howl /// Saturday May 18 05:46 2013

PC - Afterfall InSanity Extended Edition

First Impressions Are My Lasting Impressions

I'm not really one for zombie games, or horror PC games and their ilk. Its not that I sit quivering in the corner, afraid that I will be scared out of my wits at the next horror moment lurking around the corner. It's just that I don't find horror games the least bit scary. Since you know that the horror is coming, because its shouted at you at every opportunity, that you can see the scary moment coming from a mile away, that so much effort goes into creating a scary situation that it just becomes meaningless to me as I already know what is going to happen. I would much rather have genuine surprises.

The only thing that I really get scared of in a game is failing the task set before me.

Now, Then, Always

I did not like Afterfall InSanity. Not at all. Its not the sort of game I usually play but it looked like it could be fun. From the outside it looked reasonably pretty, interesting and it looked like it might have a different cultural perspective.

You play as a post apocalypse survivor psychologist investigating the reasons for the "Confinement Syndrome" that is getting a bit out of control in your underground habitat. I.e. its breeding zombies! The fast, annoying, mobbing, mutating kind that can only be redeemed with an axe between the eyes. It starts out interesting enough, with a hallucination tutorial, but as you progress the underlying problems with the game come to the forefront. There are many and I will describe the ones I found most annoying.

In a bid to be atmospheric, many levels  are designed to be so dark that you cannot see where you need to go and you end up wasting a lot of time crawling around levels to find the right staircase, fuse box, door or collapsing walkway so that you can move on to the next objective. There are parts of levels designed to be mazes for no good reason other to extend the gameplay. Combine this with the slow, lethargic movement of your character and progress becomes a laborious task, where once fun exploring is anything but.

This character lethargy makes combat an equally frustrating experience. Combat is the meat and potatoes of this sort of game and it is the element that is done worst of all. There is a focus on melee combat. You can only carry a limited array of guns in your inventory and ammunition is very rare. It's survival horror after all. You cannot carry melee weapons in your inventory, only in your hands and as soon as you use a gun you drop your melee weapon. When you run out of your limited ammo, you then have nothing to fight with but your fists which are useless against any enemy with a weapon. Luckily melee weapons are littered about every level so much so that it is so completely unnatural that it breaks the immersion at the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

Good luck getting your hands on a new weapon when you really need it. When you fight, your camera "locks" onto your attackers and its a hard job to swivel it away so that you can do something useful, like turning to run or picking up a melee weapon to fight with. You can roll and dodge but it is so easily blocked by the environment or enemies that you often end up 1 foot away from where you were. Not very useful.

Lets not forgot the melee hit and swing mechanics. No matter what angle you get hit from you stumble backwards. If you're running away from a  zombie pack and they hit you in the back you will suddenly stop running and jerk back into the mob thats attacking. Frustrating.

When you throw a melee swing you are committed to that action. You cannot abort the swing to block an attack that suddenly starts. You will get hit. You can block attacks but you will still take a lick of damage from them and this soon becomes the most frustrating element of combat. You have to block, there is little choice. When you do you can't move and you have to wait until the attack is over so that you have an opening to counter. If you melee weapon is too slow there won't be enough time to counter an attack and you will take damage. Melee combat is reduced to a slow crawl of attacks and blocks wondering who is going to come out on top. Get too many zombies at once and it won't be you. You can try dodging out the way but it can be very unreliable at times.

Ammo for guns is so extremely rare that it seems to be a waste of time using guns all since you want to keep the one good melee weapon that you find on you the whole time, The Fireman's Axe. This is a survival horror game and part of that is having limited resources and ammo is definitely limited. Which makes the "Fear" system all the worse for its inclusion. There are good times to use guns, which are very effective. However these times are usually combined with a "scary" moment that causes your character to become fearful and when you do you can't hit a damn thing with a gun as your gun sights are waving around like your drunk. It can apparently be countered but I never seemed to be able to get that to work properly.

It's all so frustrating that it almost makes the check-pointing look good. Which it isn't. The checkpoint system knows what annoys players and doesn't hesitate to put checkpoints in all the worst places. Worse still you can be check-pointed into corners that you can't get out of because your zombie friends will get check-pointed in with you and you can find yourself stuck in an unwinnable fight. You will have to restart the chapter to get out. Sure you want your game to be challenging, but there is a fine line between challenging and annoying and this game falls on the wrong side of the line.

Do you like challenging hacking puzzles or nuclear reactor coolant mini games? Good, because these puzzles rely more on luck than any skill. Hacking doors in particular is just pure guesswork. The instructions and on screen animations give little clue as to what you are supposed to do to hack a door you just end up guessing the right combination of W, S, A and D to use to get the job done.

I wish I could say that all of Afterfall InSanity's problems are with implementation, but they are not. Its problems are systemic design floors that make for a poor and frustrating gaming experience that just isn't any fun. Throw in the average voice acting and generic stereotyped characters and you have a complete game that fails to live up to expectations.

If you're looking for a good zombie smasher then you are looking in the wrong place. It might well get better later on, I don't know and I will never know, because I don't want to play another second of this frustrating and lacklustre game.

Lets get Dirty

The Dirty Arena mode that was just released as an independent bundle is a "Horde" game mode. Increasingly difficult waves of enemies spawn and attack you that you must defeat with the weapons at hand. With the main games combat design flaws hampering you so severely, this game mode  becomes a frustrating mess that is no fun to play at all.

You're a slow, lethargic unresponsive meat bag in a swarm of zombies. You couldn't fight your way out of a pack of jelly beans if you wanted. I didn't bother finishing the first round, that's how much fun I had.

Have Some Fun Instead

If you want to play what I consider to be a good game from a similar time frame as Afterfall InSanity's original release date then play Hard Reset. Its fun, fast, atmospheric and the Flying Hog Wild developers are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

Edited // Saturday May 18 05:46 2013 // First Version ///