AGON: The Mysterious Codex

Review by Old Rooster
November 2006

AGON: The Mysterious Codex, that is: "Ancient Games of Nations," the first three episodes of 14 planned, was the most pleasant and unanticipated surprise of the fall for this gamer.

What little I knew of the game had led me to believe it would be saturated with obscure and obtuse puzzles loosely tacked around and onto a flimsy story. I was in a puzzle mood this summer and fall, so it seemed worth a shot. Little did I suspect AGON would turn out to be one of the best adventure titles of the year—from my humble perspective.

"Good Evening, Professor; What Precisely Are You Looking For?" —Night Watchman

AGON begins on a stormy night in London, at the British Museum, early 1900s. Our hero, Dr. Hunt, is played intrepidly by you. You've received a puzzling letter (how appropriate!) from a friend, which perks your interest. You'll quickly find yourself checking new arrivals at the museum, researching books, reading notes, checking files, making calls and generally getting more deeply involved and engrossed in a mystery, both as the Dr. Hunt character and as the player (yourself).

Let's pause to say a few words about the mechanics of AGON. The game comes on one CD, requires about 800 MB for installation, and can be played without the CD in the drive. System specifications allow for a wide range of PCs, being on the low to moderate side. The game does play in 3D, running smoothly on my lower-end PC. Graphics defaulted to 800×600 and looked very nice indeed at that level. Sound was in stereo and extremely well-done, both as to acting and background noises. The stereo factor is important given one or two of the puzzles.

The player perspective is first-person, with full 360-degree movement, completely mouse-controlled. Twelve different cursor symbols may present themselves, ranging from movement to action, turning a page, moving game pieces and others. An unobtrusive dial with three buttons in the upper right corner of the screen is the only interface you'll see all the time, unless something else is activated. Typically, these buttons are labeled Menu, Files and Inventory. Sometimes you'll also see a "Rules" button related to one of the games. A "Text Input Device" (TID) also becomes one of your tools of inquiry. You can save anywhere in AGON, with eight save slots available (just enough for my purposes). AGON also auto-saves when you leave. Not one crash or other glitch was experienced, and the game seems really well-constructed and well-tested.

"Someone Has Already Walked this Way. Someone Knows the Secret" —Dr. Hunt

Now we have the technical factors disposed of, let's return to the main theme of the game. Without giving much away, we find that Dr. Hunt says early in the game: "My mission is to find all those places where the last Masters of the last Boardgames live." Ultimately, you have to get to the game, presumably Episode 13 or 14. These Masters have passed their secrets and games on to their heirs, located in colorful and often obscure locations all over the globe.

Generally, your direction is straightforward. Talk to the many characters along the way, get clues, solve puzzles, remove logical barriers and, most unique and interesting of all, play and win a game against a Keeper at the end of each chapter (except London). These are unusual board games, called Talbut in Chapter 2 and Fanorona in Chapter 3. They're winnable (the Keeper's an expert, after all!), but only after several trials, and sometimes on the easy setting. Winning is necessary to move along to the next chapter. Further, each of the games then becomes playable separately from the Menu outside of the main adventure.

"Sleepless Night Again, Professor?" —Night Watchman

AGON is replete with puzzles. Some are tough, and taking notes is required. These brainteasers range from simply finding a bottle of whiskey or matches (simple) to putting keys back correctly on hooks (medium) to Headstone Glyphs or Gate Posts (hard). What is pleasing is that even the most difficult of puzzles has a situational context, that is, it relates to the game and its progress, rather than somehow sitting outside as if you've strangely entered a puzzle universe unrelated to what you thought you were about. In other words, they fit and fit quite well. This makes them all more tolerable and leads to less frustration, even resentment.

"Now, That's What I Call a Discovery!" —Dr. Hunt

AGON: The Mysterious Codex is all about discovery. Dr. Hunt's and your quest move logically and enticingly through these first three chapters. Indeed, we've left some things unsaid about the game in order not to spoil your joy of discovery. Even though the graphics are a bit dated, they're also detailed and beautiful. All three locations are memorable—dank and dismal London at night, the frozen wastes of Lapland, gorgeous Madagascar. Character depictions are well-done. Voice acting is superb, clearly professional, helped by a tight and interesting script. Sound effects—rain at the museum, howling north winds, desert breezes—all contribute to creating an atmosphere and story in which you are anxious to participate. It's often a hard game, but you won't want to smash your screen. Instead, you'll feel a sense of satisfaction at solving a logical and contextual puzzle and wonder: What's around the next corner? What kind of game, once I get there, will the Keeper introduce me to?

AGON is a lovely game, beautifully constructed, refreshingly different from the usual adventure title. The makers have done everything right. Interface and other technical features are flawless and couldn't be better. Graphics are colorful and clear, if not outstanding. Voice acting and ambient sounds are exemplary. Most importantly, the essential idea of a journey of discovery rewarded episodically by a fascinating new board game leads this reviewer to an enthusiastic Gold Star.

What I Liked Most About AGON

  • The concept of progression in chapters is very well-written;
  • AGON is very well-crafted;
  • Voice acting is excellent, partly due to the script;
  • Puzzles fit in the context;
  • Settings are interesting, as are the NPCs;
  • 360-degree movement is well-done;
  • The two presented board games are intriguing.

What Disappointed Me a Bit

  • Pixel hunting can be difficult at times;
  • Backtracking can be annoying. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Private Moon Studios
Publisher: Viva Media
Release Date: March 2006

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
800 MHz Pentium 3
128 MB RAM
32 MB Direct X 3D video card (GeForce 2 or equal)
DirectX compatible sound card with stereo speakers

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