Agony brings with it, exactly what it says in the title. Only as a visual reference however. I’ll make it clear right off that playing Agony certainly wasn’t a miserable experience in the bad sense, but quite the opposite. This is a game that requires you to feel a sense of great disturbance and aims to provoke agonising mental images straight within your very mind. I found that Agony succeeded in its name almost very instantly.
Anyone sharing in this early-access experience should brace themselves for what an Alpha in the video game industry looks and feels like. The presentation of the game, for better or for worse, definitely feels like a proof of concept prototype that’s been expanded upon into a fully playable experience. It’s almost as if you delved deep into one of many CGI-Heavy reveal trailers that promise a lot in terms of graphics, aesthetic and game play, whilst in the end delivering almost none of its original promise upon release. I do believe that Agony may be an exception for this however. Very little, whilst also very much is to be found in Agony’s placement of game-play mechanics within its very unique setting.
The premise of the game is to be summarised as such; You are a wandering spirit in the dimension of Hell, and you have to get out. That’s all there is for now. Whether or not there ends up being a much more rich and complex story behind the game upon full release is 100% unknown as of now, but frankly, i don’t believe there needs to be. Not many survival horrors, other than the excellent Alien: Isolation, provide a full background of context and supported universe to give the player their reasons needed for playing the game to its full extent. Games like Alien succeed on that, mainly because of their already established lore and the necessity of a AAA-Title needing the bread and butter that makes a AAA game…an AAA game. Agony falls into the category of start-up, community funded indie game, and therefore does not require the luxury of a fully developed story to make it work as an experience. All you need to know is what you are, what you need to do, and be given the mechanics to make it happen.
These mechanics are simply, yet so far elegantly placed. You crouch, hold your breath, throw items to distract denizens of Hell, use Torches as light weaponry or to open locust-infested hallways, and just hide. Hiding is of essence in this game. One may wonder why you need to hide from potential death, when in theory, we are already dead. The truth is about that statement, is again, there is little context offered for the predicament you are in, and we shouldn’t expect any for until the game is released. What we do know is that you cannot possess higher-tier demons (ergo, the ones that hunt and massacre you somewhat erotically), and so all your given access to originally is the contents of Hell’s dumpster. The lowest of the low. Quivering bodies of both gender, hiding in their own respective corners trying to avoid the demons themselves. They being so lowly, they cannot resist any efforts made by you to inhabit their bodies, and so within their screams, you can only deduct that they’re counting on you to get their body out of this alive. If you do not, then oh well. Its time to find another body, and forget about the lowly soul that you just possibly led to their untimely death within a death. A nice little visual detail that i appreciated in this demo was the relative height of your character(s) POV. Using a hellish dining table with human skeletons sat at said table for reference, your inhabited body stands just below the table at full height, giving an overwhelming sense of minuscule embarrassment. You really do feel like the lowly, insignificant sinner that you ultimately are.
Light puzzle solving elements exist within the environment, both as the environment themselves and as more isolated experiences such as Sigil hunting. Sigils themselves don’t have too much presence yet, and i don’t think the idea is fully developed either. Looking at Sigils throughout the map and ‘learning’ them, also then requires the player to draw certain Sigils on locked doors. However, i had trouble understanding the full context, game-play wise, of what sigils needed to be drawn and where.
The environment itself is crazed, twisted, and damning if you get lost in it. The low brightness permeates every corner of the entire level, with only fire and flames to provide the light you desperately need. There are no pre-baked lights within the game that i can tell so far, everything seems to be sourced from the dynamic lighting generated simply by fire and magic. This magic, so far, is unexplained aswell. It only acts as a mystical visual cue hide-y holes and walls with anti-gravity, aswell as just being a reminder that you’re in a place that is well and truly without any sensibility or logic.
The games visuals as a whole are brutal and terrifying, most definitely aiming to bring out the players own sense of agony and distress. I would usually think that this is a game expecting too much of the player themselves, but it wasn’t until i saw a (presumed) lost soul of Hell use disfigured babies as ‘cement filler’ between rocks, as he rapidly attempted to block himself off from the rest of the environment. Said babies are disturbing enough to remove a large attachment between them and a player, and there would most definitely be uproar if a game blatantly showed realistic-looking children bearing the wrath of Hell’s citizens. I applaud the developers for finding a suitable workaround, whilst also keeping the context of the situation the same, so that the player still feels a melancholic worthlessness as they can only watch these poor creatures be used as disposables. Albeit short, and meant to be a show of faith towards the community that has backed the games developers, Agony’s demo is so highly promising in its current state.
Not expected to be released for a while yet, i can only hope that the game introduces so much more than we’ve seen in this demo. Nothing would please me more to especially see how else the developers tackle other concepts of Hell. Hell doesn’t have to be all red and fire, it can be monstrous in any number of ways. Hell has always been said to possibly be relative; changing and being interpreted by an individuals own deepest fears and then manifested in their own world. There is an opportunity here for the developers to tap into their own psyche, and utilise the human brains incredibly morbid ability to create scenarios that we most desperately try to avoid and bring them into Video Games as a representation of what real Agony can actually be like. That being said, not much right now would be more agonising than the game turning out to be bad. So there is that.
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