Survival horror game Agony is too dark for its own good

null

Agony is a survival stealth game set in hell. It's a Clive Barker-esque version of hell, which means it's like being trapped in a dragon's poop chute where everything is either on fire or covered in dubious slick. As you wander gooey mazes looking for artifacts blind demons roam the corridors, ready to run at you and break your neck at the gentlest creak of shoe-leather.

At first Agony was as gross and atmospheric as I hoped it would be. The first few areas treat you to a lovely fleshy cliff face and plenty of bony orifices. The catacombs are an unsettling mess of turns. You hear creatures scuttling around, and the occasional scream. It has a video nasty B-movie quality. It's hammy, but disturbing, in an 'oh look a spider made of human hands' way.

I wonder what's through there. More hell, probably.

You play as a spirit on a mission to find 'The Red Goddess'. You inhabit the bodies of lesser souls and walk them around the dungeon. Crouching keeps your footsteps quiet. Alt holds your breath (this doesn't seem to help at all) and there are glowing blue alcoves to hide in. It's a loose take on Alien Isolation, but without the detailed environments, and the intelligent AI that made the Alien a menace. 

The demons I have encountered in the first couple of hours are humanoids with giant vertical mouths for faces. They are not smart. Instead of actively hunting you they plod their routes through the maze and charge the moment they hear your steps nearby. Getting caught often feels arbitrary, and dying can be extremely inconvenient thanks to Agony's odd respawn system. 

Interacting with weird mirrors scattered around the environment gives you a limited set of respawn charges. When you die you float around looking for cowering NPCs to possess before time runs out and you're set back to the start of the dungeon. If you run out of charges you just die straight away and have to repeat the section. You can find these NPCs ranting to themselves near warped shrines, but if you are lucky enough to find and possess one, you are likely to be totally lost.

Your chiropractor will see you now.

Your chiropractor will see you now.

To add to the frustration, hell is so dark it's frequently impossible to see where the walls are, or where the dark grey enemies are, or really where anything is. You can carry torches, but they attract demons, so you don't want to use them. You can turn the gamma up, which helps, but the game takes on that artificial oversaturated night-vision look. The darkness feels like a deliberate choice to try and keep you disoriented, but squinting at a monitor isn't a great survival horror experience.

I like the idea of Agony. It's fun to see an old-school heavy metal album cover hellscape presented with a 2018 level of detail, but it's a painful reminder that stealth games are difficult to get right. After a few levels I found it easier to just run for my objectives, demons be damned, because it was less frustrating to chance it than to crouch-walk through pitch darkness for ten minutes at a time. I'd happily put up with the cheesy dialogue to see more of the underworld, but trial and error stealth sections are a form of gaming hell I can't endure.