Developer: Intoxicate Studios
Publisher: Nicolas Entertainment Group
Afterfall: InSanity has been commanding our rapt attention for some time thanks to its promising survival horror combat and Nicolas Games' notorious $1 pre-order
publicity stunt gambit. As gamers, we're only concerned with whether they've managed to deliver on the former... and whether this exciting title can derive genuine terror through indie innovation.
Albert Tokaj is a psychiatrist with a serious job satisfaction problem. Keeping the last vestiges of humanity sane after they're forced into an underground enclave is tricky enough, what with the onset of Confinement Syndrome turning the population into paranoid wrecks. He's haunted by insomnia and powerful waking nightmares brought on by stress. And then, after investigating a bizarre situation in the city's lower levels, is hounded by nightmarish monsters and his own government for crimes he didn't commit.
What follows, like the desperate denizens of the Glory enclave, is a little bit schizophrenic.
The bulk of InSanity boils down to brutal third-person melee combat against small groups of snarling combatants. Improvised weapons (think pipes, hammers and wonderfully devastating fire axes) can be scavenged throughout the cramped environments and hefted with a simple click. Tapping a directional key modifies the swing, and the right mouse button blocks incoming attacks. Though the combat occasionally feels a bit stiff - and any empathy for Tokaj disappears when he savagely kerb stomps former patients with nary a backward glance - it's a stable and satisfying framework.
Gunslinging is uncomplicated and a little on the basic side - just aim, point and squirt. A small range of pistols, shotguns and assault rifles are on offer, but with little in the way of weight, blood or visual feedback to connect you to each shot, they're no fun to use. However, their abundant ammunition and relative power means that you'll fall back on them regularly.
Between claustrophobic engagements in the dark and dank corridors of Glory (and other environments, some of which might surprise you), InSanity does throw a few different gameplay elements into the mix from time to time. You'll guide a remote control robot through labyrinthine ductwork, hack terminals and even solve a few enjoyable puzzles. Intoxicate has crafted an impressively meaty game, and there's certainly some variety to be found.
But not where it counts. What should have been a scary and tense experience ends up being homogenous and bland - with moments of brilliance sandwiched by repetitive brawls against constantly recycled foes (some of which share exactly the same face in a single battle). The Fearlock system, which alters Tokaj's melee damage and adds some blurry filters to the action the more terrified he gets, sits in the background and never becomes the Eternal Darkness-esque gamechanger it promised to be.
In fact, the under-used FearLock system acts as a neat allegory for the most gutting issue with InSanity: failing to realise its potential as a survival horror game. It's solid, yes, and the story is incredibly compelling, but it never comes together into a particularly frightening experience. Dynamic music gives enemies plenty of advance warning, jump scares are telegraphed to an insane degree and the localised voice acting is unintentionally hilarious. It's such a shame, as the outstanding tutorial section comes close to horror perfection - calling even our own sanity into question.
A near miss, then, but a bitter one. You'll desperately yearn to immerse yourself in the Afterfall universe; to plunge into Nicolas Games' broken utopia brought to chilling life in vivid whites and reds. You'll crave the closure of discovering what awaits at the end and to explore the lore behind Confinement Syndrome. Yet InSanity's horrendous voiceovers and repetitive grind always find a way to break its own spell.
The ever-dependable Unreal Engine gives another fine showing. Dust and particles hang thick on the air, textures are pleasingly detailed and the lighting effects are utterly fantastic. My only issue with the visuals are the fact that characters suffer from chronic over-animation in cutscenes: they wildly and hilariously gesticulate in ways that would tire out real people in seconds. Otherwise, InSanity is a surprisingly excellent graphical achievement that serves as testament to a lot of hard work.
Had Afterfall: InSanity released at a lower price point, it would have been heralded as a brave Indie darling. £30, sadly, is a big ask.
- Solid and satisfying combat
- Surprisingly impressive graphics
- Compelling storyline
- Can become a repetitive slog
- Frequently fails to scare
- Inconsistent voice acting and weird animations
The Short Version: Afterfall: InSanity falls just short of its lofty aspirations, ending up as a solid and compelling niche title that could have been so much more. Hefty, brutal and satisfying, but disappointing in equal measure.