Originally aiming for $66,666 Canadian Dollars, Playway’s Agony raised three times this in their Kickstarter. Nearly 4000 backers supported the Polish developer’s first person survival horror. The game already has a reputation for its intense violence an graphic content, it had to be toned down in order to get a ‘Mature’ PEGI rating. Madmind studio is currently investigating releasing an uncut version as a separate Steam download.
Release Date: May 29th, 2018
Size: 10.53 GB
Developed By: Playway
Published By: Madmind Studios
Platforms: Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC and Xbox One
You begin by falling straight into Hell. Your soul is separated from your body, and so your journey through damnation begins. Through a series of choices, you’ll learn your character’s backstory. The game has strong Divine Comedy vibes, giving your travels imagery and an aesthetic that is unique to console gaming.
As you make your way through the game you’ll gather information from collectibles and NPC’s dialogue that fills out the story. You’ll find out that you need to find the Red Goddess in order to escape. You’ll also learn the protagonist’s backstory and identity as well as his ties and relationships to many of Hell’s residents. The story is basic but told well, and multiple endings give the title replayability.
Agony has a few incredibly unique and interesting mechanics. One of which is the most important in the game; the Possession system. Throughout the levels, you’ll find numerous humans that are essentially husks. They’ll have one line of dialogue unique to them that they’ll repeat over and over. They are the prime targets for possession. Later in the game, the possession mechanic is employed using Demons for puzzle solving. Any time you die your souls is separated from your body and you get limited time to move into a brand new body. If time runs out, so does your life. It keeps the game moving and gives you a sense of trial and error that Agony demands. In the default difficulty, this is a challenging game. Even in lower difficulties with tweaked settings a lot of challenge remains.
Fortunately, the developers have given players some controls over this difficulty with the aforementioned tweaked settings. In base difficulty, if your soul expires four times you don’t just get returned to the previous checkpoint like the first three deaths, this destroys that checkpoint and sends you back one further. It’s a very interesting mechanic that could have worked if it wasn’t for the frustrating difficulty in the game. The second tweakable mechanic is the Destiny line. Agony is a confusing game, often you won’t know exactly where you’re headed. The Destiny Line points this out for you. Between checkpoints it can be used three times, you can make this unlimited in the options. It made a big difference in how much I enjoyed the game.
The stealth mechanics in Agony work well and in turn, this allows the game to really turn up the horror elements. As you hold your breath to evade capture you’ll feel the intensity of the moment. There are real consequences to being caught and this really does change the way you approach each situation. There are also skill trees that can be upgraded as you play. The journal entries that flesh out the story also adds to this. These elements give you a reason to explore, beyond just discovering some of the disgusting environments. Rather than giving the game a horror feel, these will unnerve you. This gives the whole game an uncomfortable atmosphere which really suits the theme. Unfortunately, the gameplay gets repetitive the more you play. Nothing really gets shaken up drastically and the further you get into Agony the more the annoying technical issues such as awkward enemy AI start to become apparent.
Graphics and Sound
The game’s aesthetic is really striking. I was constantly taken aback by some of the visual imagery that was brought to life by the genuinely impressive graphics. Unfortunately, this only lasted so long. As soon as I stepped forward the frame rate would crash into single figures and really negatively impact the experience. By turning off Blur and Aberration in the options this alleviated some technical issues. The world’s design is genuinely excellent. This is a true representation of Hell ripped straight from classic religious literature. There’s no attempt to add cartoon elements or make it negligible through over the top action. It is as horrible as you’d expect and Playway has done a wonderful job of bringing the grotesque elements to life. The developers have made some progress since release with patching issues, hopefully, they continue to do so.
The sound in Agony is a mixed bag. On one hand, the voice acting is all excellent. Each character not only sounds unique but delivers their lines with a total commitment to the atmosphere that really builds immersion. What isn’t so excellent is environmental cues and some of the monster’s noises. They don’t seem intimidating or even give you a sense of direction, they’re distractingly grating.
Agony has a lot of issues. For every good or interesting idea here there’s something holding the game back. Often I got spotted by an enemy through a wall while crouching and holding my breath. Another time I burned to death while standing about four steps away from the guilty flame. You’ll get frustrated while playing an otherwise interesting horror adventure. Throughout Agony, there are flashes of brilliance. Then you’re brought crashing down by either a technical glitch or a gameplay choice that just seems odd. This isn’t a terrible game by any means. The developer is working hard to continually update and solve issues, they’ve already fixed some. If they keep doing this eventually Agony could become a solid horror experience in the same veins as Outlast or Amnesia. For now, it’s still an annoying experience but with proper sustained support, there’s a bright future here for Playway.