What happens to a home after tragedy?
This is the essential question players are presented with throughout the course of Infliction. You play as Gary Pout, returning to your home late one evening to pick up your wife’s plane ticket. None of the lights work, your doors are locked, and you have to enter your house through the back sliding door. Things don’t feel right from the get-go, but you venture, with the flashlight you found in your garage, up to the top floor. A radio broadcast announces grim news, and Cooking with Massimo, the gourmet chef cooking show on your huge television, plays creepily if you turn the set on. Upstairs is your master bedroom, your daughter Maggie’s room, and a room for your infant, Michael. Everything is in order, everything is in its proper place. You enter the furthest room on the top floor and find an old PC (it’s 1999), an easel with a terrifying terrified woman’s face painted upon it, and the plane tickets. Once you snatch that plane ticket, you’re sent spiraling into a whirlwind of hell and punishment.
Infliction, before we begin, is an independent project developed by a one-man squad. That’s pretty impressive, as the game feels wholly complete. As you navigate the Pout house, you realize that much isn’t right – almost immediately. After the first ‘loop’, you learn a huge plot point, something that usually isn’t revealed until the end of a similarly structured narrative. I really enjoyed this, as it created a fresh experience that focused on something else entirely. I’m purposely toeing the lines of vagueness to avoid any immense spoilers – not that doing so in these opening minutes would actually spoil anything.
Your goals in Infliction are pretty clear, and a good explorer can logically piece together where each item you’re searching for would be. Often in games like these, I struggle to find my next move. Usually, there’s some obnoxious enemy that ceaselessly chases you throughout the setting. For me, that totally kills a good horror game. It may frighten me the first time it happens, but prolonged exposure to jump scares and chase scenes dulls the overall experience. Infliction strays from there. Sure, there are places where one of Gary’s demons might lurk, but there were always ways of dealing with the ghost in most of those settings. I may have been caught once or twice that wasn’t scripted, but the experience was the perfect balance of challenging and fun.
Gameplay consists of the aforementioned collecting of items and dodging of demons. As you continue through Paul’s nightmare house, you are given a camera with infinite film. With this, you can stun the ghost, but, more importantly, you can wield the camera to help solve some of the puzzles in game. There’s a cool sequence where you need to locate a key using the camera, for instance, that I particularly enjoyed. Overall, the game functions as your typical first person survival/exploration horror game, but the camera gives it a slight twist, with perhaps a nod to Fatal Frame.
Visually, Infliction is a mostly positive experience. The house is beautiful; almost photorealistic. The attention to detail is superb, and the layout made a lot of sense. I enjoyed the freedom of exploration that didn’t involve a direct threat; it really allowed me the time to digest the tragic story within Infliction, and that really let the game blossom. In particular, however, I loved finding the little love letters to other games and genres. For example, finding the NES cartridges of Mass Effect and other titles was pretty cool. My biggest complaint in the graphics department was how drastically different character models looked compared to the setting.
Sound in Infliction was pretty spot on, though. The voice acting was okay. It wasn’t the worst, but it didn’t negatively impact the experience. It was definitely believable in most cases, and the emotion that came through some of the journals was heartfelt. Infliction is a game that thrived on noise, however. The whisperings of unattached voices, the clicking of the ghost, or the ringing of a telephone; the static of a radio when the ghost was near, too, increased the feeling of dread. The show Cooking with Massimo was another great addition to the game. At first, it felt a bit hokey – turning on the television to see a chef with the worst Italian accent making really silly cooking videos. As the story progressed, Massimo and his show darkened, until the riveting finale. It was really cool.
I’m a huge fan of horror, and I typically enjoy the average horror experience. With that said, the typical tropes of the horror genre really frustrate me. Infliction does draw upon some of these tropes, but it offers up a fresh approach to storytelling that keeps the game unique from its contemporaries. As a father myself, the narrative hit home. It broke my heart, but it invested me in the characters that much more so. No, Infliction is not a perfect game; however, considering its truly indie foundation and its capability to provide a fresh take on a crowded genre, Infliction: Extended Cut is well worth your time.
Note: I have read much about technical/sound issues that many reviewers said plagued their experiences. I experienced no such glitches (our Meatwad runthrough on Twitch can verify) in my two playthroughs of the game. I did have issues with trophy glitches, but that can allegedly be solved with erasing save data (which isn’t a huge issue for me).