Genre: Online Adventure
Release Date: September 2004
The Agon series is one that caught my eye even back in the development days. The graphics are crisp and the storyline is mysterious. It involves exotic locations around the world and deals with puzzles that have been handed down from one generation to another.
For the unfamiliar, Agon is a little different. It comprises fourteen episodes that can be downloaded from the official website of the game. The series each contain a board game necessary to completing the episode that can also be played online and offline outside of the game. The board game is against a computer player a la Henry Stauf but difficulty level can be configured to suit the player. Gameplay is similar to Cryo games such as the Atlantis/Beyond Atlantis or Egyptseries.
Episode 3 continues from the events of episode 2. The good news is that it involves a brief summary of the events to date so you need not have played the earlier episodes. For full effect, I recommend that you do, though. The game begins with the protagonist, London Museum Professor Samuel Hunt, rowing ashore the island nation of Madagascar off Africa’s southeast coast. He only has limited time to find the answers he is seeking. Do not be alarmed, however, as there are no timed elements in this game.
I imagine most players will take a few moments to look at the water in this early stage and later, a brilliant sunset. The developers at Private Moon have exceeded the graphical achievements of the previous two episodes. I found the beauty of this game jaw dropping. Surely, this is one of those places that will stay in the mind of adventure gamers as places they wish they really had visited. The water effects are trance-inducing and the backgrounds are worth exploring for the visceral rewards alone. Watch the birds sailing around overhead for a few minutes and tell me you aren’t enjoying the scenery! 360-degree panning is an excellent touch.
The voice acting is uniformly above average, but by far Professor Hunt’s voice and delivery is without par. Strangely, the voice actor is an English actor living in Hungary. Stranger still is that a significant number of his lines are awkward and immediately obviously not created by a fluent English speaker. It’s a shame they didn’t ask him to ensure the lines made sense and were grammatical and natural sounding.
The game has complete subtitling throughout but perfectionists will note many discrepancies between the spoken and written dialog. Occasionally, the text is not grammatical but there were few spelling errors. Having seen both these types of errors in English and American games, these are minor problems that detract from an otherwise strong production. There are four language choices for subtitles: English Hungarian, German, and French but only speaking English, I cannot comment on how they compare with the English subtitles. All spoken dialog is in English despite the subtitle language.
The biggest strength of the Agon series is its story. It is simple yet mysterious. There are no real supernatural elements yet I was intrigued from beginning to end of all three episodes released to date. It reminds me at times of the Indiana Jonesmythos without the swashbuckling action or even a Gabriel Knight “lite”. It could be argued that the plausibility of puzzles remaining undisturbed for extended periods is unlikely but we obviously do have a propensity for believing mysterious “what if” type tales. Just read The DaVinci Code or type “conspiracy theory” in any Google search. The puzzles themselves are logical and mostly manageable by most experienced adventurers. I should warn you that the section in the jungle is challenging and most players will need a walkthrough at some stage. Another point of interest is that some of the puzzles actually involve typing in the solution, which adds extra difficulty to point-and-click type games. This ensures that trying every inventory item in every place is not an adequate solution to all the puzzles.
The quality of the documents found in the game is excellent. It’s not an exaggeration to say they rival the Gabriel Knight series in veracity and believability. All documents look and read appropriately to their age. Best of all, there is a section in the menu where files can be examined again at a later time. No copious notes required in this game thankfully.
I experienced no crashes in the game at all. It installed and ran without incident. I noticed later in the game that there were slowdowns on my system at sunset on the beach. I wasn’t sure if this was a game flaw or a reflection of the increased system resources required to show the enhanced graphical effects. The game uninstalled completely without a hitch also. Any troubles can be reported to technical support here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout, the interface is easy-to-use and intuitive. There are few configurable features but it has some flexibility for more powerful graphics cards to use anti-aliasing and choosing 16-bit or 32-bit graphics. Saving is straightforward and one other good feature is that the game saves on exit and the option to continue from this saved game is available each time the game is run. Sound, voice, and music levels can be altered individually. The game claims to determine the best settings for your system automatically. Saying this is, of course, akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull, so most players will want to tweak to get the absolute best performance and quality from the game.
The only way I feel this game could be improved significantly would be if there was an option to install all episodes and run them in sequence instead of having to uninstall one episode before installing the next. Perhaps the final product will have this option or at least each set of three games on a disk could be set up this way. I’ll have to get the CD-ROM and find out!
The episodes of the game can be purchased from the developers’ website and downloaded. It has been released with the other two episodes on a CD-ROM called Agon: The Mysterious Codex, which is available only within their native country at this time.
I think the developers have improved on the previous episode to warrant an A-.
Final Grade: A-