Agony Review: Hell, Squandered

Hell isn’t a setting that’s often seen in video games – at least not as the main place of action. If it is featured at all, players usually pop in there and get what they need before getting out. The God of War games do this on more than one occasion with multiple versions of Hell. When it comes to those who fully embrace the horrific setting, Dante’s Inferno comes to mind as one of the more “accurate” takes on Hell. Agony from Madmind Studio and PlayWay looks to join the ranks of other twisted games by offering the most gruesome video game version of Hell yet, but the whole experience is marred by frustrating mechanics and downright boring gameplay to the point that it’s nearly impossible to focus on the horrors around you.

From the get-go, one of Agony’s core issues makes itself known. Despite receiving funding on Kickstarter and working towards fruition for the past few years after more than one delay, the games seems rushed. After starting a game and needing to return to the main menu soon after, the menu options had jumped to an incorrect location on the screen that put some of them out of sight. That combined with the fact that some of the subtitles are incorrect on the game’s opening scene – a trend that doesn’t end after the game begins – yields a worrying start to the game, especially for those who backed it on Kickstarter long ago.

Once you’ve gotten acquainted to the game’s mechanics, you find yourself succumbing to the fact that these frustrations felt early on will continue throughout the game’s story. Hell is apparently built with mazes upon mazes, and each one of those confusing chambers are tasks that players must perform to advance to the next area. These usually involve gathering skulls, hearts, or similarly gruesome tokens to offer them up so that you may advance to the next area. The whole time you’re performing whatever task it is that you’ve been assigned, you have to evade – not fight back against – various demons by hiding and using a breath-holding mechanic that’s immediately tiresome after the first time or so.

Agony
(Photo: PlayWay)

When these denizens of Hell do inevitably kill you, you have to then warp to another corpse-like body to keep your soul intact. Finding these vessels and removing the sack’s covering their head while remembering where they’re located does provide a sense of urgency to the mechanic that’s not felt when trying to hide from the enemies. However, this too falls victim to more infuriating situations where the game’s mazes that all blend in together make it a pain to find a new host. On more than one occasion, my soul became trapped behind an enemy that defeated me which meant that I lost precious time looking for the new vessel while being stuck behind a solid object despite being in an ethereal form. Should you not make it to another vessel in time, you restart at the game’s various checkpoints, another feature that doesn’t mesh with the game’s unintended difficulties. Working your way through a maze only to be killed at the last stretch of the path and returned to the checkpoint that’s far away doesn’t make you return with a renewed sense of determination in Agony – it makes you want to quit.

What Agony does do right, for the most part, is make Hell look absolutely awful. Entrails, deceased infants, abhorrent sexual acts, and the ever-present blood and gore attempt to make every step through Hell one that you won’t forget. But due to having to replay the same scenes repeatedly thanks to the unreliable mechanics and checkpoints, you quickly become desensitized to Hell and all its grotesque splendor. Bloodied paths become red walls and floors, dismembered bodies are stepped over without a second glance as you trudge towards the next goal, and finding your way through Hell becomes more of a chore than an experience to be remembered.

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Agony ultimately falls victim to another interesting game idea that’s completely spoiled by poorly thought out mechanics and frustrating game design. Those who have already called out Agony before and after its release said that it appeared to “try too hard” or wanted to be “edgy,” and while that’s not the initial impression that you get from it, the shotty mechanics and barebones story don’t leave you many ways to defend the game other than “but there’s gore!” Agony could've found itself among some of the best Hell-based games with the proper design, but much like the land of eternal punishment, it's something that you'll want to avoid experiencing.

Our Score: 1.5/5