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What do you imagine when you think of Hell? Do you imagine disfigured creatures walking through fire and flames? Do you imagine you'd ever fight your way to free yourself from an unimaginably evil place?
These were all things I hadn't thought I would experience anytime soon when I watched the footage from Gamescom 2016, where Madmind Studios first premiered their upcoming horror title, Agony. But here we are. The astonishing part is the fact the studio itself is an independent studio of only a few members.
They aren't like many of the game studios we see developing large scale budgets to back them up. Instead we are given a game by a small team with big dreams and ones that hope to scare all of us half to death before we beat the game.
Engaging with Agony was an honor the moment the download had finished. Within minutes there was a form of nostalgia that circulated around this independent game that could quite easily be considered a AAA title. With bleeding edge graphics, technology, sound, and overall design, Agony presents itself as a game that strikes at the core of players' hearts in order to drive fear home.
But what makes Agony so unique after having played it?
To begin, approaching Agony is like approaching that Hellish fear that games such as Outlast bestowed upon us.
From the moment the game opens up, it's not what one would expect. On the "Main Menu", players are introduced to a demonic figure before them from the get-go. In its quick intro, Agony starts off with a rather quick falling sequence in which your soul is tossed within the depths of Hell and you are set off to explore its dark pits.
The introduction presented to me is much the same as the one presented to fans to see at Gamescom. In the demo, I was first invited to see what body my soul would possess. For my starter body, it assigned me the tortured soul of a man who was bound to his fear and agony.
Agony then offered up a new experience that rotated between mechanics that included stealth, awareness, and even problem solving through the various puzzles within the game in order for progress to be made. One such puzzle included discovering runes that would assist in opening a specific door. When I reached the door, the demo required the specific rune to be etched into the door itself. If the proper one was marked upon it, the door would open, leading deeper into Hell.
The game makes superb use of Unreal Engine 4 — the engine provides the perfect realism and depth that fans would expect. Whether it's from the female demons trekking the halls, the jaw-like door arches that look as if made from human teeth, the scorched statues that were once demons and lost souls, or even the bloodied walkways that litter this portion of Hell, Agony offers a perfect vision of Hell, based on Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.
It's also worth noting that death isn't something to be taken lightly in this game. In my six hours, which involved multiple play-throughs, Agony wasn't shy about quickly ending me. It didn't take long before I found myself restarting at the nearest checkpoint due to the fact I didn't posses another soul fast enough.
Of course, it's partly because I spent just that much time appreciating the visuals and presentation. I took time to appreciate the nightmare-inducing landscape. Whether it was the viscera scattering through the lands, the details in the demonic bodies, or simply the world around me.
If there's anything certain about this game, it's the fact the graphic details in the game could quite cause the developer to struggle getting classifications in certain countries. Luckily, the game has been so well received that it passed its Kickstarter goal within just a day or so. Fans can already expect to see the game launching on Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4 within the next year.
My experience didn't end with this playthrough. Instead it went with multiples that lead me to playing through the games alpha in multiple ways to learn each puzzle, each enemy, and how to possess targets that I deemed necessary in order to get the most out of my experience. The experience I was given goes to show that Madmind Studio is working hard at making a game that will deliver a great and horrifying experience for all and offer up something we've yet to see in the industry.
With time, we will find the final version presenting itself as an adventure we will never forget as we struggle to fight our way out of Hell.