Agony is a game that originated on Kickstarter, as Madmind Studio sought money to make a horror game about surviving in a semi-open-world. The developer said it wanted to take people through hell in game that was supposed to be grotesquely appealing, with H. R. Giger's sense of style. In short, it was supposed to rely on shock value. Look at how gruesome and edgy Agony is! That makes it "cool." Except the finish product shows it is not cool. It shows that shock value is only good when well executed.
When you hear about the premise of Agony, you would think it would fall along the lines of something like Condemned, The Evil Within, Outlast, or Silent Hill. Something that would not shy away from gore and vile acts, but would use them effectively. The first initial sin is that it does not always deliver on the promised tribute to Giger-esque works. It does not look terrifying or scary bad, but just poorly executed. Its monsters look like creatures you would see on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, rather than highly detailed and haunting individuals. Others have naked female forms that are mutilated or disfigured, for the sake of getting to show off “hot” chicks and be “shocking.” For a game where appearances were touted as important, they fall short. The design choices are shockingly poor, considering the goal was to push the line. It comes across as incredibly cheap and not at all scary.
Even more disappointing is how Agony handles gender. Considering this is a game set in hell, you would imagine both men and women would be equally abused and tormented. Our avatar is a man. (A despicable one who has done horrible things he can’t remember, hence ending up in hell.) But no, the game seems to be going out of its way to shame and degrade women, without applying the same treatment to male characters there. Gender-specific slurs are hurled at women and thrown about, while no such things are said about the men. We see Forbidden Fruit have allusions to women’s vaginas, but no such effects in regards to male genitalia. Considering one of the deleted scenes involved the protagonist having a first-person view as he sexually assaulted a woman, a segment that would have included penetration, it seems like Agony was not a true attempt at real “shock horror.” but instead one that would capitalize on brutalizing one gender over another.
But gender aside, Agony does a terrible job of even making people want to play. Why are you there? Your character doesn’t remember. What does he know about himself? Well, you do find out his name. Does he deserve to reach the Red Goddess and escape? I guess it is because no one wants to stay in hell. It is boring. It is not scary. There is very little actual motivation to play and keep playing. Especially since the skill points and experience you can earn do not seem to make much of a difference.
I saved talking about the gameplay for last, because Agony has absolutely abysmal gameplay. That is the worst part of all. This is a game that was hyped up as survival horror. References to it being “non-linear” and having a “semi-open world” are there. Except, it is pretty much linear. You are walking through areas that are straightforward, perhaps only taking three or hour hours to get through this segment of hell. The only way you venture off the path is if you maybe are trying to escape a demon or get lost or stuck on something.
Which brings up the other point. The thrill of Agony is supposed to come from having this desperate chase where you need to evade and escape. Except, it is pointless. You have a 50/50 chance of a demon getting stuck on an environmental object and not being able to reach you when it is in pursuit or suddenly getting to take advantage of a bug that teleports it to almost exactly where you are so it can kill you. That is, if you aren’t finding yourself somehow stuck on a wall, even though it seems like you should not even be touching it. And if you do get “killed” and need to send your soul to a new host, then you get the “pleasure” of trying to fight with control schemes and cameras to get to a new body.
Agony is the tale of a game gone wrong. The Kickstarter promised something shocking and horrific. The end product is something that presents a picture of hell where women seem to receive more degradation and abuse than men. It has a story that offers no real motivation to play. There are character models that try to be edgy with an occasional boob, but look more laughable than horrific. Worst of all, it is a short experience that requires no skill to complete and offers few scares. What was supposed to be a return to old school, grotesque horror is something that relies on cheap shots at women, dark environments with a lot of blood, and the idea that it is supposed to be actually scary. It is not just a bad game because it handles topics poorly, but because it looks and plays badly too.