Typically I like to start a review with some anecdote that relates to the game or its assessment that follows. In the case of Agony, there's nowhere to really begin. It stands on its own as the most remarkably broken game I've ever played across all generations of Xbox and maybe beyond. There's no reason this game should have ever been released in this manner, and the fact that it was casts great doubt on the game certification process. Wherever you thought the bottom was for how poorly a game could play at launch, Agony finds a new bottom. It's actually quite fitting for a game all about Hell to feel like you're actually stuck there when you try to play this.
Agony is a first-person horror game that begins as the protagonist descends into the somewhat Book of Revelation-inspired version of Hell. Biblical writings accompany every loading screen, and the heat and brimstone are all certainly reminiscent of that particular addendum to the religious text, but the game seems to take some creative license in designing new types of demons and other horrors, and for whatever reason, they're largely centered around female sexual organs. The story may eventually explain why that is, but in my review time, I was not able to see much of the game at all.
Regardless, the whole project seems desperate to court controversy to a laughable extent and this may explain some of these aesthetic choices. Some content was ultimately cut from the game to meet rating board requirements, but even what remains feels so adolescently designed, like a big brother trying hard to gross out his younger sibling. It's certainly gross, but it's not nearly as inspired as it seems to think it is. The textures also leave a lot to be desired, which are usually acceptable in an indie game like this, but Agony's pre-release period showed off many high resolution screens of the game that were, in hindsight, extremely misleading. The studio wasn't the first to do this, and they sadly won't be the last, but that doesn't make any instance of that practice forgivable.
Other early warning signs of Agony's seemingly limitless problems first appeared in little places. The UI is unappealing and the game's systems are never really explained well, or sometimes at all. Stealth is meant to play a role in the now popular hide-and-seek fashion of so many genre counterparts, like an early sequence that tasks you with navigating a maze while multiple "chorts" (the demons from the cover art) lurk about, blindly following your sounds. The walls in which you're supposed to hide don't always let you in, and the piles of bodies you're told about are never shown or demonstrated, which is a huge issue because the game's lighting is also dysfunctional. Horror happens in the dark, no doubt, but Agony's lighting is broken to where even turning the brightness up all the way can leave you close to blind, and what you can see is now greyed out with such settings.
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The Red Goddess, a mysterious figure who you meet very early in the game, will taunt as a disembodied voice, but her comments will get stuck on loops that remove any fear factor that may have been present. The voice acting in general is some of the worst this generation or perhaps the last few decades have seen. It was constantly a distraction. In my playthrough, after a few restarts of a flawed stealth scene where broken mechanics led to my deaths, the audio stopped working entirely. Music and effects were replaced with static. Permanent static. Restarting the game didn't help either. Perhaps deleting and reinstalling may have, but how far should one have to go to make an already bad game slightly more tolerable — and who's to say that same static wouldn't have just reappeared soon after?
There's an abundance of issues here and it's not just that nothing works well, but nothing works at all. Crouch-walking is much too slow. Enemy AI is extremely goofy. The torch you find early on can burn you simply by you using it as intended. Most astoundingly of all, changing the controller sensitivity will also alter your button layout. I double-checked I had not done this myself when I only intended to improve the sensitivity, and found that wasn't the case. The layout was still listed as the default, only now everything had been rearranged.
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The achievement list hints at several different endings among other things, and good luck to anyone who is trying to play this game even once. Collecting notes won't be fun in this darkness and reliving any one scene, even if all the technical issues are resolved in patches, will be a huge slog as that still doesn't fix the bad voice acting and shoddy stealth scenarios. One achievement points to an eventual boss battle and the thought of such a scene may fill you with all sorts of unintentional horrors.
SummaryThe best-case scenario for Agony is that patches fix the many technical problems plaguing this game right now. If or when that happens, it will then start to be playable, but even then it will contain a host of gameplay issues. A patch isn't going to redesign the entire stealth system, find new voice actors, or design a vision of Hell that is better than the doodling of a 15-year-old metal fan. There's no fix for much of what hinders this game, and what can be fixed absolutely should have been before this ever hit stores. One thing is clear, it definitely feels like Hell trying to play Agony.
- May push stores to better implement certification rules
- Hideous environments, and not in the way that's intended
- Abundant sound issues, including the potential for the audio to permanently become static
- Some of the worst voice acting in recent history
- Changing the controller sensitivity permanently remaps the button layout
- Poorly designed stealth mechanics that simply don't work
- Broken. It's all broken.
EthicsThe reviewer spent close to two hours in Agony, both literally and figuratively, before ultimately giving up after the controller layout and audio had permanently broken down on him. He thankfully unlocked no achievements, making this review the only trace linking him to this game. A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review and it was played on a standard Xbox One.
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