Agony review (PlayStation 4) - Simply hellish

in #writing2 years ago

Developer Madmind Studio wants to make horror truly scary again, by stepping away from the mundanity of the normal world. Instead, Agony draws inspiration from "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri, a poem that describes the seven layers of hell. Madmind goes all in to transport the player to a twisted and macabre vision of the underworld, but forgets to complement that with a competent horror game. And that's only the beginning of the problems.

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Agony's art style is most definitely ambitious. It all looks like a well crafted Death Metal album cover, with lusty demons, bloody carcasses and bony arms clawing at freedom. That vision is sadly unrealized on PlayStation 4. The light hitting the wet, fleshy environments has a very low resolution, which makes the environments hard to make out. All the reds in the color palette make that even worse. Increasing the gamma does make it better, but that comes at the cost of ruining the atmosphere. Even so, the artstyle actively works against the horror its trying to convey: If everything is grotesk and rancid, your senses get numbed in a couple of minutes and nothing is frightening anymore. Agony gets destroyed by its own ambitions.

The story is practically nonexistent. You play Amraphel, a Sumerian king who has been banished to hell and lost all his memories. When he arrives he falls under the spell of the Red Goddess, a being that lusts after him as much as she would want to rip him in half. Since Amraphel barely speaks, his motivations to follow her are completely unclear, and the poorly acted dialog he has with other NPCs doesn't add anything to the overall story. NPC voices also change on a dime and go from freaky whispering to braindead droning, while talking to the same person. And no, that isn't half as spooky as it sounds, since it's almost like two different voice actors did those lines. The developer encourages you to fill in the blanks of the story, but doesn't provide you with a compelling reason to actually do so.

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The gameplay isn't able to pick up the slack either. Agony is a horror game where you sneak away from enemies that can kill you with one strike of their claws. That seems interesting, but the demons are either dumb as sin or find their way behind you without warning to kill you. What should be unnerving turns stale and frustrating before the first hour of the game is over. You walk at a snail's pace, unless you sprint and draw the attention of everything around you.When you die, you can take over the body of another doomed denizen to try again, but that deflates the tension even more. Meanwhile, you're tasked with solving cheap environmental puzzles and finding notes that try to deepen the lore. The intention to do something that no horror game has done before isn't visible in the gameplay. You'll only find frustration here, no scares.

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What is scary however, is the laundry list of bugs that popped up during testing. Textures and models display noticeable pop-up. Amraphel gets stuck on geometry at the drop of a hat and even refused to respawn after death, once. The PlayStation 4 version displays Xbox controller buttons, checkpoints don't keep stock of what you did and didn't do, the text contains a mountain of spelling errors and NPC's refuse to activate on command or show glitched animations that definitely don't seem intentional. Add severe screen tearing to the list of performance issues and there's nothing that can save Agony from damnation.

At the end of the road, it's clear that Agony is a weak horror game, who's artstyle is actually a detriment to the pure horror that the developers wanted to achieve. Countless bugs and performance issues are a constant burden, and uninspired gameplay with a rote, shoddily written story make you want to forget this game as soon as possible. Dante Alighieri would turn in his grave.