“And to a place I come where nothing shines.” – Hell, Dante Alighieri.
There’s nothing more final, and fearsome, than the thought of one’s own death.
Will you reach a place of enlightenment, or a pit of torment, darkness and misery.
Agony, a First-Person Survival Horror game seeks to throw you into the disfigured body of a tormented soul, trying to escape the depths of hell. After years of development and a successful Kickstarter, Madmind Studios have released Agony on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Followed suite by flashy marketing and intensely graphic game trailers, it seemed like an incredibly enticing and unique experience.
The concept of Agony is quite a simple one. You’re told that the only way to break out of hell is through finding the Red Goddess and seeking her help to escape the fiery depths. While the concept is straight-forward, with you circumnavigating the corridors of hell through various mazes and puzzles, the execution is what makes this game fall apart. There is practically no combat system, and the level design is nothing to praise. The marketing of Agony masquerades as a hardcore trip to hell, something we’ve seen in the recent 2016 reimagining of Doom, but Agony is nothing of the like. There’s no excitement, no intense battle scenes or creative storytelling. Nothing to motivate your character to reach a point of fulfilling his destiny and leaving a place of pure misery.
The topic of hell is such a thrilling one, and don’t get me wrong I’m no masochist. It’s a place that humans have feared for millennia, the birthplace of horrors and the unknown. A place that gives creative freedom to create your nightmares and darkest desires. While Madmind Studios did a great job of building a world that is grotesque and uncomfortable, its excessive use of sexual inuendo and undertones feels out of place. While society has implied that sinners and sexual deviants will end up in hell, it’s never been explained as a place for those members of society alone. What about murderers, and those who abuse people in manners that have nothing to do with their reproductive desires? The other circles of hell?
Agony utilizes gender targeting with no subtlety at all. Women are seen only as over sexualized objects and the forced submission and domination of them follows in almost every scene of the game. It makes you wonder what was going on in the minds of the developers when they created the game. Was it to shock those who adhere to social norms, rather than spend time crafting a good horror game? What’s even more frustrating is the terrible implementation of censorship seen on characters, with the removal of nipples and reproductive attributes, yet those are environmental norms in their level design. It won’t take you five minutes to see something sexual being used as a prop to try shock the user. That, and the fact that some in game items are literal embodiments of reproductive organs.
While it’s unclear why the developers chose to oversexualize the environments, they did a decent job of repulsing the audience of this game. Were it any other title it may seem like a negative point, but when Hell is the topic of discussion it makes sense to make the environment uncomfortable at the very least. Thanks to the use of Unreal Engine 4, lighting effects can at times make for some striking visuals and horrifying experiences, although one wonders if it wasn’t a happy accident. One major complaint however is the monotonous nature of these environments – from red walls, to [low resolution] red flames, and enough blood to fill the national reserves multiple times over. The setting of Agony can become so monotonous that you’re eventually desensitised to the laying corpses and anything that is meant to cause distaste or disgust in the player. While the soundtrack of the game does a satisfactory job of setting the tone of Hell, dialogue and character designs are so terrible that they are unworthy of being put in a modern game. There is a colossal disconnect in graphical fidelity from one character to another, and it drives the fact that this title may have been rushed or did not have enough talent to make it a complete package.
Gameplay in Agony seems like an afterthought when comparing it to anything else this game means to offer. While the environments may at times have some polish, level design is atrocious. You’ll most likely get stuck in a wall, or glitch on a corner at least once or twice in your playthrough. While the puzzles have some thought to them, it’s clear that this wasn’t a focus point for the team. Checkpoints aren’t evenly distributed in the game, and the stealth mechanics make no sense whatsoever. You aren’t sure if you’re meant to hide in shadows to avoid the poor AI of passing demons or hold your breath to stay unheard. Making matters worse, there’s no explanation as to what you’re meant to do when trying to possess other demons in the game – a selling feature according to the game’s Steam page.
The game mechanics are just too terrible to satisfy any user and actually categorise Agony as a Survival Horror game. While there is apparent replay ability via the “Succubus” Game Mode, which allows you to replay the game in a faster form, I highly doubt that anyone would sacrifice wasting their time on such a terrible experience when they could rather boot up something like Outlast or Resident Evil 7 instead.
I had no fun playing Agony, and it makes me wonder if the point of the entire game is an ironic experience, something that’s intentionally meant to be so agonising to sit through? Playing through the hours of its campaign is more than the game deserves, and if you enjoy anything in life at all, I’d recommend staying clear from this title.