Content of the article: "INFRA is an OK game executed poorly (no untagged spoilers)"
I remember learning about INFRA back in 2012 where it was described as a disaster investigation adventure game, I thought it sounded unique and interesting and it even looked pretty good. It released almost exactly five years ago and had a 3-part episodic format which concluded towards the end of 2017, it uses the Source engine (which really shows) and for the most part is a good concept with interesting ideas, but poor pacing and production values not really living up to what indie games are capable of these days hurt it, in my opinion.
I'll start with the story. I have to admit I missed the exact premise because the jankiness of the presentation (as in, animation, graphics, voice acting, writing, etc.) was so distracting that I wasn't actually paying attention to a word being said right at the beginning, then you have looooong stretches of no dialogue, so you reveal the story by reading documents (then snapping a photo of said document, not so you can read them again or anything, but because your character finds them 'fascinating' (except he's so sarcastically written elsewhere and dry in his delivery that I assume he's rolling his eyes as he says it out loud). For what feels like hours now I've just been trying to get back to my office because something has happened involving my colleagues and every time I think "cool, I just need to make it to that place then I guess the game will just take me there", and every time I'm so wrong, as I'm about to explain. However, what I've understood of the story does sound quite interesting, I mean it is requiring me to suspend my disbelief like an elephant from a fishing rod but I'm just about hanging in there.
So, you know how action films typically aren't just straight action for 90 minutes straight because your brain needs some time to process what's going on so there's action, a quiet bit, more action, a bit more quiet, some more action then the credits? INFRA could learn a thing or two from that formula. I realise it's a puzzle game so there will be puzzles, but I'm finding it a little bit… Crushing, maybe (and the last game I played before this was The Witness, for crying out loud), that every time I finish a puzzle, I head into yet another dank corridor and there's another puzzle to solve. But it's not an especially good puzzle, it's just an annoying roadblock to stop you from making the tiniest bit of progress before you proceed to the next big puzzle, honestly I'm sick of it. "Show, don't tell" is usually a good thing in games and narratives, but I wish INFRA would stop showing me and just tell me something like "And then he made it back to his office without even turning a single valve". At some point during chapter 3 I decided to just use a guide because it wore me down so much, but even that guide is poorly written. I will say that the guide keeps referring to rooms I need to visit as "secret rooms", which I think says a lot about the level design – sometimes you have absolutely no clue what to do.
I don't want to rag on the graphics, voice acting, sound and stuff too much because I know not all indie games can be as well-polished as, say, What Remains of Edith Finch or Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, but man, even knowing that INFRA was a thing in 2012, it still looks old. Like, it's Half-Life 2's engine, and somehow looks like it's years older than that. You've got inconsistently lit objects like trees that are glowing in amongst trees that aren't or white steam leaking from a pipe in an otherwise pitch black tunnel, stuff like that all over the place, it's just jarring. The voice acting isn't good at all, I wish I could change the language to whatever the actors' native language is and use subtitles, and some of the sounds are not only bad, but also extremely repetitive – I've now got the sound of trying to open a locked door or gate etched into my brain because there are so many of them and the sound of each is the exact same every time.
Then there's just the simple act of just walking around. Your walk speed is somewhere between "octagenarian after a double hip replacement" and "octagenarian before a double hip replacement", your run speed is closer to how fast I think I'd be moving if I a) was a videogame character with no sense of fatigue or hunger and b) was in the situation(s) the player character is perpetually in, he's just got no urgency. I find I also keep getting caught on even the smallest polygons that get in my way, like valve handles (there are a lot of valve handles in this game), twigs, crates (lots of those too), lightswitches and lots of other geometry that in most games would just have collisions disabled to aid the player's smooth navigation without being instantly halted all the damn time.
Finally, there're the environments; I knew going into this game it'd involve a lot of abandoned facilities made entirely out of concrete and steel, but I didn't anticipate that I'd play multiple hours without seeing any colours other than red or green indicator lights and rust. It's extremely oppressive and makes the whole game feel like one big sewer level (and everyone loves those, right?) or at least it does when you hit the point where you realise you can't remember the last time you saw grass or a tree. Every now and then it'll show you some cool instances of nature reclaiming an otherwise entirely grey, concrete structure but I haven't seen anything like that for some hours now, just grey tunnel after grey tunnel with the occasional rusty pipe.
Still, though, I'm almost ten hours in and still playing, although I'm making a huge exception to my "only play one game at a time" rule and have finished both Depanneur Nocturne several times (not that was a long distraction) and beaten all of Door Kickers' single missions and three campaigns since starting INFRA to stop myself from getting too bored, because I do like the concept and want to know where the story is going. I have a horrible feeling I'm going to be let down, however.
I've heard INFRA does have some fans, though, so someone please tell me how wrong I am and help me see the good in this game! I tried to wait until I finished it to write this but I just did chapter 6 in one sitting and felt so much frustration that I had to let it out somehow.
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