One of the most highly anticipated horror games ever made has finally been released and it’s felt like eternality since its Kickstarter campaign. Agony has shocked, angered and amazed a gamers and drawn them in with its creepy visuals, shocking violence and immersive journey through the most terrifying place possible. Well, is Agony worth the wait or will it be sheer Agony? (Sorry, no more Agony puns).

Agony is a first person survival horror that centres on a tormented soul who’s trying to escape the depths of Hell. You have no memories of your past but from the way various individuals speak to you, Hell might be the right place for you. There’s plenty of fun to be had here and Agony’s short description of gore, brutal sex scenes, eye gouging and more is only the tip of this Hellish iceberg.

Now Agony has had a difficult development with plenty of fears that the game itself might be heavily censored to ensure it’s released. Now some cuts have been made which really amount to killing big headed babies, a rape scene and a violent birth. But otherwise prepare for all the eye gouging you can possibly handle.

Now the set up to Agony is very interesting and from what people have seen in trailers and screen shots, the game looks impressive. Visually, this is a game that’s both repulsive and wondrous to gaze upon. The developers at Madmind studios have done an amazing job at creating a visually striking Hell that’s heavily inspired by the style of Clive Barker and represents a place where all hope is abandonment. Fleshy walls, giant bones acting as pillars and structural bearings, pits filled with decaying corpses and rivers running with blood are small parts of what makes this world so captivating.

Going deeper the developers have made sure the organic life, architecture and layout immerse players, with a sense of dread and foreboding. Hell has never looked so beautiful yet stomach churning at the same time. Other factors such as dynamic lighting add beautiful contrasts of light and shadow to the surroundings, adding more depth to particular areas. It’s a shame that so many areas are bathed in darkness and I can understand why. While many aspects of Hell look great, others look very poor.

Certain character models, textures and effects look last gen and off putting, making a striking contrast between a beautifully crafted other world filled with some elements that look extremely dated. What does over shadow these flaws is the strong sound design, with ear bleeding screams, howls and echoes of pain surrounding the player at all times. It does immerse and this represented of Hell is the strongest since EA’s Dante’s Inferno.

My biggest fear in regards to Agony was that while it looked the part, would the gameplay suffer, being subpar or even worse. Sadly, these fears were met.

Now Agony’s gameplay has some interesting ideas be it that their not executed well enough. Survival is a key factor here and players for the most part will have to use their wits and cunning to avoid powerful demons lurking in the darkness. Here’s the first issue, the stealth. Now I’m sure why games nowadays can’t create meaningful stealth mechanics as players are heavily restricted on what they can do. Best players can pull off is crouch in a corner and hold their breath. Interesting idea to hold one’s breath as demons rely more on sound than sign.

But the game is so unbalanced that making even the slightest movement draws an enemy to your position within the blink of an eye. It’s ridiculously unfair and players are better off to run for their lives as moving slowly or even hiding as no shield over the demons. It doesn’t help that there are some issues with the frame rate (even on the best of PCs) along with a number of bugs and graphical glitches.

The second main problem with stealth is that players rely on fire to see in most areas. Traversing twisted corridors and fleshly wallpapered rooms are often bathed in darkness. Demons are attracted to fire and so using it can be extremely dangerous but an effective distraction too. Another neat idea but the lack of any light makes sneaking around even harder as there are areas with absolutely no light at all and there is no other means to see in the dark.

The stealth while clumsy and unbalanced isn’t the heart of the gameplay. Players are able to possess other abandoned souls and even demons throughout the game. This lends very well to the death mechanic as players who die can possess another vessel/body and carry on their journey until they have no more vessels to possess in the area. While there is promise with this mechanic, there are again some problems. The time given to possess any vessel after death is incredibly unforgiving and the sightless wrong turn could resort in a checkpoint restart. Plus, checkpoint locations can differ from close by to between 20/30 minutes in-between each other.

Possessing demons isn’t much fun either as they’re usually under powered or have very little meaningful combat tactics or advantages other than traversing hard to reach areas. Boss battles are underwhelming and feel lazily made with the most uninspired method of run away, lure demon to certain location, sneak behind it and whack it. There’s no interesting set pieces or events that break up the wondering, broken stealth and muddled possession segments.

The story for Agony is another thing which suffers from this mixed bag syndrome. While the premise is very enticing and the mystery of who you are, why your there and what will happen with the Red Goddess can keep you invested until the end. While some of the themes and events are interesting, some elements of the visual story telling can be a little overkill or just childish. I’m not one who backs away from harsh themes and gritty story-telling but there were some moments in Agony that could’ve been more powerful with some toning down. Otherwise, there are some great aspects to the story telling through the environment and the pain/love you sense from these poor souls for their home and the Red Goddess is powerful.

Agony is a lesion we should learn from. This is a sad tale of what looked extremely promising but in the end was less than what we hoped for. While visually striking on the surface, under the skin is not much flesh and the substance of gameplay and meaning is lost with subpar gameplay and a host of bugs, glitches and balancing issues. I’m sure with some tweaking and future updates the technical problems can be fixed. But the shallow gameplay and underwhelming final product will remain the same.

++ Looks and sounds beautiful
+ Interesting gameplay ideas
-- Poor stealth mechanics
- Unbalanced gameplay with bugs and glitches
-Dull execution of gameplay mechanics

A Steam review copy of Agony was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review