Agony (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 27.07.2018

Review for Agony on PlayStation 4

The existence of Hell as a state of physical and mental torment is a doctrine that has been embraced by pretty much every religion in some form or other since the dawn of time. Traditionally billed as the antipode of Heaven, it's a fiery, torturous afterlife where the souls of sinners, non-believers, blasphemers, estate agents, telemarketers, and reality TV stars get sent to have red hot spikes continuously jabbed up their backsides by sadistic demons for all eternity. Of course, the old adage 'The Devil makes work for idle hands' is one of the main reasons why videogames were invented, which goes some way to explaining why digitised interpretations of Satan's domain crop up as regularly as they do. God of War protagonist Kratos is no stranger to the sulphur scented pit of torment, the Saints Row franchise made light of the dark side with Gat out of Hell, Dante's Inferno visualised Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy poem of the same name, and who could forget the granddaddy of them all, Doom? Madmind Studio is the latest developer to head down below with the release of Agony, a Kickstarter title that promised a gore-heavy, no holds barred journey through the demonic underworld to entice potential backers. Does the finalised product live up to its gruesome promise? Well, if nothing else, it's fair to say the team has nailed the suffering aspect...

Agony's campaign commences with one nameless martyr checking into the bowels of Hell with a mighty thud after a lengthy, reflective freefall. Little is known about this netherworld fresher but, like the many other unfortunate souls languishing in perpetual torment, all traces of memory and previous identity are wiped from existence. None of these poor unfortunates can remember how or why they have ended up in this predicament but they all inexplicably share one memory of the Red Goddess, an elusive entity they all believe to be the architect of Hell with the key to escaping it once and for all. That's pretty much it in a nutshell; the tale of one damned soul taking in the sights, sounds, and smells on a treacherously dangerous quest to find the Red Goddess. Sounds Hellish so far.

There was likely zero irony intended when Madmind named the game Agony but it does seem to be a fitting descriptor for the constant feelings of frustration and rage that the struggle to play through it invokes. The fact that it's a fairly linear and mundane walking simulator straddling the horror/stealth divide wouldn't be so bad in itself if it didn't have such a wide myriad of issues conspiring against the person attempting to play it. Progress is reliant on keeping out of sight from the patrolling insta-death dealing demons before picking the right moment to make a break towards the required path. What makes this tougher than the average stealth 'em up is that the game can be so dark at times that it's almost impossible to determine where any of the tormentors actually are until it is too late. Of course, there are burning twigs or bones that can be picked up to shed some light on the often impenetrable darkness, but doing so attracts the attention of the more predatory denizens. Lobbing these flaming torches in the opposite direction to the required path can occasionally provide a distraction but more often than not, it doesn't.

Screenshot for Agony on PlayStation 4

If pushed to describe the central protagonist's default movement speed, the word 'ploddy' instantly springs to mind, although this can be upped to 'jogging through treacle' during some of the more frenetic pursuits. There are many little hidey-holes scattered about the maze-like levels, which do provide some refuge from danger but they have to be approached from precisely the correct angle before a button press prompt to take cover pops up. Strangely, this hiding mechanic gets dropped, never to be seen again, after the first couple of areas. Needless to say that once the chase is on, the transition from plain sight to hidden just isn't quick enough and should the endangered martyr happen to secure a nice hidden spot they are still forced to hold their breath to ensure the demon doesn't hear them. It really doesn't help that the demon will often just stand and wait next to them until they breathlessly exhale... and then pounce and kill them. The AI doesn't appear to follow a predictable pattern, which in some games would be deemed a plus point but in Agony it just means that the aggressors get clumped up wherever the last chase left them, which ends up making it even more difficult to progress. As if that wasn't frustrating enough, repeatedly getting stuck in the scenery, combined with frequent inexplicable deaths, are both factors that really start to grate after a while.

Fashionistas might be surprised to learn that it's permanently bag season in Hell, as most of its wandering inhabitants are rarely seen without one covering their head. While this might sound odd, there is actually a reason for this, as shaking hands with that handsome stranger called death forces the soul to detach from its broken host. This short, temporary out of body experience forces a search for a nearby vessel to occupy so the torturous journey can continue without interruption. Failure to do so and it's back to the most recent checkpoint. The bags on the heads of fellow sufferers act as a barrier preventing these possessions from happening, so it pays to interact and remove the cranial sack from every person encountered as it opens up a few more options for the next inevitable demise. Taking over another body can be a lengthy procedure and it's fairly common for the demon that dealt the killing blow to casually wander over to the next martyr in waiting during the takeover animation and then kill them as soon as control is handed over. It's exactly as annoying as it sounds. Interestingly, putting a bag over your head while playing Agony will likely improve enjoyment levels somewhat, although for anybody wanting to try this at home do remember to poke a few air holes in your head-sack for that authentic martyr experience… or maybe not? Your call!

