Posted on 15 Sep 2018 by L Coulsen

Agony

The Defence

Developer: Madmind Studio
Publisher: PlayWay
Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror, Indie
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 29 May 2018

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 3.2 GHz
Intel equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon R9 280
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 40 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: Unknown
VR: Unknown
FOV Slider: Unknown
FPS Lock: Unknown

The Case

Ahh yes, Kickstarter, equal parts one of the best and worst things to happen to the gaming world. On the one hand, it has enabled the production of so many games that would otherwise have never existed. On the other…it’s enabled the production of so many games that should otherwise have never existed. By now, everyone and their uncle knows which side of the coin Agony falls on, so let’s get straight to it.

The Trial

This is not a terrible game, despite what you may have heard. Just as with any form of art, the negative reception has lead to a rather exaggerated backlash to what is, honestly, nothing worse than mediocre. There’s actually quite a lot to like, it’s just all bogged down in an ultimately underwhelming experience.

The visuals are, frankly, terrible. The actual texture detail is about on par with what one would expect from the Unreal Engine. UE4 specifically. However, everything being covered in obnoxiously dense specular effects and a washed out, steaming piss red filter makes it genuinely uncomfortable to play. And not because the visuals are disturbing, they are just plain ugly. I honestly couldn’t play for more than forty-five minutes or so without straining my eyes and getting a headache.

It’s also far too dark, something which is actually made worse by adjusting the brightness in game. Far from making the image clearer, it leads to things be rather washed out and almost as difficult to make out details. Leaving you with a choice between squinting to see clearer, or squinting to reduce the glare. It is genuinely baffling how someone can make Unreal look so ugly. It is genuinely baffling how anyone could look at this and thing it suitable for release. It is…not good.

Oof! Low blow dude, low blow.

Gameplay, which is ultimately the most important part of a game, is a bit more mixed. On the one hand, the general mechanics are lacking, with a barebones stealth system which consists of crouching to be sneaky. Truly, obviously, the very best way to do stealth in any game ever. That was sarcasm, if that isn’t clear. However, since most enemies are little more than an annoyance, it’s typically far easier to just sprint past them, because they’ll lose interest in you fairly quickly.

Also, being, y’know, already dead, dying again isn’t a game over. And this is where the game could have genuinely shined. Rather than having lives or health, when you character dies his soul comes loose and can wander around for a short time looking for another host. Along the way, you will come across other damned souls, some of whom have canvass sacks over their head. For all intents and purposes, these act like extra lives. As long as they have no bag of their head (you can remove the bag when they do) you can possess their body and continue on until the supply runs out. Which will take a while, because this is hell, and hell is pretty darn crowded. This is a really cool mechanic actually, one I have seen only a handful of times in the past. In fact, there’s only really The Nomad Soul/Omikron that I can think of off the top of my head.

As the game progresses, you will start to come across new enemies that will float around and eat your soul when it’s cast out, but they’re pretty easy to avoid so they add very little beyond a minor annoyance. You can also increase your…willpower I guess? Over time learning to posses the bodies of the demons you come across along the way as well. This happens for a limited time, but you can immediately repossess a demon that kicks you out, which makes the time limit (almost) completely pointless.

Hallo doon thar.

Since most progress can only be made when in a Human form, it does actually make some degree of sense to force you out of a demon after a while, because the only other way to leave a host is for it to die, and most demons won’t be killed by the other demons. But it would have made a lot more sense to just give the player an option to abandon a host at any time. Even that one, tiny change could have elevated Agony to being merely disappointing, rather than flat out meh. It’s a huge, missed opportunity.

The story is…actually not that bad. The general flow of events and the direction of story sections is lacking, but the overall narrative is rather intriguing. Being set in hell, it obviously takes a lot of inspiration from stories in the Christian Bible. Sadly, much of it is hidden away in text pick-ups, meaning that it can, and will, be easily missed by most players. Lore pick-ups are never the best way to tell a story. They can be a great way to add lore, yes, but the narrative needs to be deep enough on its own, and this isn’t. Almost, but not almost enough to make the lore items worth most peoples’ time.

Madmind have a clear respect for the source material and, despite what you may have heard, do seem to be treating it with a great deal of respect. Even the monster design makes sense thematically to the setting and tone of the story. It is easy to see why people think that have creatures with vaginas for faces could be seen as being edgy for the sake of shock value, but looking closer it becomes obvious that they genuinely do think that having babies crushed into a wall as mortar and overt sexuality is disturbing. And from the perspective of a devoutly religious person this actually can be. The world at large has simply moved on at this point, greatly diminishing its effectiveness.

Giz a kiss.

Sound design is the strongest part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting and dialogue are mediocre to outright terrible, but the incidental sound effects are consistently high quality and do leave one with a sense of unease, if not flat out disgust. There are lots of sickly wet slapping noises, odd ticking from the demons and the screams of tortured souls omnipresent. Yet they do not overpower the player to the point that they become a distraction. Nor is there ever present music vying for your attention at every turn. It dials up during dramatic moments, but doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue, even if it might have been better if it had.

Ultimately however, Agony is a whole heap of disappointment and missed potential. There are a lot of things in here that could have made for a great game. Challenge modes, the ability to play back through as a succubus, half a dozen endings. A lot of genuine replay incentive that is sorely missing from most games today. Why did it have to be in such a mediocre package? I honestly cannot see much of anyone having the desire to sit through literal migraines to experience it all. I mean, I’m sure there are some, but they will be very few and far between.

So much missed potential all around. Those looking for a deep narrative, or at least one layered with thematic nuance, may find something interesting in the nitty-gritty of the story, but the effort involved just isn’t well, worth the effort. Even the most sheltered, wannabe edgelord isn’t likely to have their attention held for long. Digital boobies may sound great, but if you can’t see shit, then they aren’t going to look very good now are they?

The Verdict

Overall, Agony is a disappointing and entirely mediocre game. If you can put aside your internet honed, zero sum gut reactions and just scratch beneath the surface there is a huge amount of passion peppered throughout. However, sincerity alone doth not a good game make. Especially when said passion is not backed up by an even remotely skilled development team. Competency matters people. At least take the time to watch a few of the myriad of game design tutorials out in the wild.

Case Review

  • Sound Design: Everything sounds pretty hellish, in a good way.

  • Art Design: Everything looks pretty hellish…not in a good way.

  • Character Design: Vaginas for heads and gratuitous boobs just aren’t shocking.

  • Plot: A good effort, but too much is hidden in optional manuscripts.

  • Visuals: Too dark, with a painful red filter over absolutely everything which is genuinely painful to look at.

2.5 Score: 2.5/5
Whilst certainly not terrible, Agony is still nothing to write home about.

Evidence

  • Audio: Sound balance is solid, meaning it's unlikely you will need to change anything, but all the usual suspects are there should you decide to anyway.
  • Controls: Customisable keyboard controls, controller layout is efficient. Agony isn't an especially complex game, so there isn't much else to say.
  • Settings: An acceptable range of options that do absolutely sod all to stop the game being ugly as sin, let alone have any discernible impact over game performance.

Comments (84)


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