Giant Bomb Review

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Agents of Mayhem Review

2
  • PS4

It may share a genre and universe with Saints Row, but Agents of Mayhem is a lifeless husk of Volition's prior work.

By ratcheting up the over-the-top elements with each entry in the Saints Row franchise, Volition wrote themselves into a bit of a corner. What started as a GTA clone with a goofy sense of humor turned into a ludicrous affair with characters that could fly across the map and access superpowers. Once characters were shooting fireballs from their hands and flying around Hell with demon wings, there wasn’t a lot of room left to keep cranking up the crazy.

Hollywood, Fortune, and Hardtack are the first agents you'll have access to.
Hollywood, Fortune, and Hardtack are the first agents you'll have access to.

Agents of Mayhem is not officially a Saints Row game, but the DNA of that franchise is plain to see throughout. My hope was that by introducing this as a new series, it’d give Volition a chance to dial things back a bit. Saints Row: The Third was my favorite of the bunch, hitting the sweet spot of silliness without taking things too far. Unfortunately, Agents of Mayhem misses the mark in many key areas and ultimately disappoints.

While Saints focused on a street gang, Agents is more of a send-up of comic heroes and Saturday morning cartoons. Twelve heroes are unlockable, including a vain actor, a drunken roller derby girl, a soccer hooligan, and a Yakuza assassin. The cast of characters may be diverse when it comes to their ethnicity and abilities, but they’re one-dimensional in every other regard. Considering you have access to a dozen playable characters, I don’t envy the writer that had to come up with unique dialogue for every one of them in every situation.

Pictured: Every combat encounter in Agents of Mayhem.
Pictured: Every combat encounter in Agents of Mayhem.

Like much of the game, there’s definitely a “quantity over quality” feel to the myriad jokes. Saints Row wasn’t a comedic masterpiece, but it had some clever writing and a consistent tone. Agents of Mayhem is constantly straining to be funny and coming up short. So much of its material seems hinged on the concept of “this is like a kid’s cartoon, but they curse all the time!” It’s a lazy, boring approach that isn’t funny at first and certainly doesn’t get better as they lean on the cursing for the rest of the game. Jokes that aim higher than simple F-bombs and dick jokes never get much more sophisticated than zingers about how the planet Uranus sounds like a butthole.

The tone of the game’s humor immediately turned me off, but I hoped to find solace in the seemingly robust upgrade system for each character. A crazy amount of tinkering is possible, with different systems in place for skill points, altering special abilities, building “Legion Tech” modifiers, collecting three core upgrades for each character, and more. On top of the individual upgrades, you also level up the Agency in general, which unlocks passive improvements no matter which agent you’re using.

Each character comes equipped with a triple jump ability.
Each character comes equipped with a triple jump ability.

With so much variety in the characters and the level of customization, I was optimistic that these elements would help me enjoy the game despite the lame humor. It didn’t take long to realize that most of the upgrades feel insignificant. Most are changes to status effects or a slight statistical change. I love the idea of making my squad of heroes progressively more powerful, but upgrades that give me a 2% boost to an ability never really feel satisfying. Some more significant upgrades that affect mobility or speed would be nice, as none of them make the act of running around the game feel any different.

Exploring a futuristic version of Seoul is as unrewarding as the character progression. For an open-world game, Agents of Mayhem suffers from a dearth of things to do. There are boilerplate side objectives like finding crystal shards, participating in checkpoint-to-checkpoint races, collecting marked cars, and destroying enemy tech, but these never feel good or particularly beneficial. Seoul itself is weirdly lifeless, with bland environments and empty streets. The pedestrians don’t even seem to have any VO.

No Caption Provided

It doesn’t take long at all for the game to demonstrate its lack of mission variety. So many of the main story missions boil down to running to a computer, doing a hacking mini-game, and then clearing out some enemies before doing it all over again. Confusingly, many of these missions begin by forcing the player to climb to the top of a building or going to a marked location for no discernible reason. Playing through the story is a mind-numbing process of following objective markers, hacking terminals, and shooting hordes of enemies. Another recurring mission structure involves going underground to fight through Legion lairs that are virtually indistinguishable from each other. A handful of boss fights occasionally break up the monotony, but it’s not enough to make up for the rest of the slog through the story.

