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AGON - The Mysterious Codex
Release date: 02/2006
Developer: Private Moon Studios
Publisher: Viva Media
Game language: English
ESRB: E for everyone
A review by slydos May 9th 2006
AGON - The Mysterious Codex is the manifestation of the first three parts of an episodic adventure game by Hungarian independent developers from Private Moon Studios. Until then AGON was only available as download version and it can be acquired in this form further on. 14 episodes are planned altogether.
In the first episode one is inducted into the background story, why e.g. our hero, professor Hunt, must travel around the world in exactly 14 episodes to find the individual parts of a Codex. The Codex, which consists on the one hand of the written pages of an old book, on the other hand of the individual parts of a stone plate, which belongs to a strange Egyptian-like statue, which was recently delivered and stowed away in one of the stockrooms of the British Museum. Hunt's coworker Smythe points the professor to a mysterious covering letter ... that urges the professor to seek the statue himself.
The whole is a puzzle, where you can only obtain the missing parts if you successfully play a number of boardgames, which first must be located in their respective hiding places all over the world. Each of these games was passed within a family from one generation to the next and guarded jealously. Professor Hunt must find these people and defeat them in the board games they are protecting. This makes him earn another stone puzzle piece pointing to the next place of finding, one in each episode. Hunt's wife and his coworker Smythe are the only ones, who know about the Codex: He sends them many letters, coins and puzzle fragments and keeps them informed. Well, and there are us, the players, who (should) keep track of it.
The search for the Codex takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, just after the turn of the century, while the scenes between the individual episodes are retrospective from the year 1927, placed on the desk of the professor in form of letters and a graphic travel route. It does not become clear, who actually makes this retrospective and whether the professor is still alive at this time, since we can already page through his biography of the played episodes. The documents offer much text to read for everyone, who is interested in the background story and details about the professor's travel circumstances. It is however no must, you can straight enter the next episode of the game without reading them all.
In each chapter we follow professor Hunt to a special location. Everything starts in London. The scientist is working far into the night in the British Museum. In the finely made intro we watch a drawing of nocturnal, rainy London aborning before our eyes, finally transforming into a realistic looking video with pan shot from the carriage frequented road to the museum and the window of professor Hunt. This one and all further videos are eye-openers, the character movements are realized well, even if the film scenes look a little blurred alltogether. The corresponding dramatic music is impressive.
The ingame graphics are likewise well done. You can steplessly turn around and examine those graphics in ego-view. Each of the 3 main locations holds NPCs for us, e.g. a guard in the museum, village inhabitants in Lapland and apart from some human inhabitants a - let's say - communicative monkey in Madagascar. The character animations are really respectable. I also liked the expressionful and suitable music and voice acting, the professor's in particular. Though there isn't so much interaction as there are only few characters, what we see and hear is indeed eye- and ear-candy. An isolated feeling, as we know it from other 1st-person adventures, never arises.
I especially enjoyed the reflections of the professor in cabinet doors or windowpanes and everywhere, where semblance to reality requires it. It's not yet totally close-to-reality, as the professor's image doesn't move according to the camera movements e.g. while climbing stairs. Hunt remains always stiff as a poker, and sometimes nearly looks like a ghost. This could still be elaborated in the following episodes.
Snow-covered Lapland with the small railway station, the village and the wintry snow scenery really let you jitter with chill while you get the urge to drop all redundant clothes in tropical Madagascar. The rain forest with filigree ferns, huge palms and other evergreen foliage does not raise thoughts of loneliness due to the tropical soundscape. At the latest when the sun goes down in red and violet at the idyllic sand beach, your feelings will go towards vacation.
After a fast installation the game runs very stable, on my machine problem-free. A registration code must be entered once at the beginning: Afterwards you can remove the CD from the drive permanently. In the starting menu we can begin a new game at once or visit the options menu before. We cannot open any savegame here but only resume the game at the last autosave point. Later during the game it's however possible to select one of the 8 possible savegames. A little intricate, but this function is not needed often. The starting menu also allows direct access to the board games, as soon as we succeed to unlock them.