Screenshot for Agony on PlayStation 4

As the campaign progresses, the central character's powers of possession gradually amplify, allowing for brief spells of demon control. While this does enable some basic, unsatisfying melee combat, these predatory characters are unable to move the story forward as they are unable to interact with the surrounding world in any meaningful way other than dispensing extreme violence. It pays to use these demonic possession sequences to clear the path ahead for the next remote controlled martyr by battering a few of the more annoying pests littering the route just prior to dumping off the big guy/gal/thing in a quiet remote corner where they will hopefully remain. It's not all stealth and boredom, though, as there is some light puzzle solving to get involved with, too, ranging from finding skulls or freshly harvested hearts to place on pedestals, to locating golden body parts with a view to re-attaching them to a nearby crucifixion statue, or even occasionally just staring at a painting to alter reality. Riveting stuff.

Agony has ended up as a relatively tough challenge as a result of its many technical issues rather than being a game that demands a particular level of skill, so it seems odd that the default setting destroys the mirrors that act as checkpoints after just three deaths. If there is anybody out there seriously contemplating a run through this game, then just disable this setting as it's absolutely pointless. The checkpoints are few and far between as it stands and losing 20 minutes of progress over some buggy, random nonsense is frustrating enough... so, why make it any more difficult than it has to be?

Screenshot for Agony on PlayStation 4

Visually, it's a bit of a mixed bag, all told. While it can occasionally look fairly impressive with the right combination of lighting and flickering flames, for the most part it just looks like an unfinished, unpolished mess. Aesthetically, Madmind appears to have drawn some inspiration from Doom as much of the Hellscape looks like it's been carved out from a grotesque, quivering mass of flesh. Nothing but severed limbs, bones, teeth, and gristle, peppered with the corpses of long dead beasts and martyrs, a Giger-esque terrain with hot and cold running blood. The level design gets particularly patchy further into the game as it often looks like a lot of the assets were just tossed into an empty space and left where they landed, which probably explains why it's so easy to get stuck in the scenery. There is at least some variety to the environments, with a creepy forest, an icy wasteland, and an expanse of peril-laden desert to trudge through slowly. The aforementioned darkness is a tool no doubt deployed to mask the generally bad texture mapping, which looks decidedly last-gen when compared to the majority of its peers. Any thoughts of improving visibility by sneakily hiking up the gamma setting just equates to increasing the ugly. Speaking of ugly, the character modelling is also a pretty hit and miss affair, although some of the monster designs are pretty interesting. There's a shadowy spider, sporting human arms, the Onoskelis and Succubi are a pair of predatory female demons that soon become too familiar, and the Katamari-style ball of limbs that rolls around screaming before bursting into flames is also quite the menace. The actual martyrs themselves are a pretty low-res, comedic looking bunch of characters with dots for eyes. Remember when that old Spanish woman botched the restoration of an ageing fresco painting? Yeah, the martyrs look a bit like that. It's hard to take the guy with the bald head and resplendent Tom Selleck moustache seriously as he looks too much like one of Benny Hill's sidekicks (cue music and repeated high speed head slaps).

Is there anything good about Agony, then? Well, the audio is surprisingly decent and, bar the occasional spot of questionable voice acting, Madmind has actually done a solid job of distilling chaos, pain, and misery into a sonic format that really feeds into creating an oppressive atmosphere. As a horror title, though, there is nothing remotely scary about it, and as a game it really isn't much fun to play, plus as a title trading on its ability to shock and disgust... well, it's pretty tame, all told. While there is little doubt that this has faced numerous edits to beat the censors, disappointingly what remains does walk down the exploitative route of cheap titillation. There seem to be more vaginas in the underworld than you can shake a burning stick at. Vaginas with teeth, vaginas without teeth... even the damn fruit in Hell has a vagina!? Pretty much every female in the game, be she human or demon, is bare-breasted and regularly subjected to scenes that look like they were directed by a Clive Barker wannabe trying to produce specialist content for PornHub. It's as naff and degrading as it sounds, boasting a ton of collectibles and secret rooms to discover, as well as a total of seven different endings - Madmind is really angling for repeated playthroughs. Having seen two of the endings, the other five can go whistle. Life is too short.

Screenshot for Agony on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

Madmind Studios has successfully created the definitive version of videogame Hell: humdrum, uninspiring gameplay, frustrating level design, stuttering frame-rates, soft locks and crashes galore, unpolished textures, ugly character modelling, sudden inexplicable deaths, and irritating glitches. It is a painful experience from beginning to end, with the only real highlight being the uninstall. An absolute stinker; Agony is most definitely Hell!

Developer

Madmind Studio

Publisher

Madmind Studio

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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