AGON: The Mysterious Codex (Parts 1-3)

Developer/Publisher:  Private Moon Studios
Year Released:  2004

Review by Steve Ramsey (January, 2005)
AGON has been available for some time as a series of three chapters available for download. This release brings together those three chapters and presents them as a single whole on one CD in retail packaging.

The separately titled chapters, London Scene, Adventures in Lapland and Pirates of Madagascar, were reviewed by Quandary as they were released. You should read those reviews to see what makes AGON tick.

This is my first look, and put together as a single game, they hold up pretty well against other adventure titles. It would be wrong, however, to see AGON: The Mysterious Codex as a single game, and Private Moon studios probably don't see it that way either. It's still a set of chapters, albeit played sequentially and linked by quite a good little travel log (more of that later). It's also unfinished, 14 chapters being mooted, so you would be disappointed if you thought you were going to find the Agon and resolve the age old mystery. You won't be able to do that for some time yet.

So lets consider it as Part 1, and take it from there.

A Hunting we will go
The first chapter casts you in the role of Samuel Hunt and sets up the mysterious quest quite nicely, and the second two chapters see you in pursuit of your prize. Each of the two takes you to a different place around the world, and is self contained in that each has a resolution which gains you an object and sees you on your way to the next location.

The skill level builds nicely over the chapters, the third certainly being the hardest and the longest. They fitted together quite well in that regard, and it took me about 18 hours to reach the end. That's not a bad length, and certainly the longer chapter 3 helps balance what might have been seen as two fairly short chapters when played separately.

A key component to completing each of the chapters, apart from the first, is winning a particular game of skill. Indeed, board games are an integral part of the plot, so it is less artificial than it might appear. However as the two opponents I played against were under a curse until such time as I beat them, one wonders why they tried so hard to win. Win I did though, although it wasn't plain sailing.

I had heard of neither of the two games, being Tablut and Fanorona, and they are far more complex than their seemingly simple design. Being different they were inherently interesting, but I confess that if I want to play a board game (even one I haven't heard of) I will go and play the game itself. So I generally have a low level of tolerance for games within games.

Despite that, I did find Fanorona an intriguing little game and quite a challenge. I wanted to keep playing, and you can't say better than that. I was less enamoured of Tablut though, and was pleased when it was over. Each to his or her own. If they are to your liking, a menu item allows you to play them as many times as you like outside the main game.

The rest of the puzzles are a good mix of finding items, interpreting drawings, taking notes and generally fiddling about. If the remaining chapters take after Pirates of Madagascar there is some challenging adventuring ahead. Not a brain busting challenge like Schizm by any means, but nor are you likely to breeze straight through.

You will of course like some puzzles more than others. Navigating the forest on Madagascar was, in my opinion, a complete dud and should not be repeated. I did however find the rest of Madagascar quite a good challenge, and won't think lesser of it because of the forest (well maybe a little bit).

You can choose to play AGON: The Mysterious Codex on easy or normal at the main menu, although I can't tell you the difference. You can seemingly switch back and forth as you play, which may improve your chances of winning at either of the board games. Samuel Hunt's musings will also help you along, and some may simply cause you to smirk.

Not so fast
Oddly, when I was in Lapland I was able to leave (compelled actually - having won the game of Tablut, I was whisked off to Madagascar) without completing one section and obtaining one seemingly important item, at least in terms of the plot. The mysterious codex of the title is found page by page, but I simply didn't find it in Lapland. It wasn't that I wasn't looking, rather I reached the board game, played and won, and as I said the game then moved me to Madagascar. Clearly I didn't need to obtain the codex to move on, but perhaps I should have given its place in the story.

Some things you do indeed have to do to move on, and some things won't trigger until you have done them. Which made missing the codex more anomalous. So it pays to look around and to retrace your steps when stuck.

The travel log I referred to earlier is what links the chapters together. I don't think they were part of the downloaded chapters, but if they were they bear mention anyway. A little map shows you where you are travelling, and letters and postcards pop into existence as you go. They include letters from Mr Smythe in London who is researching the mystery and helping with your plans, so they add some meat to the Agon quest, as well as letters from you talking about the sights and sounds of places you have stopped along the way. They also include a biography written by your wife some years ahead of the time you are in, which is an intriguing piece in more ways than one, and an imaginative touch.

The writing is a strength of AGON, even if some of the comments are occasionally a bit odd, and the voice acting does it justice. So too the characterisation. You do a fair bit of reading, and some more voice over work would have been nice, but it's well presented.

Gameplay is as described in the individual reviews mentioned above and a menu gives you the basics of gameplay, so it's easy to leap straight in. Except nowhere did it tell me I had to click and hold in order to "drag" the view through 360 degrees, so if I had been an adventure novice I might have wondered how on earth I was supposed to turn about and look around.

I had to type in a CD key when I first installed the game, but from then on it played without the key and without even the CD in the drive. One feature I like, and which should be in all games, is that it autosaves on exit, and then you simply click "resume game" when you want to play again and it takes you straight back to where you left off. You can also save anytime you like, and 8 save slots was 7 more than I needed.

AGON: The Mysterious Codex remains a work in progress, and based on the chapters released so far there could be 100 hours or so of gaming still to come. Whether it can sustain itself for that length of time remains to be seen, but on the strength of this first part I will certainly go along for the next part of the journey of Samuel Hunt.

Note: AGON: The Mysterious Codex is currently only available for sale in Central Europe but Private Moon Studios assure us that they are working hard to find publishers elsewhere to give the game as a wide a distribution as possible. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2005. All rights reserved.