When I first backed Agony on Kickstarter at the end of 2016 I didn’t expect that the game’s release would be such a calamity. I am not just talking about the game itself either; I mean every aspect of the game’s Kickstarter has been butchered, and at the time of writing (more than a week since Agony released) every single console backer has yet to receive their game code. That’s just the start of Madmind Studios’ problems with some backers missing Steam keys, a large number of backers’ names aren’t featured in the credits (mine included), backers who dropped fat stacks on more expensive pledges are still missing aspects of their rewards, and don’t forget all the censorship furore. This all could have been mitigated if the game was somewhat decent. But instead, on top of everything the game is just…bad. I never expected that Agony would deliver an experience for the ages, but I also didn’t expect that it would be such a disappointment. It’s a frustrating and at times boring and broken slog through Hell.
Welcome to Hell
The premise of Agony is pretty simple. You’re a lost and tormented soul that has no recollection of your past or how you came to be trapped in Hades. In order to find your way back to where you came from you need to seek out the one they call the Red Goddess. From here you traverse the gore-laden hallways, tunnels and paths of Hell that will lead you to your absolution. It’s a cool idea on paper and one that obviously caught my attention enough to back it. Sadly, the story is lacklustre at best and the terrible voice-acting only compounds the story’s shortcomings.
If there’s one thing that Agony does get right it’s the setting and atmosphere. If you’ve ever imagined what Hell looks like I am sure it looks something like Madmind’s rendition. The level of detail is incredible despite being rather grotesque; human (or somewhat human) remains are sewn into the walls and floors, people are impaled on large poles while still alive (can you be alive in Hell?), doorways are made of teeth and the screams and shrills of the damned ringing from every corner. The latter stages which take place in the more open areas of Hell while lacking the gore element still add to the overall aesthetic of the underworld. Plus Hell doesn’t appear to have a dress code, so there are more digital tubesteaks and strawberry creams than you can poke a stick at. If that’s your thing.
It’s the Hell you’ve always dreamt of
Gameplay-wise Agony is essentially a first-person hide-and-seek horror game and reaching the Red Goddess is no walk in the park, with several challenges lying in your way. The most common challenges are demons that stand in your way, and it is here where the frustration and repetitiveness starts to kick in. As with most enemy AI the demons follow a path, however this path will change depending on your location. In an early location I came across a demon who could only hunt through sound and heat. I scoped out the demon’s path, moved to another room and waited for the opportune moment where I could fang it past the prowling vagina head creature. However, as my location changed, the demon’s path also changed to enter the room I was hiding in. Now this is fine in theory, but the window of opportunity to abscond is so small in some cases that if it were a real window a flea would struggle to squeeze through. Meaning that if you don’t time your run to perfection you die instantly, as they seem to spot you from a mile away. There are a couple different enemy types throughout, each with the ability to kill you with ease. More often than not your best tactic is to just run for your life and hope for the best. The majority of levels play out like this in some way and it doesn’t take long for it to start to feel the same.
Death in Agony allows you to possess another body and carry on your quest from there, however the game does such a poor job of explaining how this works that initially I failed in finding another vessel for my tormented soul to commandeer (you need to pull the hoods of people’s heads). If you don’t possess someone in the allocated time (which feels too short at times) then you’ll be thrown back to the latest checkpoint. For the most part these are well placed, however each checkpoint is limited to three uses (they can be reactivated or you can disable this setting) before you get sent back to the prior one, meaning if you die numerous times you can find yourself slogging back through areas which is a quick way to kill immersion and enjoyment. In the latter stages of the game you can control more powerful demons, however these are also locked to a timer and the only way to extend your timer is to kill other tormented humans, and by doing so you’re killing potential hosts for your soul should you die. A trade-off that hardly seems worth it given the number of times you’ll die. Especially considering you can’t possess the same demon twice.
Demon gonna get ya
Agony also features some fairly basic puzzles, which can range from simple symbol drawing to simple item collection. None of these moments are particularly exciting and the repetitive nature of it all starts to wear thin after the first couple. It’s a shame really, as the Hell setting is prime for some engaging puzzles. There’s also a basic upgrade system that you can use, however these upgrades (such as quieter movement and longer breath holding) offer minimal boons.
To make matters worse the game runs worse than a Datsun 120b on a cold Melbourne winter morning. Subpar performance and constant screen-tearing plagued my game and I seemed to frequently get caught on objects such as rocks or shrubs (as did enemy AI) that would require a restart. Furthermore, the game is incredibly dark – to the point where you can’t see anything in front of you only to be disembowelled or attacked by demons you couldn’t see. I was constantly adjusting the gamma levels to suit the area, sometimes to the point where I felt like I needed sunglasses to see. Why Madmind chose to release it in such a hellish state I’ll never know.
Human skewer anyone?
Agony is everything you don’t want in a first-person stealth horror game. By the time I reached one of the game’s multiple endings I had decided that one playthrough was enough. It’s such a shame that the game has squandered all the potential it had to give players a unique horror experience in Hell. While it nails the atmosphere, it is such a bad game on every other level that it’s impossible to recommend even to Lucifer’s most fervent followers.
Reviewed on PC / Review code supplied by publisher