If Infliction was a colour, it would be beige. If it was a biscuit, it’d be the tasteless disc of a Rich Tea. If it was a band, it’d play nothing but Coldplay tracks. Sure, they all have their fans and they all technically deliver on what’s promised on the tin, but let’s face it: you could probably live without them, too.
The big but here? For every sin it commits, Infliction has a saving grace. For every recycled cliche, it offers something fresh. For every cringey line of dialogue, there’s another delivered with perfect timing and pathos. When you tire of picking through the contents of the same old rooms in the same old house, the game will unexpectedly toss you someplace new. And when you get bored with that place – oh, look! – we’re back in the marital home again.
Consequently, I’m not sure what to think about this indie horror just yet. On one hand, that can’t be a good sign; at the time of writing I’ve completed it three times (once on PC, and twice on PlayStation 4) and if that isn’t long enough to form an opinion, then I don’t know what is. But on the flip side, I didn’t mind playing it the second or even third time, either.
Take the story, for instance. It’s pretty standard horror fare, a haunted house yarn in which you play as Gary Prout, a dull, mute husband tasked only with locating his not-dull, not-mute wife’s misplaced plane ticket. It won’t take long, however, for you to discover that Infliction wears its PT-shaped inspiration firmly on its sleeve and this sliver of everyday suburban life turns out to be anything but ordinary.
At best, this tale is derivative and one we’ve seen better executed elsewhere – I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but you’ll know it when you see it – and at worst, it’s a blunt, thoroughly inelegant (and occasionally victim-blaming) tale about domestic violence and substance abuse. We know that video games can shoulder the burden of these themes in thoughtful, careful ways, but in this case, it sadly lacks the nuance necessary to deliver these themes effectively.
Am I being too hard here? Possibly. Probably. I spend a lot of time in the wilderness of the Horror tag on Steam, though, so believe me when I tell you that Infliction isn’t all that bad – I have played much, much worse – but to be frank, it’s not particularly great, either.
I don’t feel good writing that. I know a single person developed Infliction. I appreciate their talents and applaud their ability to pull together a (mostly) coherent, contemporary horror experience almost single-handedly, and that’s possibly why I’m so conflicted here. The occasional flashes of brilliance leave little doubt that Infliction could’ve been something special; as it stands, however, it’s just not special enough.
That said, the world-building is impressive, with plenty of hidden collectables and insights to add a little texture and flavour to this otherwise unremarkable story (I particularly enjoyed running through our man’s extensive video nasty collection). There are some truly unsettling, and original, art pieces secreted throughout the tale, too, popping up at the most unexpected times and places, and whilst I’ve grown tired of the Oh-Here’s-A-Journal-You’ve-Found-At-Precisely-The-Most-Opportune-Time method of exposition, I find Infliction’s flavour text both organic and enlightening. So that’s something.
It also unequivocally nails both sound and atmosphere, too. While many effects seem to have been inspired by Kojima’s famed playable teaser – there’s the creepy voice of a radio host, the eerie creak of a swinging lantern, the sickly groans of someone/thing right behind you, and an astonishing exchange with Infliction’s equivalent of the gravelly-voiced Blood Bag, all of which should be familiar to PT fans – but Infliction is at its best when it does nothing at all, leaving me to creep around the house in a shrill silence, bracing myself for whatever next grim discovery comes next. With flickering lights and shifting shadows and an otherworldly creature that twitches and jerks in the corner of your eye, you’ll seldom feel safe.
Prepare to die. A lot. Often at no fault of your own. There is a tonne of scripted deaths – oh, how I loathe scripted deaths, especially ambiguous ones – and your chief antagonist will pepper your playthrough with an additional range of instadeaths that frustrate more than they frighten. Apparently, we can hide from – and even temporarily stop – the shrieking spirit nipping at our heels, but don’t expect to get the better of it often. Just to temper that, though – see? I told you there was always something good to go with the not-so-good – there’s an extensive and gleefully bloody selection of death animations, so rarely will you have to suffer through the same death twice. So that’s nice.
Because of its sparse tale of domestic disharmony, it delivers its story through only a handful of characters and locales. The home itself is as pivotal to the cast as your ghostly nemesis, warping and twisting when your back is turned, always leaving you guessing. You can turn a corner in your lounge and suddenly be in the bowels of an asylum (because of course there’s an asylum) which is wonderfully disorientating if executed well. Most of the time, however, it’s fairly sedate and often predictable, but doesn’t quite generate the emotional whiplash of, say, Layers of Fear.
And that’s the key issue here, I think. While there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from popular horror experiences, Infliction doesn’t execute them well enough. This means we’re forever reminded of better games with better ideas that pulled off these stunts in better ways, for Infliction simply does not rival the games it’s so clearly trying to emulate.
You’ll likely see the “twist” coming a mile off. I did. And just like me, you’ll probably learn that locating a key story item will immediately be followed by a jumpscare, an instadeath, or a tiresome combination of both. That said, it’s to the game’s credit that its gentle puzzling doesn’t impede its story, but most objectives are pretty mundane. “Get this”. “Go there”. “Do that”. Rinse and repeat. I had a lot more fun exploring when the camera came into play, mind.
The playtime’s short – if you’re lucky you’ll wring three or four hours out of it, and only then if you take your time – so an epic this is not, particularly if you were hoping for significant deviations from its PC sibling (there are a couple of changes and improvements, but there’s not much difference). That said, any longer and it would’ve likely outstayed its welcome, but whether it’s priced correctly for what is a pretty brief, one-shot experience? Well, that’s up to you, I guess.
Be careful if you do play it, though; Infliction is so middle-of-the-road you might get run over.