Agents of Mayhem is boring, but it’s also janky as hell. Music from cars will sometimes continue to play over animated cutscenes. In the upgrade menu, the UI will frequently display “NEW” over characters that have no new upgrades available. Draw distance is rough, even on a PS4 Pro. Missions will break when enemies get stuck in inaccessible areas. Load screens can hang and force a restart. I received the same “hey, you can build this upgrade that you don’t actually want” notification at least 60 times. One of my characters died, but started sliding across the ground during the death animation. I wasn’t able to switch characters or even pause, and had to restart the game. Characters will make jokes that have nothing to do with the situation at hand, then repeat them ad nauseum like a malfunctioning quip robot.

Kill the dudes, hack the computer, run to the marker. Repeat.
Kill the dudes, hack the computer, run to the marker. Repeat.

Agents of Mayhem is not a good game, but there were brief times that I experienced feelings that resembled enjoyment. The twelve characters do all feel different, from their abilities to their weapons. I liked mixing and matching my active squad and determining which agents I liked and which didn’t fit my playstyle. As I progressed, I became increasingly annoyed by an unrewarding upgrade system, a lifeless city, technical issues, and an unrelenting procession of boring mission objectives. It doesn’t help that it didn’t make me laugh once despite trying desperately to do so every five seconds.

I looked forward to seeing what Volition would do with a new open-world franchise. They turned Saints Row into something much more unique than the franchise’s GTA-inspired roots, and a new take on that universe could have been a great move for the developer. Unfortunately, any joy, character, humor, or interesting gameplay has been stripped from that series and left us with a wholly disappointing mistake.

103 Comments

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Neau

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Neau • 

Such a bummer. Good review, Dan. I think there's still room for Saints Row humor in games, but it has to be better than this.

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Kieran_Smith5

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Unfortunate. The game, not the review. I fell off Saints Row IV pretty early, and sounds like this game is a pass for me.

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hassun

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BabyChooChoo

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Bad, lazy comedic writing is one of if not the biggest turn offs for me in entertainment. I would honestly fine with some repetitive and janky gameplay if the price is right, but I just cannot bring myself to listen to characters ramble for hours on end with material provided by writers who are desperately trying to be funny.

It's what single-handedly killed Borderlands 2 for me. I loved the gameplay, but any time a character opened their mouth, I would just roll my eyes and groan.

Everything I've seen and heard about this game - and if you know me, you've probably heard me say this about a bunch of stuff before - sounds just like a bunch of people essentially throwing jokes at a wall going "ONE OF THESE HAS TO BE FUNNY!"

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BigSocrates

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Edited By BigSocrates • 

I agree with most of this, except that I thought the boss battles were all pretty bad. They did offer a little relief from the monotony of the rest of the game's cut and paste design, but taken out of that context they would have been mediocre 10 years ago. The bosses from the original Gears of War game were all better designed and more interesting.

Now compare that to the boss battles in Sunset Overdrive, a much better game with many similarities to this one, and you can see how mediocre these bosses really were.

This game was made cheaply and it shows.

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flasaltine

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flasaltine • 

Huh, quite a different tone from the Quick Look.

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professorx86

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I'm not surprised at all, it's a shame, I've been clamoring for more Saints Row for awhile now and if we get only a morsel the latest in this product...it'll probably end up being a fire sale purchase for me as it doesn't seem to warrant full price value. I almost got this game confused with Fortnite the other day...

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Kidavenger

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Kidavenger • 

It's the Paul Blart Mall Cop of video games

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ragnar_mike

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Phew, that log line is doozy! Thanks Dan for the review, and apparently for picking up where Alex left off.

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s5n8k3

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Edited By s5n8k3 • 

"Yakuza", "Hooligan"!?

Miss Majima Dan?

Kidding good review. Can't wait to see you play Kiwami.

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BetaBand

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mendia

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mendia • 

I just don't get why they didn't make a new Saint's game. :(

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FuriousJodo

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I like Agents of Mayhem but I think 2-3 stars is right. It kind of feels like one of those games where the sequel will do a much better job of being the game that you want it to be.

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Ravelle

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Ravelle • 

@mendia said:

I just don't get why they didn't make a new Saint's game. :(

I guess they wanted to do something new which is understandable but then they make a saints game that isn't a saints game.

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ripelivejam

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Edited By ripelivejam • 

@mendia: I think they were trying not to be pigeonholed into developing one series. But this doesn't seem to branch out nearly enough for them. Sucks since I'm sure like almost always a ton of people put a ton of work and time into this.

