When Irrational Games announced their first console game, The Lost, back in 2000, they couldn't have picked a more ironically appropriate name for it. For years it faced development issues causing long delays and eventual cancellation. It was nearly completed yet it looked like gamers would never have a chance to play it. All hope seemed gone, yet it managed to resurface in the most unlikely of places. A new developer called FXLabs bought the rights in 2004, and its development team in India began working on a PC version. They made some changes to appeal to the Indian market, and finally released it there this year as Agni: Queen of Darkness. Bollywood actress/singer Malaika Arora was hired to promote the game. I was amazed watching an Indian pop music video advertising it; it was oddly fascinating to see the cross-cultural path this once lost title had taken.
As someone who was anxiously awaiting The Lost, I was excited to give its new form a try but very skeptical of its quality due to its previous abandonment and budget price tag. Well, after all these years, it may be showing its age technology-wise, and at times feels a little unfinished, but it is a fairly unique game that does have its merits.
And so, Agni: Queen of Darkness falls short of being a classic but despite its flaws, it managed to hold my interest due to its compelling locales and varied gameplay.
Agni is loosely based Dante Alighieri's epic 14th century poem The Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno section. In the game you play as Tara Wright, a woman who must search through the depths of hell to find her daughter. Along this journey you acquire "entities", i.e. other people you can transform into and play as, each with their own set of skills. The first entity you encounter is Agni who is adept at melee combat. The second one is Ghayab, who specializes in stealth and grappling objects, and the third is Adhira, who has long range magic attacks and can teleport via special portals. Tara is physically weak but can acquire magic orbs and use items. It is also necessary to use her to replenish your mana gauge as the other characters drain it automatically when selected.
The entities provide some nice variety although given the low difficulty of enemies, I didn't find stealth attacks to be of use very often. The game would have benefited from the option for higher difficulty settings. Fighting as Agni wouldn't be such a bad thing but unfortunately she has a limited number of moves: one button for fast melee attacks, another for slower but more powerful attacks that push enemies back, and a couple combination button moves for deflecting projectiles and kicks. There isn't much strategy involved and it feels kind of like a stripped down version of Ritual Entertainment's Heavy Metal: FAKK2 in this regard. The game does control well using standard third-person view mouse/keyboard controls but FXLabs made the mistake of not including an option for inverted aiming which is sure to aggravate some.
It's also worth noting that the character advancement system planned for The Lost is not present in Agni. Under the original plan for the game, you were to make choices as to which characters you wanted to upgrade, and with what skills. Like System Shock 2, it was to offer freedom of choice and compromising decisions. I don't know if it was FXLabs' decision to simplify the game or not but there's no customization of items or skills at all anymore. You can pick up new weapons and armor, but it just automatically replaces your existing ones, and honestly, I barely noticed a difference. So, don't go in expecting the degree of depth usually found in Looking Glass Studios-inspired games.
Even though the action and character development are lacking in depth, the game does fare better in other aspects. The art direction in the environments excels whether it's in a gloomy cathedral with stained-glass windows, a fiery dilapidated classroom, or a war-torn battlefield. The graphical detail is more in line with games from five years ago than the current generation of PC titles, but the demonic atmosphere, august architecture, and use of color are so well done that it doesn't really bother me. The weakest areas visually are the real-time cut scenes, as having the characters speak with their mouths shut looks dated and awkward.