them a compelling option.

Players will pick their favorites depending on their chosen playstyle for this kind of game. However, the differences between characters aren’t just limited to gameplay, as each has their own distinct personality and their own engaging backstory.

For instance, we were given our introduction to a character called Daisy — a roller derby competitor who’s equipped with a hugely destructive chaingun — over the course of a hugely entertaining mission. Daisy wakes up with a crippling hangover, and sets about retracing the night before, uncovering a robot fighting league in the process.

Anyone that enjoyed the unique sense of humor that was on display in the Saint’s Row games will love this mission, and it’s indicative of the tone that permeates Agents of Mayhem. Volition’s knack for effective comedy was on display throughout the sections of the game we tried, and the expanded cast of characters adds plenty more opportunities for laughs.

Over the course of a decade, the Saint’s Row franchise transformed from a game about inner city gangs into far-out adventures involving superhuman powers set in locations ranging from cyberspace to the depths of hell. The games hashed out a strong identity as they went, but to some extent they were always tied to basic components of the 2006 original.

Agents of Mayhem wipes the slate clean so that Volition has complete freedom to create entertaining characters and scenarios. GI Joe was obviously a major influence, but the studio’s warped taste in comedy means that it’s reminiscent of the 1980s cartoon in the same way that Archer reminds viewers of James Bond.

The concept behind Agents of Mayhem was clearly constructed to give Volition plenty of room to manoeuvre when it comes to outlandish missions. However, the developer has also set about responding to some of the biggest criticisms directed toward the later Saint’s Row games.

Once players could jump from building to building in Saint’s Row IV, there was very little reason to use vehicles. In Agents of Mayhem, cars benefit from boost and drift mechanics that make driving a great deal of fun. Weaving through traffic while being hunted by a villain utilizing a space-laser was one of the most fun moments of the demo.

Many players also said that the Saint’s Row games got too easy as they progressed, and it certainly seems like that’s been addressed in Agents of Mayhem. Combat starts out fairly simple, but once things get a little more complex, it’s crucial that players have a good handle on their team if they want to survive.

Some enemies are happy to take potshots at the player from afar, while others will rush in close to attack — some even have to be killed off before they explode, dealing damage to a wide area. The forces of Legion, the organization the Agents of Mayhem are looking to take down, have been designed such that players will constantly have to assess which character is best equipped to handle any given situation.

Characters can be outfitted with various different skills and abilities, although we weren’t given much choice in the demo. A variety of cosmetic skins for characters and weapons are also available, and are unlocked via gameplay.

It seems that most of these customization options will be housed in the Ark, Mayhem’s base of operations, which wasn’t accessible in the demo. However, during our playtime, we were able to collect various different resources that seemed to comprise part of a crafting system. We were told that the Ark was a meaty part of the game, so it’ll be interesting to see what it has in store when Volition is ready to share more.

We only got to see a small section of the game’s open-world, as the demo focused on missions from the campaign, but the city of Seoul looks like it will be great fun to explore. There’s plenty of verticality to take advantage of each character’s capacity to jump twice while in the air, and no shortage of secrets and collectibles to search for.

All in all, Agents of Mayhem is shaping up very nicely. The summer is often bereft of big releases, but this is a game that will keep players invested well into the winter months and beyond. Anyone that enjoyed the madcap brand of open-world action Volition perfected in the Saint’s Row games owes it to themselves to check this one out, as it’s jam-packed with the same kind of off-the-wall humor, profane dialogue, and general insanity. Beyond that, it’s an attempt to add some more gameplay depth to the existing formula — and seemingly a successful one, to boot.

Agents of Mayhem is scheduled to hit the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in August 2017.

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