Genre: Historical Adventure
Release Date: February 2008
Platform: PC, Mac
Note: Originally published April 4, 2008
I’ve always found travel to be one of the most relaxing pastimes one can pursue in order to escape one’s quotidian activities, delve into new sights and sounds, and bask in the rich culture of an unfamiliar locale. When work, family, school, and/or other responsibilities prevent a person from going away, there are always books and movies that can make us feel like we are really there. And, of course, adventure games are no stranger to foreign settings! When Egypt and Atlantis have been done to death, it’s always interesting to see a new location adapted for an adventure. The AGON series has done this since the beginning, and in the latest episode, delivers again with an exciting mystery in Toledo, Spain.
After several years in development hell, the fourth episode of the saga finds our protagonist, Professor Samuel Hunt, in Spain to visit an old English friend of his, Mr. Diez Palencia. Upon his arrival, however, he learns that the painter died nearly a year ago. Carmen, the painter’s daughter, is now living on the estate by herself, and is the force that propels Professor Hunt into the mystery. For it seems that not only has her boyfriend been unjustly arrested for theft, but her father may not be all that she thought he was. Hunt, ever the gentleman, agrees to help out.
I should mention before proceeding that this is the first game in the AGON series that I have played. Each episode can be played as a stand-alone adventure, but there is also an intricate back story to the entire series that connects all of the games. In short, Professor Hunt, a researcher at the British museum, has embarked on an international journey to twelve different countries to locate and win twelve different board games in order to break a family curse and declare “I am in search of the Agon.” There are references to this story throughout the game, but they won’t ruin the game for you if you haven’t played the others in the series yet, although it is probably wise to play those games first in order to understand the storyline completely.
The interface is straightforward and easy to use. You operate in first-person in a fully 3D environment. Personally, 3D games have always made me a bit dizzy, but it works nicely here. Your cursor changes to a forward arrow when you can move forward, and a fading transition brings you there. A hand icon indicates that you can pick something up, and a cogwheel icon indicates that something is needed to interact with an object. Your inventory is part of a dial that sits in the upper right corner of the screen at all times; the dial also contains a link to the main menu as well as some files that you can read as background for the adventure.
Words cannot do justice to the graphics. They are simply stunning. Everything looks realistic and does an excellent job capturing the beauty and mystery of Spain. The only issue arises with the character sprites. They stand in stark contrast to their environment, as they are rather blocky and clay-like. However, their gestures and expressions are incredibly lifelike. Even the movement of their eyes alone indicates the nature of their dialogue; it really feels like you are talking to an actual person. These animations, along with the authentic setting, immerse you in the game and make you feel like you are actually in Toledo. In addition, each time Hunt travels to a location, there is a brief cartoon-panel like animation that shows his arrival. I thought the artwork was excellent and was an interesting, attractive way to introduce a new locale in the game, although it gets tedious by the fourth or fifth time you visit that particular place.
Voice acting is a mixed bag. Mostly it is superb, particularly in the case of Professor Hunt. There are only a few characters who don‘t quite reach the same level of achievement as the others, such as the police officer, who sounds drunk. The heavy amount of dialogue in this game, however, is unavoidable. At times, there were seven or eight different dialogue trees I could pursue with certain characters. I tried all of them, figuring that the more information I could gather, the better, but was quickly disheartened to learn that you cannot skip through any of the dialogue, which can be long and slow. There is one scene in the game in which a voiceover reads a long letter in over twice the time it would have taken me to read it by myself. So, while the characters and storyline are rich and fleshed out, I found it sometimes difficult to bear listening to everything that was said or read.
If you’re looking for a challenge, this game is full of tricky puzzles. Many of them are long and involved and require a lot of reading or inventory-combining. They are, however, cleverly thought-out and fit aptly into the storyline (although what puzzle wouldn’t, seeing as AGON is a series about, ultimately, games?). It is essential to look around every location carefully and retrieve all items that can be picked up, as many of the puzzles involve a lot of different items in order to be solved properly. Sometimes I felt there could have been more clues as to what the solution was, but if you reason through everything and consider what you have in your inventory, the puzzles are solvable. There is a maze, too, although it is not too bad. Ultimately, the game will keep you challenged for quite awhile, and I found myself having to take a lot of notes in order to keep up with the different trials and puzzles the game presents.
Overall, I enjoyed this game immensely and didn’t come across anything specific that hindered my satisfaction. I ran across only one minor technical glitch in which the dialogue skipped, but it was nothing worrisome. AGON 4 was well worth the wait, and I can’t wait to play the other games in the series while I await the fifth installment, which will take us to Peking!
Final Grade: A