AGON, Episode 1: London Scene

Developer/Publisher:  Private Moon Studios
Year Released:  2003

Review by Rosemary Young (October, 2003)
This is the first instalment of an adventure game comprising 14 episodes that you download and purchase online as you complete each one.

It begins on an ominous, rainy night in London Town on October 13th, 1903 as a horse drawn carriage makes its way to the British Museum. In that carriage is Professor Samuel Hunt and you experience the adventure through his eyes.

You are an employee of the esteemed institution and this night you find on your desk a letter charging you with solving a mystery. Without giving too much away it's a mystery involving evil, an ancient curse and some mysterious board games and, if you accept the challenge, it will ultimately take you to the four corners of the earth and offer you the opportunity to test your skills at a selection of board games.

Someone has already walked this way ...
However, for this first episode your prowling grounds are the back rooms of the British Museum. There are around 5 locations available plus a hallway and staircase or two to navigate and it feels good. Rooms with bookshelves stacked with books, desks with ornate lamps, personal mementos such as photographs, old telephones, writing paraphernalia, etc. The offices are fascinating to explore and so is the storeroom crammed with all sorts of artefacts. I know I would have liked to have scrutinised more things more closely than the game allowed, but I realise that this would have 'blown out' the download!

Your first clue comes from the mysterious letter but before you embark on the challenge there's another little matter to take care of. Then it's time for rifling through desks and cupboards and bookshelves to pick up on notational clues to move further. There are a couple of other puzzles too but I'll leave them for you to discover.

This game really does do well in setting the ambiance. The graphics are finely detailed, especially considering that AGON is a zipped download. I was very impressed. Also you can pan around 360 degrees in most locations with limited vertical movement, and there are lots of opportunities to see your refection in glass surfaces. The music too draws you into the game, it's particularly good. And the voice acting is fine, although there are only two people to converse with, one in the gameworld and one on the phone. All dialogue is subtitled and there is an option to enable subtitles for Hungarian, French and German. If you choose one of the latter various books and documents are also translated.

Someone knows the secret ...
AGON plays in first person with occasional third person interludes. The conversations are short and you don't have any input in this respect as Professor Hunt takes care of that chore. The interface is simple. An arrow indicates areas where you can move to and transitions fade in and out as you move. Maybe an option to skip the transitions would have helped but that is a minor point. Other cursors available include a speech bubble for talking, a cog for interacting and a hand for taking things, etc. A small graphic sits at the top right of screen where you can access the main menu for the usual saving, loading and quitting, adjusting the sound and subtitles. Here there is also access to your inventory and files where important information is stored. It all works well except that items magically enter files and inventory and you may not notice this at first. The only occasion I was stuck for any length of time was when I didn't realise I was carrying around the answer to my problem.

Another minor point is that all saved games disappear if you restart your game. This took me by surprise but it wasn't catastrophic. However it would be nice if you could have some permanent saves, especially as you move into subsequent episodes.

I must say this is quite an involving little game, especially for adventurers who like to browse through books and documents and pick out useful scribblings. I got to like Professor Hunt for his child-like enthusiasm, and he's a bit of a bumbler too. The game isn't too difficult but you do have to study some writings carefully and take notes of course. In fact it all fits together neatly, all the clues you need are right there if you know what you're looking for. It took me about 3 hours to complete this episode but I could have taken longer and done more reading had I not been writing this review. I did linger over one document on the history of the British Museum but I resisted the temptation to read more.

I should point out that this review is just a 'taster' because that's all you get in this first episode. Also, I didn't sample any of the board games that are associated with AGON. I'm sure I'm safe in assuming that they will prolong gameplay.

Someone started a game
You can download this first episode of AGON at the Private Moon Website. It is available online only and is around a 200 MB download although it has been broken into sections to make it more manageable.  After you install the program on your computer you must activate the game or register it online at a cost of US $9.80 per episode. Registration also covers admission to the AGON Club where you can play the board games online against other players. However, you can also download and play them off-line against your computer.

The word is that if you purchase the first 13 episodes (lucky 13!) then the last one is free. So doing my sums this adds up to almost US $130. It sounds a bit steep for an adventure game but calculating 14 episodes by 3 to 4 hours each this translates into over 40 (maybe over 50) hours of gameplay, plus I'm assuming there will be extra hours of fun playing the board games. Maybe that's not so bad?

Finally, one problem with games requiring online activation is that if you reinstall for any reason you can't play unless you reactivate. Not only does this add to your problems if your computer crashes and you are forced to reinstall, but it also means that you can't confidently copy AGON to a CD to save it on your shelf to play any time you wish ... maybe years away.

Because of this I do think that after all the episodes have been released that faithful players could either be sent a complete copy of the game or maybe a 'patch' could be made available so that AGON can be loaded up and replayed at any time thereafter without online activation. Apparently the release of AGON as a complete boxed game is an idea that's being considered by Private Moon Studios at some time in the future ... and what a good idea it is!  (See below for latest news on this online registration issue. Thank you to Private Moon for fixing this problem).

My advice, this game has intriguing potential. Join in and solve the mystery. Sample a couple of episodes and see what you think. You can also download a demo at the Private Moon Website

Update November 2003: 
Good news for AGON Fans! Private Moon Studios have acknowledged the problems of online registration outlined above and made appropriate changes. Here is the relevant excerpt from their Press Release ...
Online activation has been replaced; in the future, episodes can be installed and reinstalled with a traditional serial number and user name, on several computers at the same time. (No more need for the license from Private Moon Studios.) rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
400 Mhz Pentium II or equivalent processor
16 MB DirectX 8.0 Compatible 3D Video Card (TNT2 or equal)
DirectX Compatible Sound Card
Highspeed Internet Access (hopefully!)

Optimal ..
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
800 Mhz Pentium III or equivalent processor
128 MB RAM
32 MB DirectX 8.0 Compatible 3D Video Card (GeForce2 or equal)
DirectX Compatible Sound Card
Highspeed Internet Access