Imaginative, new or creative are attributes, which hardly apply to the puzzles of AGON, with exception of the board games. We seek and use objects, lead multiple-choice dialogues, decode various coded messages, must explore mechanisms and solve a demanding sound puzzle. Ah, here we have another Morse puzzle - 'how exciting!'. Best, I pin the Morse alphabet to my PC, seems it's meanwhile standard in the genre. In addition, this Morse code puzzle has its very special torture: as always necessary in AGON's decoding puzzles, one must enter the translation by typewriter. In case of an error you have to begin from the start again ... and again. This is o.k. with 20 or 30 letters, but about 100!? This is exhausting! And so satisfactory, as you obviously don't benefit any game-relevant use from the translated document! A simply boring exercise of industriousness. I don't believe any more that AGON stands for Ancient Games of Nations, but rather for agony. (I simply assume, the developers intended the closeness to this interpretation?!)
Gamers, who already played some adventure games, will ask themselves after the very short first introductory episode of at most 2 hours whether that's all, the makers of AGON are able to offer. I had the feeling, that some officials mastermind the whole thing, to dispose their on-line boardgames in a pretty package.
This minigames can be played time and time again and also be accessed independently from the actual adventure game, after once having defeated the guardian of the game. (I accomplished that for Tablut (1st game) after 3 attempts, for Fanorana, the 2nd game, after 8 or 9 attempts.) This is the actual field, where the creativity of the developers comes out. Each board game has its own special new rules. You have likewise the option to play these games on-line over the internet against other players.
At least the 2nd episode (Lapland) is longer than the first, but holds no puzzles that would have gotten me hooked. Only the 3rd episode (Madagascar) scratches at the potential of the developers. Here we not only find more interaction, surprise and suspense, but also a quite creative sound puzzle, which camouflaged itself at first sight as labyrinth puzzle. All puzzles are planned in every nut, bolt and screw respectively documented by hints, nothing is left to chance. Boredom, which quickly arises, is only pushed aside in the 3rd episode, what a shame!
The game is throughout played in 1st-person-perspective. We only meet the professor in persona during the video sequences. AGON has the usual mouse control, where you can turn around steplessly including panning upward and down. You can always access close-ups or new scenes by one click with the left mouse button, when the cursor changes its shape accordingly. The comfortable mouse control is accompanied by a 3part menu wheel in the upper right screen corner. From here one can open the start/save menu and the inventory. You can also find a help-link here with short descriptions of the controls or rules of the respective board games, should you be in boardgames mode. The option menu allows to set graphics and sound. You can adjust speech, music and sound effects independently.
There are 8 save slots and an autosave function. Quite few, if you decide to read e.g. documents from a preceding episode.
English sub-titles are present, run in appropriate speed and are easy to decipher. Professor Hunt's thoughts and of course the dialogues reach us in both types, written and spoken. Some small spelling mistakes crept into the screen texts, however nothing worldshaking, particularly if you are no native speaker and rather enjoy to ingest the easily understandable texts fast.
I actually cannot recommend an episodic game with clear conscience before it's self-contained. There are already examples, where you waited in vain for the end of the story. Therefore I can only review the available work as part of a whole, which is still unknown to me. AGON is a good recommendation for boardgame fans, who may also like to play the same games against other players on-line. Hence it's only interesting and thrilling for me of sorts.
At least a certain suspense arises cliffhanger-like at the end of the 3rd episode, so that you wish to continue with part 4, which will soon be released as download version. I would appreciate if the players would have to wait no longer than 2-3 months for the next epsisode, but it looks like it will last much longer generally. With approx. 10 hours total play time AGON - The Mysterious Codex belongs to the short adventure game offers. The price performance ratio satisfies with $19.99 + shipping, regarding that it's bugfree, easy to handle and suitable for beginners. The next download episode will take place in Spain, i.e. in Toledo, which is at least as famous throughout the world for its blade production as Solingen. Therefore it's titled: The Lost Sword of Toledo.
My total rating: 66%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP Pentium III 800 MHz 128 MB RAM CD-ROM-drive 32 MB DirectX 8.0-compatible 3D-graphic card DirectX compatible sound card Stereo speakers Played on:
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Soundcard DirectX-compatible
Click to magnify screenshots