I am a big fan of spooky things. All throughout the year I’ll seek out ghost story podcasts or creepy horror films, but at this point in my life nothing really gives me a good old fright any more. That is, of course, except for video games. I’m not talking about your gory bloodfests such as Resident Evil or F.E.A.R., I’m more interested in games that focus on a psychological horror experience like Layers of Fear or the Silent Hill series, one of my all-time favourites. There’s a lot to be said for games that drop you into a terrifying and unfamiliar environment, facing god-knows-what in the mists around you and armed with nothing but your wits, but when a game makes you afraid of your own house? That’s something else.
First of all, let me address the elephant in the room. If you’re a fan of games like this, you will undoubtedly know about the terrific yet ill-fated horror experience called P.T. A precursor to the Silent Hill game that never was, P.T. showed us that wandering around an average family home could be just as scary as an abandoned hospital or ghost town. On the surface, Infliction seems to borrow heavily from P.T. in the way it plays and the way it’s structured, but after playing for a short while you’ll see that it definitely has its own unique and horrific identity.
Norman Reedus is nowhere to be found
Infliction opens with your character returning home to collect some airline tickets that your wife had accidentally left behind. Once you enter the quiet suburban house, you’ll discover that all is not as it seems and getting out won’t be anywhere near as easy. The familiar setting harbours a dark and terrifying secret, one which you must uncover by exploring every nook and cranny of the residence, while also trying to avoid a vengeful spirit that lurks the halls. The tragic narrative unfolds through environmental storytelling, much like Gone Home or Firewatch; a journal entry here, a phone message there all point toward a very broken home. I don’t want to say too much more about what to expect while playing this, because trying to work it all out is half of the fun!
One of the great mechanics in Infliction that is worth mentioning is the inclusion of an old-school Polaroid camera, which you can use to reveal hidden information and capture horrific unseen tableaus. While it’s only necessary to use the camera in certain situations, I had a blast walking around taking snaps and trying to catch a glimpse of something I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The room-illuminating flash, the sound of the bulb recharging and the anxious wait while the photo develops all make for a fun way to explore the house and lean into that horror movie feel.
Capture all these…wonderful memories
The most unsettling feature of games like this would almost certainly have to be the sound design. It’s hard to believe that the developer, Caustic Reality, consists of just one person because the atmosphere he creates in Infliction using sound rivals that of much larger studios. Your journey through this nightmare is punctuated by the buzzing of flickering lights, heavy footsteps on the stairs and disembodied whispers. The otherworldly tones and twisted voices are accompanied by screams when needed and sometimes resolve into the complete silence of an empty house, which is just as frightening. It’s not just the sounds that have such attention to detail too, almost every item that you can interact within the game (which is a lot) has a brilliant realism to it, not to mention more than a few subtle nods to popular culture.
As I said before, Infliction was mostly developed by a single person and unfortunately, at times, that can really show. The story is fresh and engaging for most of the four-ish hours of gameplay, but does get a little loose towards the end.
From a more technical standpoint, I had a few issues with the frame rate and although my computer isn’t at the bleeding edge of technology it can otherwise deal with fairly hefty graphics comfortably and I wasn’t running the game on ultra settings or anything. I also had a few instances where I’d encounter a progress-halting bug and need to quit to menu and reload to proceed, but it wasn’t an ongoing issue. Also, despite most of the game looking quite realistic, some of the human models look a bit unfinished or basic, which can be a little jarring and detract from the overall feeling of fear. The developer is very active at supporting his debut title though and has already outlined some patches and fixes for issues that he hopes to release in near future.
“No mistakes, just happy little accidents”
It’s pretty clear that Infliction is a passion project and although it’s a bit rough around the edges, I had a lot of fun while playing it. It’s not the scariest game I’ve ever played, but it does a pretty decent job of keeping you on the edge of your seat and pouring over every scrap of paper in the game to try and piece together the story. I also love that it’s clearly influenced by classic horror films like The Exorcist and Jacob’s Ladder, just to name a few. The fact that Infliction was mostly created by one person is very impressive and if you enjoy supporting small Australian studios, I recommend picking it up and giving yourself a good scare.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher