Horror fans are spoiled for choice these days and there are plenty of games looking to make things go bump in the night, but Madmind Studio caught our collective attention with its game Agony, with it promising a far more brutal horror experience. No, they weren't offering haunted asylums or creepy houses like its competitors, instead, they decided to crank the fear up to 11 by throwing you into the depths of Hell itself. What could be scarier than eternal damnation, right?
We thought the alpha looked very promising back at the end of 2016, working as a bit of a guided tour through the game's visual aesthetic as well as featuring what would become Agony's signature blend of grotesque gore and guts, but now the game has been unleashed not only on PC fans but also on those masochists playing on PS4 and Xbox One who want to experience the underworld for themselves. The good news is that this visual spectacle is untouched from the alpha. The bad news is that what you do in this world doesn't stack up in terms of quality.
At the start of Agony, you're dropped (literally, in this instance, through the clouds) right into Hell Almost instantly you resolve to see the leader of this place, the Red Goddess, to jolly well make sure you don't stay in this hellhole. That's the overarching story and there's not much to go on aside from that as you move from place to place talking to weird and... not so wonderful characters about the Red Goddess and where you can find her. It's simple enough but doesn't offer a whole lot of spice, and some tangential narratives wouldn't have gone amiss.
You aren't alone in Hell though (although we thought there'd be more sinners, in truth) and the various people you talk to all offer you a mix of insane ramblings and disturbing behaviour. One guy, for instance, starts stacking rocks on top of babies after you finish your polite chit-chat, and another tries to assault you once he finds out you've got a torch. The trouble with these interactions, however, is that they're often not really of consequence and the poor acting and repeated line of dialogue don't exactly help matters.
A brief introductory passage introduces you to the central mechanics of the game, and if you've been through the running and hiding extravaganza that is Outlast, this might feel a tad familiar. It's all about solving puzzles to open doors and advance to the next section of Hell, but after the light challenge of the first few rooms we get introduced to some enemies, the demons which appear on the cover looking like... well, we'll let the screenshots speak for themselves.
The first maze you encounter is when the frustration really starts to creep in and the Outlast comparison feels at its strongest. You can't attack these demons and you need to rely on running, hiding, and stealth to make sure they don't kill you - and trust us, they will, and you'll be seeing the same death animation time and time again. In principle this should be a dream for horror fans, as you're making sure you balance your need for a torch with the fact that the demons have a hankering for your flesh and are attracted to light, using hiding spots and stealth to your advantage. The problem is that it's all executed poorly.