Last year, Madmind Studio offered gamers a one-way ticket to Hell with Agony, which was pretty indicative of the overall experience in its title alone. Originally pitched as a survival, stealth horror game comparable to those like Outlast and Amnesia – just, you know, much worse – Agony is an overwhelming experience in every negative connotation. Its art direction is well realized – albeit mostly obscured in darkness – paying tribute to both H.R. Geiger and H.P. Lovecraft, but most of the frustration lies within its poor performance and sub-par presentation. Technically speaking, Agony is a mess, and that’s a shame considering its ambition.
Succubus is Madmind’s second attempt, aiming to deliver both an enjoyable experience and one with depth in both weapon and player customization based on statistics, an expandable skill tree, online ranking, and a semi-open mission structure.
Releasing as a 30-minute playable prologue, Succubus scraps its survival stealth gameplay in favor of fast-paced, visceral combat. Much like its predecessor, Succubus maintains its mature themes, offering up a warning at launch and the option to censor some of the more explicit content – genitalia. To be completely transparent, I don’t think I’ve seen more penises in my life than I have in my thirty-something-odd-minutes with Succubus. Most of the content is NSFW, but it didn’t take long for its initial pulpy taste to wear off. It’s shock value for one purpose and one purpose only – to make you go “ew, why?”.
Within the first ten minutes, I came across a very large, very buff demon, um, penetrating a snake-like creature who appeared to be displeased with his, um, performance. Towards the end of the two-level prologue, your character Vydija needed to feed. Coincidentally, a naked pregnant woman blocked my path of progression. She seemed to be in pain and in need of help. Surely, my character has the option to cut her down and free her – oh, Jesus. I’m repeatedly punching her in the stomach and… now I’m ripping the fetus out of her stomach and drinking its blood. This material seems to be commonplace for this kind of game, so if you find yourself to be squeamish or vulnerable, maybe avoid Succubus.
While your hellish environment is aesthetically “authentic”, I found the core gameplay to be improved from its predecessor, however that doesn’t entail that it’s polished. Considering that it’s a free playable demo in what appears to be an alpha stage, I won’t be too critical of its performance issues as the final release date has not yet been determined. Visually, Succubus presents a haunting Hellscape, beautifully modelled and imagined in the Unreal 4 engine. Mountains in the distance look sharp and unappealing, the lava below hot and steamy, and the walls littered with strung up lost souls begging for mercy. If you’ve ever played Dante’s Inferno on last-gen consoles, you’ll understand the commitment that went into the environmental design.
Gameplay in the prologue is fast, visceral and completely unbalanced, for better and for worse. Vydija is overpowered even with only two weapons and three abilities. Enemies swarm, yet in one or two hits you’re able to execute them with violent finishers. After executing five for each weapon, it became clear that there are only two animations on display thus far. Though fun for the most part, the technical issues held back a ton of enjoyment. Performance-wise, Succubus ran like crap, dropping to single-digit frames with more than ten enemies on screen, and when you’re battling a boss among a dozen other smaller enemies, frustration quickly sets in. I found more of a challenge fighting the frame dips than the actual enemies.
In the two sub-levels within the prologue, gameplay followed a similar gameplay structure – climb a few rocks through pointless, on-rails QTEs, fight a bunch of trivial enemies, and then squeeze through a passage for a rinse and repeat model. Agony presented a world much like Succubus’, however the environments encouraged a little exploration. Succubus presented a linear path with a clearly defined progression marker. Sure, there are secrets to be found in the form of some purple-glowing demon bugs, but they were few and far between and laid out in plain sight. Again, I’m sure this will all advance in the coming months of development, but from what I played these issues stilted the overall experience.
Actual combat is fun – performance aside – giving the player the opportunity to spartan kick ragdoll enemies into environmental hazards like blood pits or spikes and to unleash powerful, charged abilities like fireballs. It never really overstayed its welcome as the gore engine is both brutal and diverse, but I found the animations to be severely lacking. Executions are wonky and the glow of a vulnerable enemy ready to be finished is overshadowed by everything around it. During a given boss battle, I followed one tactic of boosting into a horde of enemies, swiping my sword a couple of times to weaken a few, and then backing out to save myself from an inevitable death due to the drastic frame dips. Everything was so overwhelming that it became hard to decipher exactly what was happening at that moment. At least the audio is convincing, serving as an indicator of what was actually occurring.
After the two-level prologue, I was sent back to the Fortress of Doom-style homebase to take a gander at the work in progress skill tree and customization corners. Here, I stumbled upon a place to sleep (that doesn’t actually serve a purpose) and the map screen. Missions are placed around the map for the player to choose, however considering the game’s current state every other mission is locked off. I see a ton of potential with Succubus, and I truly applaud the developers for taking a new approach to an otherwise beautiful-looking game. Fix the slew of performance issues and diversify the core gameplay loop a bit, and I’ll be on board. Oh, and maybe take out those random desks and chairs. I understand that you need to fill space, but I often questioned why and when those demons took the time to pop a squat and chat about their daily endeavours.
For those of you interested, download the free prologue on Steam right now. The release date for PC is still unknown, however if the devs follow a similar release plan as Agony, Succubus will also launch on consoles. For all things sexually-frustrated demons and fetuses, keep it here at TheXboxHub!