Agony (Xbox One Review)
Agony is a fitting name for Madmind Studios’ troubled debut. The developer’s first swing at a AAA title surmounts to nothing more than a proving ground for gamers with limited patience. With high expectations set for its backers and a few goals beyond the studio’s ability, Agony is a glitch riddled torture device that the developers couldn’t have imagined.
We all have a universal understanding of Hell, but Madmind Studios wants to add their own surreal twist with agony. Structures crafted with blood and bones surround you as the souls of the damned wallow as you delve deep in to the underworld and your only objective is to escape. With no memories, you’ll pursue the rumoured Red Goddess, a demon that’s rumoured as the saviour of the damned, to escape this waking nightmare you’ve found yourself in.
It’s Madmind’s commitment to the most ludicrous and outlandish looking Hell in games doesn’t go unnoticed. Mutilated bodies are abundant, the demons repulsive, and ramblings are scrawled into the wall in blood, creating sights that you won’t soon forget. Whilst the crude nature of Agony’s Hell draws you in, it’s the encroaching darkness that hinders your progress and ultimately dilutes its visual prowess. Light sources are scarce, with the exception of some sporadic torches, and it makes Agony a chore to explore. The lighting was so poor that I had to play with the settings and increase the gamma to a point in which the visuals suffered further for the sake of visibility.
Beyond its unique approach to Hell, Agony follows the trends of all the popular survival horror titles, like Outlast and Alien: Isolation. Players have no means of defence and must rely on their ability to run and hide from enemies to progress. The monsters that inhabit the world are faster, tougher, and will kill on sight, forcing you to outwit them through distractions or avoiding them completely. It’s just a shame that stealth is an absolute nightmare thanks to your foe’s heightened senses. Many of the corridors within Hell are one way passages and are near impossible to navigate thanks to the extremely capable demons.
Audio queues are meant to alleviate the stress of stealth by signalling enemy movement with heavy footsteps, but the Xbox One version is plagued with audio bugs. Humming over the ambience noise of Agony is a constant static that’s only surpassed in annoyance by audio fragmentation. This static, on more than one occasion, reached a pitch so high that it was physically impossible to continue playing and required a full hard reset and power cycle of my Xbox One to rectify whatever was happening. It’s a massive detriment to Agony’s design and there appears to be no solution or patch to fix this seemingly unstoppable bug at the time of writing this review.
Thanks to ongoing bugs and punishing design, you’ll rack up countless deaths in Agony and indulge in more torment in the form of its horrendous checkpoint system. The checkpoints are based on lives and for every 3 deaths you revert to the previous checkpoint. It’s frustrating and unbelievably tedious at times, not to mention the bugs that come with failing a checkpoint in which enemy placements bug and prevent any further progress – especially when it comes to the stealth sections.
In an attempt to spice up the gameplay, Agony also introduces puzzles that require you to collect a set number of offerings and place them at an altar or sigil based mix’n’match type ordeals. The puzzles are often very limited in scope and never stray from the two types, other than wading through complete darkness without a torch – which is more of a design flaw than it is a puzzle. Either way, the puzzles never quite sit right and they more than outstay their welcome.
Progression takes a great deal of patience, patience that I don’t have for Agony. Problems surfaced with every iota of success. Even the graphics themselves seemed to give up as areas failed to render and textures became ropey. There is a noticeable divide in graphic quality when comparing the design of the Onoskelis and Baphomets to the other enemies in Agony and its environment, the most notable of which being the Red Goddess who appeared to be rendered incorrectly. Everything just seemed to slowly deteriorate as the water slowly faded and the shore became indecipherable from the walls, it was almost as if the Devil himself was experimenting with tie-dye paint. And then you have a whole load of excessive screen tearing to add on top of the actual visual complications, completing Agony’s transition from game to assault on all senses.
My only reprieve from this suffering was when I decided to step away and look at what could have been in the safe confines of the extras menu. It’s here that you get a far better glimpse of what Madmind Studios had intended to create. That’s a tonne of concept art, prototype models, and a plethora of notes to wade through. I actually feel like I got more enjoyment out of the additional content than I did the main game.
I could talk ad infinitum about the bugs and frustrations of Agony, but continued flagellation would serve no purpose. Agony promised cloven hoofed nightmares chasing you through the underworld, but delivered a totally different kind hell for its players. It’s not fit for human, nor monster, and in dire need of an update before it can be described as playable thanks to its diabolical bugs.