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deactivated-5a00c029ab7c1

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Lazyimperial

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Edited By Lazyimperial • 

@hassun: Hopefully that's a joke. If not, eh. A great, reliable reviewer has a divide between the "professional" and the "personal." Sure, they might know industry member John Doe, do streams with him, chat on a podcast with him, and / or hang out off the clock... but if John's game lands on their desk, that personal stuff can't be a review factor. The reviewer's job is to look at a product, warts and all, and write a review that advises potential buyers about the quality of such said product. Letting a personal friendship and feelings get into that process would damage both the accuracy of the review and the reviewer's credibility. It isn't worth it.

Hopefully John Doe gets through the anger stage, understands the review wasn't personal, and the friendship can continue. If not, that happens. Eh. Probably doesn't help matters that a Giantbomb 2 out of 5 translates to a "40%" on Metacritic, which is a low F on the American grading system and translates to a badly failing grade. 2 out of 5 does not mean failing here (that's a 1 out of 5) so much as below average. You could still get enjoyment out of it, but it has noticeable flaws that detract from the overall experience.

Heck, that's not even taking into account that this industry often seems to grade on a 6 to 10 scale... in which case 6 is usually seen as failing and 4 is thus a nightmare grade. :-P

I'm just going to assume it's a joke, rambling aside. Still glad to have more Johnny Gat. Maybe he'll wake up at the start of Saints Row V and ramble about his strange Overwatch dream before the Saints conquer a trans-dimensional hood in order to try and restore Earth.

Edit addition: Heck, I'd also like a game set in the Agents of Mayhem alternate universe wherein the Boss builds the Saints and starts taking over again despite the new timeline. Maybe purple-clad gangstas that end up getting the world destroyed are an inevitability of all timelines and thus a fate that cannot be denied. >:-P

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Carlton227

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Undeadpool

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Undeadpool • 

I said it in the Quick Look comments, but I truly think if this game came out at a $30-40 "budget AAA" price point in the vein of something like Hellblade it'd be a must-buy. Or at least recommendable as a "podcast game."

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jjcregis

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JoeyRavn

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Lazyimperial

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banicabolnica

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We all NEED internet Dan to review a game for us. Yup. :D

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billyok

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billyok • 

I really hope this was Volition's B Team and not representative of all that's left at Volition. The writing alone is such a severe drop in quality, so full of things Saints Row made fun of in its deadpan way, that it feels like the product of a different developer altogether.

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soulcake

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soulcake • 

@werupenstein: This is the perfect movie representation for this game, Bravo ! What a life less husk off a game. all we needed now was some bad advertising for a Vegas Casino.

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chuck_schwarz

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GB reviews dropping in quick succession - awesome!

Review sounds about right... shame.

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jayc4life

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jayc4life • 

@danryckert - would pedestrians having no VO at all have anything to do with the SAG-AFTRA voice actors strike that's still ongoing? I know it's gonna affect a few big games coming out over the next year or 2, but in your opinion, is this the first of them that's hit retail that's been affected in such a major way?

Another note on the pedestrians that I read elsewhere, is that despite the game being set in Seoul, extremely few of the pedestrians are actually Korean. Which is super weird.

Based off the Quick Look, this seems like it's about right, though. Looked like an open world purple-fied shooting gallery with superpowers. Nothing in those 45 minutes or so seemed to reach out and tell me "hey, you need to play this game". Hell, the incredible lack of pre-release hype told me that maybe they know that this isn't going to be good, but hey, at least they didn't recycle that Steelport map for a 4th game?

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mehrdadkazem87

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I really enjoyed Saints Row games, especially The Third. Too bad this one does not have the same ingredients which made the Saints games so special.

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Solh0und

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Solh0und • 

As someone that shelved it waiting for the other characters and patches, I can see he's not totally wrong.

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baka_shinji17

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ThisIsACoolTag

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Onemanarmyy

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Edited By Onemanarmyy • 

This always looked like an overpriced budget game. Maybe it makes financial sense to make a relatively cheap game and attach it to the Saints Row franchise in hope of attracting enough sales, but a critical success this was never going to be.

Seems like Volition didn't expect much from it anyways, given that they dropped it on the streets without much fanfare.

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hassun

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hassun • 

@lazyimperial: 100% a joke. It's friend of the site Matt Pascual who now works at Deep Silver as a community manager.

