“Vengeful souls are born of violent death.”
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign and subsequent launch on Steam as of 18th October 2018, Infliction: Extended Cut is a meatier version of the original psychological horror title, launching on February 25th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with the inclusion of more unscripted scares, additional endings as well as a new game plus mode. Billed as an ‘interactive nightmare’ Infliction: Extended Cut is the personal nightmare of Australian indie developer: Clinton Mcleary of Caustic Reality, interweaving his own fears as a newlywed father into an interactive horror experience, making it all the more grounded and terrifying to boot as a result. As always I’ll be covering the PS4 version of the game, detailing the good, deconstructing the bad, and ultimately discussing whether the indie horror title is worth the £15.99 asking price (UK/EU PSN Store).
Horror is loosely defined as “an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust” and is entirely subjective depending on the outlook of the individual. Some find enjoyment in the classic schlock-horror movies of the 1980’s (*cough cough*) seeing them for the bloody, campy romps that they were, while others disagreed with them from a moral standpoint, seeing them as evil and obscene, intent on promoting violence amongst the younger generations of society (the Video Nasties controversy from the UK in the 1980’s being the most prolific example). The same paradigm applies to the very foundation of horror itself too, specifically of how the genre intends to scare its target audience, whether it be jump scares, the fear of the unknown, exploitation of phobias etc. all of which have an effect, which differs depending on the individual. For myself, I’ve always found that horror in literary form has always held the capacity to scare the viewer far more than any movie ever could, as your own imagination is profoundly more terrifying than anything you would ever see on a screen. Classic novels such as Stephen King’s quintessential 1977 novel: The Shining personifies this, it wasn’t down to the fact that that the novel dealt with elements of the supernatural, it was King’s play on the fear of being isolated from the outside world as well his use of the Overlook Hotel itself as an unknown, malevolent entity slowly dwindling away at Jack’s sanity behind the scenes, whilst never truly revealing itself or its intentions that made the novel so harrowing and thought-provoking.
When horror lends itself to the psychological, it penetrates that much deeper into one’s imagination, in an attempt to subvert or challenge the grasp of the narrative perceived by the viewer, usually holding a skewered perception from the perspective of the protagonist while simultaneously exposing tension or dread by highlighting the darkest areas of the human condition. Clinton Mcleary of Caustic Reality understood this, as while directing and producing his debut horror title: Infliction, he applied his very own fears as a newlywed father to the forefront of the game’s narrative, exploring how a happy family life could be turned upside down in a near-instant should tragedy hit. Infliction places you in the shoes of Gary Pout, who returns to his home in the town of Pleasant Falls to discover his abode is eerily silent and desolate, without a trace of his family in sight. While initially isolated in his home, it’s not long before Gary realises that he’s not alone, with a presence following him through the corridors and hallways of the abandoned house, soon plunging Gary into an inescapable nightmare. Straight off the bat, it’s hard to not connect the dots and see the obvious inspirations that Mcleary took from Konami’s ill-fated Silent Hills (my own rant on the matter can be found here) proving once again that placing an emphasis on environment design is paramount when creating a psychological horror game, of which Infliction doesn’t disappoint one bit.
Infliction is very similar in scope to many games of its ilk, studying at the Amnesia school of horror, opting for exploration, puzzle-solving and atmosphere over survival or action-horror elements. Infliction is similar in scope to P.T. in that it takes place within the same house for the majority of its three to four hour story, with the environments shifting tone and atmosphere depending on the ambient AI and what point you are at in the story. Infliction has a great ability at pacing it’s narrative through its gameplay, slowly revealing the plot through clever execution of timed ‘memories’ as well as hundreds of items placed around the house, ranging from diaries to letters to photographs, all of which can be examined in 360 degrees revealing narrative cues as well as intimate details of the Pout family. Environment design is one of the key factors of Infliction, boasting photorealistic environments (impressive for an indie budget) dynamic lighting effects and a superb ambient soundscape, all of which work together to present a chilling atmosphere that at times is a full-on assault of your senses, working perfectly in tandem with the game’s standout feature, the AI of the presence haunting the family home. Radio static and Gary’s panicked breath are gameplay indications of when the ghost is stalking the corridors of the Pout residence, mixing up the exploration-based gameplay into a tense game of cat and mouse, akin to other horror titles such as the excellent Alien: Isolation, while also similarly offering means of defence as the ghost is temporarily scared off by the various light sources around the house, which can be used tactically if one knows the layout of the house like the back of their hand. The AI work in Infliction is some of the best I’ve seen in a horror game to date, with the spirit appearing when you least expect it, presenting situations that are downright terrifying, as you’re hiding underneath a bed as the spirit creeps past in search of Gary.
Infliction’s plot deals with a number of dark themes, ranging from domestic abuse, infant death and addiction all intertwined into a narrative that showcases the downfall of a seemingly happy family following a major tragedy. The themes explored in Infliction are grounded in reality, taken from examples of real-life experiences from regular families, as well as the fears experienced by Mcleary being a newlywed father, making the game a very personal affair for the solo developer; but in the words of the legendary Shinji Mikami: “you can’t make a horror game if you don’t have any fear”. It’s also apparent throughout Infliction that Mcleary is a fan of his craft, with several references and easter eggs hidden throughout the game of other horror IP’s; everything from VHS tapes laying around with ‘Exorcist 1 & 2’ and ‘X-Files Season 1’ written on them, to narrative nods to films like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) really make Infliction that much more grounded in its genre’s roots (and puts a massive grin on my face as a fellow fan of 80’s horror). A further nod to Mcleary being a fan of movies is the bonus features ‘Gallery’ (akin to those found on DVD releases of old horror movies) that unlock after you complete the game, showcasing the array of paintings in-game, as well as number of trailers/promo artwork from the development of the title; it’s not much to write home about, but it was a nice little touch nonetheless.
Coming in at the minuscule file size of 6.3GB on the PlayStation 4 as well as the overall time spent in development, one could be forgiven for thinking that Infliction is a heavily optimised and bug-free affair, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The game is rendered in Full HD 1080p (which can look somewhat jaggy on a 4K TV) with the frame-rate performing somewhat better on the PS4 Pro than an OG PS4 (actually tested for once). While the game’s environments and ambient lighting look amazing, the same can’t be said for the game’s early cutscenes which are akin to early 1990’s FMV cutscenes, and are not rendered in real-time within the Unreal Engine. While not a deal-breaker, the cheap-looking opening cutscenes can lead to a poor first impression of the game, as they are not reflective of the quality of the game later on. Another glaring issue (which may be localised to the PlayStation 4) is an audio bug which cuts out all sound on occasion following a loading screen, with the only way to fix the issue (that I found) was to completely reset the game and reload, taking you out of the experience entirely.
Thankfully these issues don’t take too much away from the overall level of high-quality polish of Infliction, with its beautifully rendered environments and superb AI work, which is a testament to the level of dedication that Clinton Mcleary has for his craft. Dripping with atmosphere at every turn, Infliction is one of the most refreshing indie horror titles I’ve played in recent years, boasting an experience that leaves a lasting impression that is seldom found in a lot of horror games. Definitely worth picking this one up if you’re a fan of the genre, as £15.99 is an absolute steal considering what is on offer.
A PS4 review code was provided by Stride PR.