Saints Row 4 ends as only a Saints Row game can: With the crew hanging out on a spaceship, controlling the galaxy and dancing to Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It."
The question on my mind — and doubtless on the mind of a lot of the series' fans — was, "Well, where do you go from here?"
The answer, according to Volition design manager Anoop Shekar: You don't.
"We thought that was sort of a good stopping point for us," Shekar said. "We knew we wanted to keep doing urban open-world games. We wanted to keep a lot of the humor and the tone that we're known for now, but we wanted to explore something different."
That something different turned out to be a team of super-powered agents battling a terrorist organization, rather than an all-powerful superhero leading a team of criminal misfits.
"It just clicked with us, and it was something a lot of us had grown up with, with G.I. Joe and stuff like that."
The villainous L.E.G.I.O.N. is threatening the world with dark matter, and our only hope lies in the hands of a gang of agents so in love with chaos that they're named for it: the Agents of Mayhem.
While Shekar repeatedly points out that Agents of Mayhem isn't a Saints Row game, the ties to the existing narrative are there. Savvy fans, for example, may have picked up a reference to a Ms. Brimstone in the reveal trailer. Brimstone was referenced as being recently apprehended in one possible ending of Saints Row 4 add-on Gat Out of Hell, which retconned the gang as cops.
The connection isn't exactly one to one, as Volition says the storyline of Agents of Mayhem is "inspired by" but isn't a "direct correlation" to one of the possibilities Gat Out of Hell. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, the Saints aren't cops in this latest story.
Starting fresh is an important component of Agents of Mayhem. Saints Row was a series that very much backed into its identity, evolving from a Grand Theft Auto clone in Saints Row to something altogether more outlandish in the fourth iteration. With Agents of Mayhem, Shekar says that Volition has a definitive plan, one that extends far beyond this first game.
"We set out to actually create a world from scratch. We have a big history for it; we know what's happening in different parts of the world that you're only going to see a small part of in the first game," Shekar said. "With Saints Row, we were just kind of building that franchise as we went."
That's not to say that Agents of Mayhem is the straitlaced counterpart to Saints Row. Shekar insists that the new series will still feature Saints Row's trademark outlandish humor, but with more context, more of a grounded sort of silliness. It's also set in a version of a real-world environment, (a reimagined Seoul, South Korea) versus the fictional cities of Stilwater and Steelport, which played host to the Saints' carnage.
If the narrative is ever so slightly more restrained, Volition is counter-balancing it with the game's action, which frenetically lets players switch between three drastically different squad mates not just mid-combat but midair.
"The idea is sort of like Marvel vs. Capcom, where you're tagging guys in and out depending on the enemies you're facing," Shekar said.
Characters don't just differ from each other, they're quite a way off from Saints Row's unnamed protagonist, who, even though he or she evolved into something of a demigod, was formed in the mold of the GTA series.
The lineup includes Fortune, a "sky pirate" with dual pistols and a drone doing her bidding, and Hollywood, a machine-gun-toting celebrity pretty boy whose special "Mayhem" ability turns firefights into action movie sets. Some characters build off of Saints Row mechanics, but all have been built with their own set of skills that complement the rest of the team.
"They all have their own specialty, they're effective at different ranges, their own special abilities and Mayhem abilities, and those are often tied into their personalities," Shekar said.
Though Mayhem's soldiers may work as a squad, only a single player will be calling the shots.
"We considered co-op," Shekar said. "But we decided we wanted to focus on getting the basic gameplay right, getting that feeling of controlling the squad yourself, owning the agency, driving the agency and they didn't necessarily have to rely on other players to make it work."
That idea of "driving the agency" extends even outside of firefights, as players will also get to choose which of the agents is sent out on which missions. That includes swapping out abilities and perks (referred to in the game's fiction as "gadgets") for each character.
Players will have freedom to pick their own lineups, but Shekar said those who experiment with their squad composition will find powerful synergies of character powers that complement one another. People will have to wait to see for themselves how all those powers work together when Agents of Mayhem launches next year.