Review: Infliction: Extended Cut
Posted 05 Jul 2020 at 19:00 by João Pereira
Horror is a fascinating genre when it comes to videogames. Rather than informing anything about gameplay or design conventions, it’s a descriptor of the tone and the emotions it intends to evoke. There are no set rules or expectations on how to achieve this, which allows developers a certain degree of freedom when it comes to designing unsettling experiences.
Infliction is an indie game originally released on Steam in 2018, helmed by Clinton McCleary, a single developer setting out to create a worthwhile horror experience. The question is ultimately: did he succeed?
It starts off innocently enough. Our protagonist Gary drives home to fetch some forgotten plane tickets. Controlling him in first person, we stroll around the house, pick up objects, interact with the environment, and get used to the feel of the controls.
This is, however, a pleasant moment that does not last long, as Gary soon finds himself trapped in his own house with the lights out, alongside a deranged, relentless assailant. This domestic prison sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Lovely decoration, at least.
As implied, the main bulk of the experience takes place within the house. You move around the rooms, picking up and examining objects, armed with nothing but a flashlight and the ability to hide under furniture. Running into the assailant (or should I say, “an” assailant) means a heart-pounding segment of hide and seek, or worse, a deadly game of tag.
This is quite the unnerving trek. Any sound you hear startles you, any corner you aren’t looking at could hide something terrifying. Even the illuminated spaces can display something you’d rather not see. The environment is quite unsettling, which is a sign of good visual and sound design.
This works well for the first couple of hours in the game, but perhaps because we mostly traverse the same layout, or maybe because the assailant’s behaviour does not change significantly, this ritual of carefully navigating the darkness of one’s houses becomes routine and almost mundane, which lessens its impact.
Furthermore – and this is perhaps anecdotal – the assailant’s AI will sometimes behave oddly. At one point, they refused to leave the room I was hiding in for several minutes. At another, they just stopped moving entirely, and I simply… waltzed past its body, unperturbed. The impact of the unknown does diminish the more time we spend with it, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Regardless, the main highlight of the game is the story. Told via audio flashbacks (“Memories” as they’re called), triggered when you pick up certain important objects (diaries, photos, pamphlets, etc). These diaries, paintings, and such, often look quite detailed, and help you immerse into the intrigue involving this family, and its relation to the monster that currently roams its halls. The voice acting is also quite good, often giving you a better picture of what happened than, well, the pictures.
The finer details of the story must remain unspoiled for the purposes of this review, but it does delve into heavy, sensitive subjects, featuring chilling descriptions of very real horrors. Infliction does treat these topics with the weight and significance they deserve, and is all the more impactful for it.
Was that painting always there, though...?
Though the layout of the house barely changes, the décor does. As the story progresses, the environment will change in different ways, some minor, some major. It’s usually worth it to pick up some of the new objects and documents that pop up, since the information within is likely to help make sense of things (especially newspapers. There’s no audio narration to them, but they’re packed with information).
Speaking of which, the exploration mechanics themselves are quite crude. Your actions are limited to picking up objects and rotating them on the z-axis (you can’t even move or bring them with you). And there are a lot of objects, most of them superfluous, in fact. Sure, it might be fascinating that you can examine each book in a bookshelf, or each VHS tape next to the TV, or even each NES cartridge next to the console… But a lot of that is irrelevant to the main plot, or even to the worldbuilding. There should not be any trouble figuring out which objects are important (they shine, you see), but then we’re left with this odd pace where players are encouraged to only pick up the important objects and ignore the detail around them.
Furthermore, the assailant is still around, and they can find and kill you while you’re examining objects. This can easily interrupt the flow of a memory, and though you can hear it again on the menu, it is clunky to navigate, and definitely a subpar way to experience those story beats. It does feel like these mechanics could’ve been integrated more elegantly with each other.
There aren’t many puzzles to solve (and the few are fairly simple). The most notable aspect in this regard is the Polaroid camera, which catches supernatural elements invisible to the naked eye. If you see an area that’s suspiciously clean, or a puzzle that feels incomplete, taking a picture might allow you to see clues, the solution itself… or creepy Easter eggs. You even need to wait a few seconds before the photos are revealed, which is sure to raise tension. This is one of the more clever mechanics in the game, and the most engaging and well executed element of the exploration.
Now this is just plain untidy.
The devil is in the details, however, and these do hurt the game.
Though obscured by darkness, some of the backgrounds and objects in the game look very rough, especially on handheld mode. Picking up some of these objects and examining them closer increases the detail (on docked mode, at least) but not enough to improve the issue much.
I have also experienced some odd graphical glitches: throughout the entire playthrough, the contents of the sock drawer in the bedroom were permanently clipping and flickering (those socks were merely a texture, but the glitching effect was there every time I popped into that room. Footwear deserves better); At one point, every texture in the environment stopped loading properly (exiting and re-entering the game fixed the issue, but still, pretty major glitch). It’s not like the game is that technically demanding, it just feels poorly optimized.
Another issue is one detail of the UI. It is normally unintrusive, but it will periodically show you messages about your next objective, even before your character should know he has one. This does break immersion, especially since it informs the player a lot about how the game is structured.
All of these might seem like small nitpicks, but they add up, and weaken the overall enjoyment.
Infliction ultimately lasts about 3 hours. A fitting length for the story and setting, and just enough time for the game not to overstay its welcome. However, it might not be enough time to justify its price point of 17.99€/£16.19, perhaps too much for such a short experience.
This is, of course, the Extended Cut. True to its name, there is bonus content on offer after you beat the game, namely an artwork gallery, additional endings (or rather, additional cutscenes that expand on the one ending)… and a New Game Plus.
New Game Plus is basically the same game with some items, locations, and puzzles changed around. You also get to keep previously seen Memories, so it’s useful for completionists looking for the remaining ones. Realistically, you’re not likely to replay a game like this immediately after finishing it, but even if you only replay it some time later, it’s nice that a second playthrough can still feel unpredictable.
Overall, these perks are quite nice (I do like the gallery a lot, it’s one of the best extras I’ve seen in a videogame), and they hardly affect the core experience, which is all I ask of such goodies.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Infliction is a game with an effective atmosphere and a compelling, mature story. However, a slew of flaws in its design prevent it from being the sublime experience it wants to be. It is still quite competent if you are looking for a short horror experience, but we recommend waiting for a sale.
Genuinely unsettling ambiance
Good handling of mature themes
3 hours feels like the right length
General lack of visual polish
Exploration is not that engaging
Enemies turn predictable relatively soon