At first glance Agony seems like the type of horror experience hard core fans of the genre have been clamoring for. Sadly, after an hour with this game, fans will soon realize they’ll need to keep calling for an extreme survival horror experience more worth their time.
I get what Madmind Studios was trying to do with this game. From the abundance of gore and mutilated bodies, the initial shock value is impressive. However, the goal of delivering a hard M-rated game seems to have been such a focus for this developer that the shock value of what you’re looking at quickly goes from shock to monotonous repetition. Before I had even reached the half way point of Agony, I had seen so many desecrated corpses and vagina faced demons that I became desensitized to the entire experience.
In a game like Agony, where unsettling environments and scenes of violence are expected, you don’t need to beat players over the head with those themes to get the message across. If they had taken the time to evenly disperse these moments across the 8-10 hour campaign they would have given us a much more memorable experience.
Instead, this game is so overflowing with all of the contents that make a game strongly M-rated that that feeling of uneasiness or discomfort rapidly dissipates. Horror games stick with us longer when you have isolated, impressionable moments continually, but moderately, dispersed throughout the story. That is what makes them so shocking and uncomfortable; Outlast would have been a fantastic template for Madmind Studios to follow.
To add to this frustration, the level design is so haphazardly thrown together that navigation through the game is a dismal experience in itself. They could have removed all of the bodies and demons and just let players explore the world, and that alone would have been a terrifying experience. A big part of this issue comes from the color palette and awful lighting. Everything in this game is a shade of red or black.
Add consistent frame rate issues and lack of any helpful lighting to this equation and it quickly becomes a muddy, blurry mess. I get that Hell is supposed to be a dark and frightening world, but I shouldn’t need to squint at my TV when I’m playing in a pitch black room to see where I am trying to go. There were a couple times where I just pushed my character along the edge of a wall until I broke out into an open space as a means of navigating my environment.
“All of this might have been more forgivable if on top of this I wasn’t trying to outrun a demon in a, frankly, shitty game of cat and mouse.”
To make matters worse, the save points throughout Agony are the opposite of evenly placed, making traversal across these levels all the more frustrating. I had to redo huge sections of the game too many times thanks to my most recent save point being 20-30 minutes behind my progress. Other times I would find two save points within minutes of each other. This uneven distribution made getting through certain areas almost impossible due to the high amount of frustration from having to re-tread certain areas and moments so often.
All of this might have been more forgivable if on top of this I wasn’t trying to outrun a demon in a, frankly, shitty game of cat and mouse. For every good idea that Agony has, it’s immediately followed by abysmal execution. Alien Isolation surely had an influence on these cat and mouse sections, and that game did a good job of pulling off that mechanic. Agony takes that inspiration and just shits on it by trying to kind of replicate it. Had I been able to navigate my environments more easily, these demon chases probably could have been more enjoyable, but like almost everything else in this game, that experience is just broken.
Repetitive objectives plague the game as well. After a few hours, you will have placed more organs on alters or completed annoying, half-assed puzzles that by the third or fourth hour those objectives will replace the horror of the sights you’re taking in. It was more terrifying to know I had to do yet another one of those missions than any encounter with Agony‘s demons.
In a game so convoluted and riddled with technical issues, you would hope that the saving grace would be it’s story. Unfortunately, Agony comes up short in this area as well. You play a lost soul that is trying to find their way out of Hell. In order to do this you need to find some demon queen… I think. This is the most story the game delivers. It tries to give us more but the voice acting is SO bad, your eyes glaze over and before you know it, the NPC interaction is over and you’re left unsure about where to go or how to proceed.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried to pay attention, I wanted to care about what some bald, burned, skinny dude was telling me, but it’s extremely hard to focus when the voice actor’s dialogue is so bad all you hear is nails on a chalkboard. Actually, I would have taken nails on a chalkboard over listening to some of those dialogue moments again.
Agony had a lot of potential. It’s unsettling depictions of Hell paired with some survival horror elements should have made this game a home run. Instead, we got a rushed, convoluted mess who’s only scary moments come from the game-play experience itself. Had Madmind Studios taken another 6 months to a year before releasing this game I’m sure we would be having a much different conversation. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that makes this game worth the price.