The Agony of defeat.
We all know that Hell is a popular setting for a great many video games. But almost certainly, games with a Hellish theme are action-orientated. Did you ever think that Hell deserves a more thoughtful approach? It would make for very interesting nightmare material to have players run and hide from demons in a Hellish landscape. At least, it would on paper. If the game Agony is anything to go by, the concept isn’t nearly as thrilling as it sounds.
Agony places players in the role of a wayward soul who is unfortunate enough to find himself damned to Hell. His previous life, and indeed his whole reason for being condemned at all, is a mystery as he suffers from amnesia. Though not having much of a chance in Hell of escape, he nonetheless endeavors to do exactly that, all while perusing the strange and seductive Red Goddess, who may hold the key to our protagonist’s imprisonment.
What follows is a lengthy, first-person excursion into an elaborate vision of the afterlife. The landscape is bleak and rocky, darkness is omnipresent, and both demons and tortured souls roam about, reveling in their grotesqueness. It’s a fantastic representation and shows a lot of inspiration, but it’s a tad too dark for its own good sometimes. It’s also not for the faint of heart. No kidding, this is an incredibly gory experience, as you’ll be witness to all manner of gross-out torture by demons and assorted evil entities. The best comparison I can come up with is that it’s like Clive Barker, with its bloody and wet aesthetic. There’s also a slight erotic undertone, with the creatures of the underworld sporting distinctly sexual extremities. Think of a simpler, more crimson-soaked vision of the work H.R. Giger did in Species and you sorta get the idea here.
The protagonist is a weakling, but he has the power to take over the bodies of both humans and demons. It’s an intriguing idea, but flimsy in execution. This is because moving from one body to the next proves to be a means to evade demons and progress, but far too often you’ll find yourself slaughtered despite taking the best precautions. There’s also a checkpoint system, which is a horrible legacy that doesn’t have much place in today’s games. In Agony, it’s even worse: checkpoints are haphazardly placed, often forcing players to replay long sections over and over after making a dumb mistake. It’s especially not fun when you have to repeatedly trek through the same, uninspired, simplistic locations that offer little in the way of inspiration or competent level design.
It seems as if the developers felt this title couldn’t work as a walking simulator, and thus decided to shoehorn various mechanics so it technically qualifies as a “game”. Besides stealth and possession, which are buggy, broken, and boring, players also have to contend with drawing sigils to access other areas and solve puzzles. These sections harken back to previous titles like Hellblade, The Talos Principle, and The Witness, but without the same cleverness and sense of intuition. If anything, their inclusion is jarring and sorta works against the fascinating world-building that takes place throughout.
And then there’s the performance issues and various glitches. I’m hardly running a potato, yet this game suffers from absurd load times and frequent frame rate drops. Also, it’s not at all uncommon to see figures clip in and out of the scenery, or experience your own character getting stuck in some ungodly section of the ground. All of these things make it seem like the game could have done with a lot more play-testing, and perhaps holding back the release date a few months while these issues are ironed out. Hopefully, these gripes might be fixed in future patches and updates, but sadly the damage is already done.
I really want to recommend Agony, but I honestly can’t. At least, not in its current form. I’m an absolute sucker for horror and depictions of Hell, and Agony‘s vision could have put alongside the likes of Wayne Barlowe and Clive Barker. Sadly, it’s a mediocre story with a weak and buggy game backing it up. I might give it a second look if the glitches are fixed and performance is optimized, but otherwise Agony will likely be doomed to rot in the lower levels of my collection. If you’re feeling rather torturous, you can add it to your Steam library by clicking here.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One ; Publisher: Madmind Studio ; Developer: Madmind Studio ; Players: single-player ; Released: the 29th of May, 2018.
Full discloure: this review is based on a review copy of Agony given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.