Madmind Studio's upcoming horror game Agony has recently started a Kickstarter campaign and an alpha demo has been sent out to backers, giving them a sneak peak of what they can expect to see when this hellishly twisted title finally releases (they're saying May of next year). We stepped into the world of Agony ourselves, and although the demo was short, it offered a lot to take in.
The demo starts with an introductory cinematic where you fall from light into darkness, as part of 'the fall'. When you start the game, then, you are already in Hell and you inhabit the body of a person with a bag over their head. Your objective is to 'find a way to possess the chained demon', so we can only assume this level is not the first in the game.
Staying with the concept of inhabiting bodies, you don't play as one person as such. There are many individuals wandering round the chambers of Hell, so when you die your soul exits the perished body and you are tasked with moving around to find a new one. We thought this concept fitted in very well with the idea of Hell, tortured souls and never-ending torment, and it made for an interesting challenge to wander the halls and find another body in time.
The basics of how you play are introduced within the half an hour that the demo takes to complete, and they mostly revolve around movement. There are a couple of extra things worth noting, like picking up torches, throwing them, and waving your torch to shoo things away, but other than that the demo favoured building atmosphere and tension over action, and this is done through puzzles, exploration and stealth.
Puzzles in the demo weren't horrendously difficult, and although the main one we encountered was basic, requiring you to draw an insignia from one of the surrounding walls onto a door, we found out how to get through it more through trial and error than anything else, and the solution didn't really seem to make sense.
Stealth and exploration, the other elements the demo focused on, are important because there are demons lurking the hallways, and if they hear you then it's pretty much game over, and you don't want that, because when they catch you they kill you in horribly visceral ways, one of which is relentlessly stabbing your chest while you bleed violently. With that in mind, navigating the hallways stealthily, picking your move and making sure you don't alert these demons is key.
An interesting element to the exploration was the inclusion of sections where gravity is altered. When sections of corridors or walls glow purple; this signifies that you can walk on walls and explore in a totally new way, and the beauty of it is that it doesn't have to make sense because you're in Hell. These sections also allow access to new and unexpected areas, providing outside-the-box solutions to previous problems.
There wasn't much in the way of combat in the demo, and the only options were to either use a torch to scare bugs away or throw a torch to distract demons. The demo is similar to games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, then, in the sense that the vulnerability of the player is emphasised and heightened by the fact they are pretty much defenceless, something that became very apparent very quickly.
Agony's design is what it really prides itself on, though. Graphically, the game is great, and everything from the characters to the environments look smooth, detailed and polished, but these design choices won't be for everyone. Using a combination of cultural portrayals of Hell and their own imagination, Madmind Studios' has created a version of Hell that is designed to be unsettling and disturbing, whether that be the corridors lined with teeth to the demons with mouths as faces, not to mention the despairing individuals lying hopeless everywhere you look. There was even a point where we saw an old man lie a disfigured child on a ledge just to crush it with stones. The demo alone was a very unrelenting experience that is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Lighting and colours play into this in a major way, as the fire that lights up the main chamber in the demo provides this traditional hellish atmosphere - the fire and brimstone version of Hell - whereas elsewhere only a single torch lights your way, and the horror shifts to disorientation and fear of the unknown as you clamber your way around in pitch black. The intense reds of flesh and blood are also extremely poignant, especially the shimmer that comes off them; suffice to say, a game as gory as this doesn't have fake looking blood. Light and dark contrast also comes into play in the small gaps where you can look upwards and see bright, soothing light, whereas your surroundings are bleak and miserable.
As fine as the in-game visuals look, the same can't be said about the UI, which didn't look nearly as good as the game itself. The menus looked a little bit rough and jagged, especially in terms of the fonts, so we hope this is something that Madmind Studio tweaks.
Overall, though, Agony provided a very raw, visceral experience that we enjoyed navigating, exploring and being surprised by. The studio is clearly committed to this unrelenting vision of theirs, a horror that isn't based on jumps and loud noises, but pervasive, atmospheric design; a commitment that really shows. They haven't held back on anything and have worked to polish and refine what they have done. We're very much looking forward to how Agony develops and seeing what the Madmind minds come up with next.
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