Hell has been depicted in a wide range of interesting ways across all forms of entertainment. Agony has made headlines for several months now. At first, its graphic take on this dark and twisted realm took many by surprise, however more recently, the focus of discussion has revolved around that of its cut content. That’s right, Agony, in its fullest form, was so grotesque and so graphic, that in order to please the censorship, developer Madmind Studios had no other choice but to cut a portion of content from the overall product.
That, if you ask me, is more than enough to firmly grab one’s attention, because let’s face it, we don’t hear that everyday. With each and every tease that’s set loose, showcasing the horror within, backers and enthusiasts alike have been counting the days until release. Now that it’s finally here, let me safely tell you, Agony has a very fitting title, though not all for the right reasons. Agony isn’t what I would describe as a lost cause, but it’s certainly in need of a sizable patch to remedy its countless issues. Until then, Agony is best left untouched.
Agony is a first-person horror that throws players into the role of a lost, tormented soul, one that has no memory whatsoever. In an attempt to seek out and then please the Red Goddess – a character that seemingly will enable you the ability to escape hell – the protagonist will need to carefully maneuver the depths of hell to free himself from damnation. This is hell, so with common sense alone, you would do well to understand that this journey is one that’s jam-packed with danger, gore and for some bizarre reason, bucket loads of female anatomy.
Gameplay typically consists of solving puzzles and making steady progression as you avoid the inhabitants of this pocket of hell. Stealth is pretty much your one and only tool for survival, which is something you’ll adopt on a frequent basis to hide from the several variations of enemies within. Sadly, however, no amount of breath-holding or ducking for cover will keep you safe from Agony’s most fierce enemy; its unforgivable performance issues along with its equally as frustrating design choices. Ultimately, nothing adds up.
I fully understand that crowd-funding games can suffer dramatically if they’re frequently delayed. Those that show faith in a project and ultimately invest their own money to see the game realized will feel the burn of a delay more than most. However, the developer of any given crowd-funding project are indebted to those that invest in such a way that the end result needs to be one that relays the quality and depth that’s been promised. I don’t at all feel as though Agony has hit either of those targets, at least not in its current form anyway.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance did a great job, despite its few issues, to deliver something refined and well rounded, using the last eight months of its development on optimization and performance alone. This, is certainly an approach that Madmind Studios should have followed. Agony in its current form is a mess. So much so that I have no idea how the hell this made it through any meaningful form of certification or quality assurance. Perhaps the developer has intended to piss off its investors at the same time as freaking them out?
Issues such as wildly fluctuating framerates, constant screen tearing and heaps of audio problems sit firmly as the main culprits. That, unfortunately, isn’t the extent of Agony’s shortcomings. Poor textures litter the otherwise decent world design, totally breaking immersion as a result. The same can be said about NPC engagement, being that Agony has a tendency of repeating dialogue over and over until it either eventually finds its way, or stops altogether. I would be willing to overlook a few smaller issues, but I cant overlook this mess.
These problems are swiftly chased by the aforementioned poor design choices. The game is arrogant, almost expecting you to know how to play it as though you’ve been following its Kickstarter from the get-go. The game does a poor job at explaining anything to you. That’s a blessing and a curse, because if anything, I was thankful that the game didn’t want to talk to me anymore than it already had. Seriously, the voice acting here is bad. Amidst its technical flaws, this is easy to overlook. Though, that’s hardly something to brag about.
It’s a shame that Agony is so poorly structured and so under-developed. If anything, the game screams potential. It’s unlike anything I have ever played, coming hand in hand with a theme and world that’s dark and interesting, if somewhat disgusting more than genuinely scary. I think where Agony stands out the most is with its blunt visual message. This is hell, this isn’t going to end well for you and it isn’t going to look pleasant. Yes, it can look absolutely ridiculous and very far-fetched, but it actually comes together pretty well.
The demons of hell will kill you as soon as they locate and capture you, leaning ever so heavily on those all important stealth mechanics alluded to above. Its core loop is engaging enough to see the game through, but it can often become somewhat tedious. I quite like a game that applies that “hide and seek” sort of design, but it does eventually wear thin in Agony. Puzzles are also pretty easy to overcome and when you do come face to face with the occasional mind-boggler, it never takes a great deal of time to suss out and move on.
This isn’t really a problem and more of a preference, but Alien Isolation used this “hide and seek” system remarkably well thanks to its pacing. In Agony, the AI will persist several times before your coffee has cooled down, gradually leading to frustration. When you do bite the proverbial dust (this will happen often) you’re required to maneuver your soul back to a body or to another low-end inhabitant. This is can be unforgiving if you haven’t kept track of your surroundings. If you wipe, you’re sent back to the last checkpoint that you encountered.
Had the pacing in Agony been better refined and less chaotic, it would have made each encounter that more tense and will have given the game more of an atmosphere. Don’t misunderstand me, I think Agony’s basic functionality outside of its issues is passable alone, but some more meat to its bone would have gone down a treat. There’s not enough emphasis on exploration due to its constant stalking. That’s something I was especially upset about, given that I was expecting to at least be able to take my time and soak up the location.
There’s enough content here, made apparent by the addition of Agony Mode alongside the Story Mode, and bolstered further by its multiple endings. However, nothing really meets its great depiction of hell when everything that “should” hold the game together, fails miserably to do so. Its performance problems need addressing ASAP and its mechanics could have certainly spent extra time on the drawing board. When all is said and done, this is a game that could have been special, but is greatly let down by its poor development.
Agony does a good job at relaying such a disturbing world that’s grotesque, full of obscenity and unapologetically disgusting. It’s a game that’s been making headlines for a number of months due to its dark and somewhat sexual theme. The end result manages to meet those expectations despite its cut content, however, its unforgivable performance issues and its countless flaws almost completely holds it back.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.