Down it Goes
When you think of Hell, you probably think of terms like "sinner" or "demon" or even "eternal-place-of-damnation-I-am-forever-cursed-to-be-trapped-in." You're forgiven for not including "sex-crazed demons" or "vagina-headed-succubi" on that list.
Agony imagines Hell in a different light. Madmind Studios’ first-person horror title is a disturbing display of sexual innuendoes, blatant lovemaking, and an overwhelming case of nudity. Yes, there’s the expected torture, violence, and suffering, but it's all buried by tasteless sexual material that has no meaning whatsoever. In place of fearing Hell, I'm groaning as yet more breasts are shoved in my face for no reason.
You play as a banished soul named Amraphel (or Nimrod? I'm called both many times) who's lost his memory. The leader of Hell, the Red Goddess, invites you to her with the intention of setting you free. While the plot pulled me in at first, there are a few questionable writing decisions I can't quite figure out.
You’ll come across a variety of martyrs on the journey. These pitiful souls are stuck in a scrawny little body and made to suffer for the rest of eternity. Somehow, they seem to know who you were on Earth. Each one comments on how your terrible acts lead to the apocalypse or how you were the worst to ever live. Why haven't they lost their memory? The Red Goddess often interjects, claiming to reveal your past, but this never happens. There is all this talk on how I brought Hell to the real world and how I caused such terrible chaos. However, no one describes it in any real depth. All you have is a vague summary of the past.
The Red Goddess and her cult of succubi are lusty creatures. They'll flirt and tease you in every scene, often surrounded by piles (yes, piles) of martyrs having sex. Madmind tries to exemplify the sin of lust, that chasing the feeling will only lead to your downfall. Unfortunately, the theme ends up very surface level. Sexual content is here for shock value over any real story reasons and that’s a missed opportunity. I figured the cut sections would have some answers, but it was more of this trivial subject matter.
Speaking of which, none of the sinning or affliction contributes to the story in a meaningful way. Here, Madmind uses Hell solely to get away with contextless and disturbing events. There are no discernable reasons for most of the creatures to be naked or to flirt with you. What’s with the heaps of martyrs having sex with each other? Who is this content for?
Needless to say, I quickly became desensitized to it all. After an hour I didn't fear Hell, I expected offensive scenes for the sake of being offensive. I saw a baby screech from a brick crushing its head. It's hard for much else to get to me after that.
That said, Agony's art design is much more creative than the storytelling. While most of Hell consists of shades of reds, dark reds, and even darker reds, there are some oranges, blues, and even some greens and purples at times. Peering out into the skyboxes will grant you a view of stunning lightning storms or amalgamations of creatures making up some weird optical illusion.
Some areas trade the blackish-red tones for magnificent blue ice sculptures and deserts of fire-breathing creatures. Transitioning between "traditional" Hell into these new locales is always a treat. A photo mode is a needed addition to the game, especially since exploring the world is a bit of a drag while on foot.
To its credit, Agony isn't the linear adventure I was expecting. The world ignores the straightforward level design of horror peers like Outlast II or Amnesia and opts for open world spaces. Some regions have three or more paths to your destination, with secret areas and bonus rooms scattered throughout. Exploration is closer to the caves and dungeons in The Elder Scrolls series than anything else.
You'll swim in pools of blood or sneak through hidden crevices to search for a myriad of collectibles. In each of the four and a half hour levels, there are hundreds of notes, trophies, and comic books to find. A majority are cosmetic, but these items add replayability for completionists.
Agony's gameplay loop is reminiscent of Resident Evil’s formula. Nearly every challenge involves finding a symbol while a demon stalks you around the area. There can be anywhere from three to seven emblems spread on the walls. Highlighted in a clear silver color, the images are reminiscent of different satanic symbols. After choosing one, you must bring it to the locked door for testing.
Figuring out the correct symbol adds to the tension a little bit, as you must trace it out with the mouse. The wrong choice wastes precious seconds of time. But, the line detection is a bit poor. I've died much too often because my tracing wasn't exact.
Demons have impeccable hearing. Creatures would sense me sometimes from a whole room away. Even when holding my breath to sneak past, I struggle to stay unseen. You can throw torches to distract your stalkers, but most of my efforts went ignored, and I'd end up dead anyway. Skill points supposedly quiet your movements, but these upgrades make little difference.
There is one unique gameplay modifier, though. Upon death, Nimrod morphs into a soul which you can fly around for a limited time until you find a martyr to possess. As you progress into the story, you'll earn the ability to claim higher demons. While playing as a demon, you can clear the room of lesser threats or destroy cracked walls in search of secrets. Unfortunately, you can only progress through Agony as a martyr. Don't expect to play the entire game as a towering, invincible monster.
For all the different characters you can control, they each feel a tad off. Your actions have little weight to them, and button presses sometimes fail to register. I've fallen to my death quite often due to a lack of inertia when running into a jump. My demon would swing its arms in an attack, only to miss unless I was right in the face of my adversary. Also, I got stuck on the level geometry so often that I began to expect it. Even as a flying soul, my controls would often stop working. The only fix is a checkpoint restart, which I'm convinced is there so no one had to mend these bugs.
If you're not sick of Hell after your first playthrough, there are six other endings to pursue. Two new game modes unlock as well. One, Succubus Mode, is a replay of the campaign from the view of a succubus, with new scenes and areas to go through. This character is fast and can climb up walls or fight off enemies. The succubus is actually a nice change from the traditional martyr mode. Agony mode places you in a tower with a randomized room generator. Each floor has a timed escape room with challenges from the primary campaign. I enjoyed these little segments. It turns out that Agony is more fun without the poor storytelling to bog it down.
Agony has decent ideas, but it fails to explore them in any meaningful way. There are moments where I can see Madmind's vision. But, both the mechanics and the world development bring everything down. Hell has some gorgeous vistas, however. If you can put up with the agonizing (heh) gameplay, it's worth playing through once to witness them. Just be sure you no one walks in on you while doing so.
- Some Fantastic Visuals
- Non-Linear Level Design
- Extra Game Modes
- Awkward Controls
- Lack Of Polish
- Nonsensical Plot