Plenty of games are considered difficult, even some to a near extreme degree. Some indie examples would be Super Meat Boy, Darkest Dungeon, the Banner Saga, and Hollow Knight. These games are hard, but they are a challenge, so to speak. They push the player to their limits with exciting gameplay that despite losing over and over keeps them coming back like a masochist begging for more. Why? Because while the games are difficult, they are also fun. That is what makes them a challenge for players because there is that sense of excitement that tickles at the back of your brain and says, “One more time, I got this.”
Agent 9 from developer Noodle Games is not fun, nor is it a challenge. It is only difficult. Difficulty for difficulty’s sake is not a feature of a game, it is an arbitrary way of padding a game’s time out. In terms of gameplay, the game does a bare minimum of allowing the player to crouch, jump, and shoot their way through incredibly linear levels. Your equipment throughout is a silenced pistol (which the model looks nice for), a sub-machine gun that does the same damage as the pistol but is less accurate, and a shotgun that does less damage than both with worse range. There are no special, interesting, or fun weapons. There is no special ability that grants you any interesting gameplay, which with a spy game one would think all sorts of little gadgets could be added to vary or spice things up.
The art style and environments look very nice, with an animated style to them that compliments the game well. The only negative of the art style for the game is the NPC’s, which all basically have the same faces with horrifying eyes. The environments have an animated charm to them, which if the game applied a more animated personality and tone to go along with its environments, could have brought something more interesting to the table.
That being said the level design doesn’t quite pan out the same. Most, but not all, of the levels are made up of tight hallways where you have to push your way through enemies to make your way through. The problem with this is that enemies often lock on so effectively and rarely miss that the game quickly becomes a first-person cover shooter, despite the tutorial suggesting running around to dodge incoming fire so the player can get a better vantage point on enemies. This gets old very quickly, especially when one has to fight the same waves over and over as the levels have no checkpoints and vary in size. When the level has floors that kill the character instantly, it becomes a chore to have to repeat everything from the beginning.
There are only about four enemy types in the game that all equal up to just shooting at the player and not much else, with two boss fights that are neither particularly memorable or exciting
The aforementioned crazy-eyed enemies also seem to run around as if they are attached to tracks, some never moving at all while others run back and forth or in one specific pattern once a fight starts. There is a moment on the third level, Train, where the player runs down one car and hears gunshots. One enemy is standing behind a seat shooting at the player despite never seeing them, so when the player does pass the threshold of the chair, the enemy is already aiming and shooting at the player. It feels like half the time the enemies reticles are magnetized to players, because rarely will they miss a single shot. There are only about four enemy types in the game that all equal up to just shooting at the player and not much else, with two boss fights that are neither particularly memorable or exciting.
One somewhat positive point to mention is the music, which is simple with the use of only an acoustic guitar (besides one or two tracks.) It’s somewhat catchy to the ear though, so it has that going for it. The only caveat to this is the music used doesn’t really sound like it belongs in a game with a spy theme. If anything it would sound more fitting in a western.
The story is bare bones at best, and extremely simple at worst. It is essentially the easiest and simplest of frameworks to move the player along between levels, but it barely reaches for that. There is one moment in particular where the player finds a note saying a dead agent is on the ground, but with every character model being the same model (including Agent 9 on the start screen) it isn’t entirely clear. The connective tissue is scarce, and simply not interesting. It comes off as flat and with little personality, making it hard to care or enjoy.
Agent 9 is just not a good time and does nothing interesting in terms of gameplay. It posits that the game is inspired by classic FPS games of the ’90s, but there is nothing that really makes it seem like so, considering the ’90s birthed the FPS genre and brought incredible innovation to gaming. It does nothing to push the concept of the game forward, only floating it’s overabundant and annoying difficulty as a feature. The only challenge here is the desire to play it. The biggest and most obvious problem for Agent 9 though, is it simply is not fun.