It shouldn’t take the player long to suss out that there is something very wrong with the survival horror, descent into hell, Agony. Admittedly, for me, it wasn’t until around the half-hour mark when the full extent of the game’s many issues became clear. Not since playing Aliens: Colonial Marines a week before its official release have I felt so in doubt of my own ability to gauge quality. In both cases, the games in question were so ill-conceived and deficient that I figured it must be an issue with me: I must be missing something or maybe I’m just not very good at the game?
However, I’m pretty sure after now having sat through many excruciating hours of Agony that the fault lies not with the player but with some thunderously poor game design, and technical issues that infest every facet of the title, negating any positive things that I might have had to say about it.
Without a doubt, Agony’s biggest draw is its vivid depiction of hell. It’s all fleshy corridors, mutilated genitalia, buxom demons and wrinkly old man babies. But whilst this might all sound swell on paper, the game is in such a rush to show you just how grisly it can be that this unrelenting edginess ends up having the adverse effect of making the game completely boring. Nothing builds, there’s no sense of pacing to any of it, and thanks to the large size of the areas and lack of checkpoints, most of your time will be spent wandering through the same fleshy corridors, wondering if this is, in fact, a different fleshy corridor to the last twenty you’ve passed by.
Too often do the design sensibilities in Agony run counter to fun. Levels have a tendency to drag on and repeat the same gameplay ideas well beyond the point where they’ve already become stale, and unfortunately, the game struggles when attempting to offer anything other than the most basic of item hunts. Stealth is fussy at best and broken at worse, thanks largely to some irritatingly spotty AI; the entire possession system is mired in a deep-rooted feeling of jank, and even something as simple as moving around the world is plagued by frequent framerate drops and collision issues. In amongst all of this is a handful of what could very generously be described as boss fights. These go down about as well as you might imagine, given just how cumbersome everything is.
In truth, the most fun I managed to eke out of Agony was the result of my realisation that, when looking downwards, I was able to see my character’s jiggling, digital cock. I spent a good thirty seconds dancing around, watching it flail wildly before the tedium of playing Agony resurfaced and I was returned back to the game proper. Perhaps that’s the best way to get through it: play for an hour, then once you feel sufficiently dead inside, just look to the ground and do a little jig… Rinse/repeat for ten hours.
It’s devoid of arresting gameplay, novel ideas, and most importantly, fun.
It’s also a horror game without much by way of atmosphere or a compelling sense of dread. Yes there may be next to no jump scares, which is fair enough, but the game has nothing to replace these with besides some mangled vagina imagery and more bloody corridors. Compare this to the similarly weak Dante’s Inferno and Agony even manages to come up short there. Whilst Dante’s Inferno certainly did rely on shock value and grotesque imagery, such as a giant Cleopatra giving birth from her nipples, it at least had the sense to separate those moments, thereby granting them a greater importance. I’ll hardly remember any of Agony because it’s all just that – it’s all just Cleopatra giving birth from her nipples.
Ultimately, if Visceral’s depiction of hell was equivalent to a goofy Cliff Notes version of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, then Agony feels more like some drunken, horny edgelord attempting to recreate a discussion of the source material that he overheard very vaguely on a night bus this one time. It’s devoid of arresting gameplay, novel ideas, and most importantly, fun.