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TerrificTrevor

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Edited By TerrificTrevor • 

Great review Dan! Pretty much nailed it on the head.

If you were a fan of Saints Row 4 I wouldn't completely write this game off. If you can get it on sale at like $25 or less, I think you might get enough mindless fun out of it to be worth the money. This is only because of the great variety in each agent. The enemies are dumb as you can get and cranking up the difficulty just results in a worse time as all it does is increase their health and damage.

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Karwowski

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Karwowski • 

"Janky as hell?"

"Bland Environments?"

"Agents of Mayhem is not a good game?"

Did I play the same game or is there a different Agents of Mayhem out there?

WTF is this review?

I cant take a review seriously from a person who doesn't check spell their review,

and who doesn't know how to pronounce; "Fleur-de-lis"

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bigdaddygamebot

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I haven't found it janky at all and while it starts off slow...

I'm really enjoying the game.

It's simple and dumb but with the possibility of getting a little more complicated and dumb depending on how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go.

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Ravenlock

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Ravenlock • 

For an alternate take, Tom Chick fucking loved it - granted, he's often a contrarian, but after about 6 hours of play I do think his take is largely accurate, which is that they haven't built Saints Row V here, they've built Crackdown: Diablo. Characters are slotted in and out like skills, weapons and Gremlin tech like items, and everything is always always driving towards grinding for more stuff, better upgrades, the ability to tackle harder enemies and difficulty levels.

Which, if you don't like the core gameplay loop, isn't going to be fun at all, but I'm having a good time with it so far. With the right set of expectations and a lower price point I expect it'll please a lot of people. And I actually really like some of the characters - though, sadly, none of the three they start you with.

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whitegreyblack

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"Janky as hell?"

"Bland Environments?"

"Agents of Mayhem is not a good game?"

Did I play the same game or is there a different Agents of Mayhem out there?

WTF is this review?

I cant take a review seriously from a person who doesn't check spell their review,

and who doesn't know how to pronounce; "Fleur-de-lis"

Feel free to disagree with the review, but maybe try to be a bit more constructive about why you disagree, and less of a jerk about it?

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foxmulder

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foxmulder • 

Looked fun enough to me, but I will pick it up when it's $20 in a few months or so.

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JuggaloAcidman

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Edited By JuggaloAcidman • 

It's not that bad. I like playing it. It's not amazing or anything but I enjoy it. The only bug I've experienced is the 'new" bug. I just wish I hadn't payed full price for it and waited for a significant sale. Still worth playing though.

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jeffrud

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jeffrud • 

It's what single-handedly killed Borderlands 2 for me. I loved the gameplay, but any time a character opened their mouth, I would just roll my eyes and groan.

You and me both. BL2 remains one of my most regretted purchases in gaming just for the truly abysmal writing throughout the game. Didn't help that my friends never really turned out for multiplayer either.

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Onemanarmyy

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lawgiver

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lawgiver • 

I love this game I cant explain why but Im having so much fun with it

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Karwowski

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Karwowski

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Edited By Karwowski • 

@whitegreyblack: When I read a "professional" review on a page like GiantBomb I expect it to be more than the hypercritical BS you might find on steam reviews.

Reading this review I can't even tell if Agents of Mayhem is the game he actually played cause it bares little resemblance to the game I played.

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Slayer78

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Slayer78 • 

Few things in life screams try-hard louder than URANUS! jokes. Volition should pack it up and quit their days jobs already.

They never made a good game, Saints Row 3 is overrated on par with The Rolling Stones, so I won't miss them at all.

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Onemanarmyy

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Edited By Onemanarmyy • 

@karwowski: Just didn't expect someone that cares about spell checking to say check spell instead.

you might also @ Danryckert to point out where the errors were made. Personally i didn't catch one while reading it.

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JoeyRavn

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Efesell

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Efesell • 

"Janky as hell?"

"Bland Environments?"

"Agents of Mayhem is not a good game?"

Did I play the same game or is there a different Agents of Mayhem out there?

WTF is this review?

I cant take a review seriously from a person who doesn't check spell their review,

and who doesn't know how to pronounce; "Fleur-de-lis"

Most of the games action takes place in literally the same series of rooms. I enjoy the actual playing of this game but bland environments is a generous description.

Also the PC release of this game at the very least is janky as hell.