Madness takes all manner of shapes, many of them disturbing and some positively alluring.
Intoxicate Studios tackles the daunting challenge of putting you in the middle of insanity with their ambitious project, AfterFall: InSanity. I was given the opportunity to preview the game and experience post-apocalyptic terror from a rarely explored angle. Many games take the player out into the wasteland the world has become and far from the safety their shelter offered. In this game, I was trapped inside the monolithic walls of a survival shelter with other survivors. Instead of decay and destruction, I was presented with clean, dutifully maintained environments that served to emphasize the real aftermath of the third world war: the emotional and mental decay.
My short time with the game offered a lot of insight into what will be available and what might be possible in the AfterFall Universe with potential future games. First impressions of the game were delightful as I have always wondered about this exact opportunity - to be inside the shelter as everything starts going to hell. The game starts with your character Albert Tokaj muddling his way through his own symptoms while striving to keep pace with his duties in the shelter. It’s not long before you're launched into the survival horror aspect of the game though. Being one of the few medically trained survivors amongst the population you are tasked with restoring order to a section of the shelter's labs that have had a lab accident.
The simple truth of such survival shelters is that they typically do a fantastic job of keeping the dangers of the ruined world out. Those walls are a knife that cuts both ways, because they keep the new found horrors trapped inside with you and everyone else. Taking note from other successes and failures in the same genre, scarcity and scrounging in the early phases will remind you that your Doctor Tokaj is a fragile human being like anyone else in the colony. The big difference is you are willing to get your hands bloody to keep your own skull intact.
Thankfully every stretch of the shelter is not the same bland corridor. Functional diversity is readily apparent in the environments you will explore as you delve deeper into the madness that is gripping the inhabitants. I wandered through a bar, labs, transit stations and all sorts of infrastructure. The developers have done a great job of maintaining a cohesive design motif without simply copy pasting the same room with some different furniture. Environments could stand to be a little more engaging but they serve their purpose of carrying you through this enveloping story while offering glimpses into the mechanisms that make such a massive shelter possible.
Combat in this game presents its own challenges. Ammunition is rare and your inventory is quite realistic. At any given point I found that I could carry one pistol weapon and one larger weapon like an assault rifle or shotgun with the option of carrying a melee weapon as well. The catch is that you can carry both firearms and something like a fire axe, but you will have to drop that trusty fire axe the moment you want to bring some ranged firepower to bear. The scarcity of ammunition and the difficulty of melee combat against multiple opponents reinforces the necessity of fleeing from some situations. Several times I found myself racing for the next airlock to escape a pair of enemies that I knew would take some silent and perverse delight sending me back to the loading screen. Like many games of our day and age, this title does subscribe to regenerating health instead of forcing you to survive off of a limited number of health packs. One bad encounter won't cripple your experience, but this choice does take away from the experience.
My time with AfterFall: InSanity ended just as the story was starting to get really interesting and the characters were becoming people I both loved and loathed. The experience was not without bugs, but I am hopeful the few minor glitches I experienced were simply symptoms of my preview sample of this game. They were, however, distinct: disappearing weapons when I re-loaded from death, mismatched subtitles during cutscenes & dialogue, and sometimes non-responsive items in the environment that could be fixed by opening and closing the menu for some reason.
No game is without its bugs, plenty of larger release titles have their own game breakers. For such an ambitious undertaking from a smaller studio and publisher, the few glitches were quite minor. I am eagerly anticipating the November 25th launch to play the game through to completion and see where their big dreams might lead to next. Their website is full of references to this game being the first taste of an entire universe. I am personally always eager to get another fix of post-apocalyptic mayhem.