Release Date: Oct. 18, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Caustic Reality
At first glance, Infliction looks like any other game in the stealth/horror-adventure genre. You wander around dark corridors, dodge attacks from a malicious ghost and other monsters, attempt to complete tasks and progress the story all while trying not to get killed, and occasionally solve environmental puzzles with the help of your in-game Polaroid camera. It has all the hallmarks of a good stealth/horror game: It’s tense, the plot is interesting, the story breadcrumbs are easy enough to find but not all laid out in front of the player. It even has an element of exploration, with setting elements changing between areas and levels of the plot and rewarding careful looking through things. It’s all incredibly impressive, especially having been created by a very small team funded through Kickstarter. But at the same time, it marks a possible new route for the spooky corridors genre, one that future game designers would be wise to explore, one where perhaps the main draw is the setting and not the monsters wandering its halls.
Infliction casts you as a man with a loving wife and a dear family, returning back to your house to pick up some plane tickets. Unfortunately, the plane tickets are securely locked in your wife’s office and studio, which means you have to find the code to unlock it. But as you explore the house to find the code, strange things begin to occur, subtly at first (horror titles, odd CD names and track titles that seem to foreshadow things for you) and then with alarming frequency, plunging you directly into a nightmare. As you’re stalked through what used to be your home by a vengeful spirit hellbent on dragging you further into the darkness with her, new dimensions and memories open up, forcing you to uncover what happened to your peaceful family or for your soul to be destroyed forever.
Infliction is a game that gets a lot of things right. The monster designs are suitably grotesque, the house is well-designed and the continual trips through there build a kind of familiarity that makes it all the scarier when things start to break down. The sound design is similarly superb, and the amount of detail put into the house and the further (more spoilery) environs after that, making the player want to explore every surrounding, turn over every rock, and look through every VHS and CD case for clues as to what goes on. Even before things kick off, it’s a suitably eerie place, and that sensation deepens in a really satisfying way, each new location bringing up something even more twisted, from haunted paintings to basements with mysterious passages and holes.
It’s a game that wears its influences very heavily on its sleeve, from references to past environmental narratives like Gone Home, a collection of horror videotapes that contain some interesting references , and a hallway that riffs gently on the infamous Silent Hills trailer P.T. In some ways, it’s almost a love letter to both the stealth-horror/jumpscare games and the more atmospheric environmental horror games, infusing a slow-burning dread and exploration with the nastier surprises of avoiding the vengeful ghost and other, equally upsetting monsters. With the rather simple “hide-a-key” system of exploration (click to pick something up, right-click to zoom in and read, other keys to activate different abilities), it also makes exploration feel really easy and satisfying, allowing you to move through the house and explore what happened, unlocking your memories and new areas as you go.
And here’s where it starts to fall apart a little. Infliction suffers from trying to have its cake and eat it too, to be an exploration game balanced by the urgent threat and tension of being stalked through the house and having to avoid a relentless creature. But that urgency doesn’t allow the setting to seep in as well once the monsters end up on your tail, and the threats kind of get in their own way sometimes. It’s a game with tons of atmosphere and style, and some very tense scripted sequences (the morgue butcher scene and the prison chase stand out), and there are some great mechanics, like keeping the vengeful ghost trapped using the camera, or being able to hide in closets. But having to rush through the various things to read and memories to uncover and phone messages and newspaper articles, as well as not being able to enjoy the scenery as you rush to the next location to stay away from the monsters definitely does not help.
It’s paired with an incredibly annoying checkpointing system, requiring you to sometimes play sequences over and over again if you can’t get them right, something that just grinds down the atmosphere and exploration and fun of the game to a single point as you batter your head against a wall hoping to get through with a combination of luck and skill. While it can be exhilarating to finally get by a rough section, it feels annoying to keep having to replay sections, story and cutscenes intact, so you can make another try at escaping whatever horror’s waiting for you just around the corner. While the horror and possibility of failure helps the tension, the problem is that it wrecks the atmosphere after a while. It’s also a little annoying that some of the scenes rely on trial and error, forcing you to either search everything carefully (time pressure) or watch death after death until you figure out the thing you’re doing wrong. Neither is really all that much fun.
In the end, while Infliction is certainly a well-made game, and one of the better games of its type, the survival/stealth horror genre seems to get in its way more than help. For those who can get through its stickier sections, there’s a lot to enjoy, but it might be worth thinking about how the genre and games of this type could be a little moodier and maybe have a few less checkpoints or more monster attacks or something to kind of take the edge off. But it’s still a fantastic game, and among the better entries of its type, full of great atmosphere and some absolutely nerve-wracking scares.
- Disturbing visuals and a perfect moody horror atmosphere
- Simple, satisfying control scheme that makes it easy to explore the setting
- Great level design and some tense, genuinely scary sequences
- Large areas to explore and find secrets and memories
- Checkpointing means you have some incredibly difficult sequences you will replay over and over again
- Roaming monster attacks sometimes get in the way of exploring the house and wreck the mood
Thanks to Caustic Reality for providing a code for review.