Horror continues to have an impressive resurgence in modern gaming, with the likes of Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2 Remake, The Outlast Trials, Alien Isolation and more. But in recent memory, it appears more and more developers are taking on an interesting theme and setting for several horror games, the First World War. Other titles such as this year’s Trenches and Amnesia: The Bunker, and the upcoming Conscription, all take players into an even more horrifying venture through the front-line trenches. Now another title has entered the frame, with Ad Infinitum, a title centred on confronting trauma, both in war and at home.
How does Ad Infinitum fare in this upcoming rise of WW1-themed horror games? Read on.What is Ad Infinitum?
War is a difficult subject to handle, yet if done so correctly, manages to create a gripping venture that can be enlightening as well as horrifying. Ad Infinitum is a first-person horror game set amidst the Great First War and doesn’t shy away from the horrifying nature of it. Players take on the role of a German soldier who is haunted by the never-ending grip of Shellshock and the terrors he saw in the Great War. The mind of this poor man is fractured beyond considerable thought, as his mind clasps his broken memories of family life and his home, while the darker, more sinister remnants of the trenches seep in, never letting go. Creating an endless cycle of prolonged, inescapable suffering.
Yet there may be hope after all.
The game begins with you waking up in the comfort of your bedroom, back at your grand family home. Upon exploring you discover you are seemingly alone in the manor, only strange noises, and sights greet you from time to time. After some nosing around, you come across a room where a séance has been set up, and partaking in the supernatural event causes you to be transported into a living nightmare. From here players must break the cycle by entering the nightmare world of the frontline trenches, where you’ll be avoiding terrifying creatures, helping those in need (or not), and solving various lateral problems that will either set you free or condemn you.
Ad Infinitum will test your sneaking skills, problem-solving and nerves through multiple nightmarish Hellscapes, some very close to home than others. This a venture through Hell that has some unbelievable fantastic moments yet is let down by some crushing issues.Battle hardened on the outside, weary and broken on the inside
As mentioned, War is an incredibly difficult subject to write about, with an endless line of traumas, personal stories and grievances to explore. One of the most haunting exposures to the horrors of war was listening to Sir Patrick Stewart talk about his father after the Great War and seeing Shellshock first-hand. It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, and this is just one story. The trauma of war, like all other traumas will affect others.
Looking at Ad Infinitum, I was preparing myself for a story that could be either compelling, heartful and respectable, or something that would make me want to remove my skin (The Suicide of Rachel Foster comes to mind…). Developer Hekate has, for the most part, done an exceptional job at dealing with the subject matter and presenting it with some great and gripping aesthetics.
Not only does Ad Infinitum explore the nature of war and its effects on the individual, but also looks at the disturbing reality of a family fallout. There is a great framework at play where you explore your childhood home to relive some of the unpleasantries of the past while looking towards a seemingly unknown future shrouded in darkness. But then are taken into the midst of the Western Front where you can see dense fog, endless landscapes of mud, and barbed wire, while the cries of death and decay surround you.
But at the centre of these two opposing yet oppressive environments is a choice on whether you save those who have let you down or save them with an open hand. And while the various choices which affect the outcome are signal posted very clearly (by the game telling you of the choice), the choices did make sense in the grand scheme of things, whether you were open or closed off to the idea of redemption. There is a lack of cutscenes but a healthy helping of scattered notes, personal writings from troops in the Trenches, various memoirs and so forth, that build a rather gritty picture of the life of those around you.
The soft mumblings, the angered growls of mother and father fighting, and the cruel mockery of troops in the trenches facing an impending death are all handled with exceptional voice talent, some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The many symbolic notes, the tidings of tragedy and the unnerving build-up of facing each fragment of horrifying personal trauma kept me invested until the bitter end. And while there were moments where the pacing slowed to a crawl, or when a few of numerous notes felt a little too much like filler, I never stopped wondering and wanting to see things through so badly.
Then the presentation and technical issues do get in the way in the worst possible way. Now the visual style is very gorgeous, with a dense, decaying and very nightmarish grit of the Western Front on show, with some amazing creature designs, and excellent scares that will remain with me for a long time (the séance scene being one of the best!). However, when the jank kicks in, it kicks in hard!
In my first couple of hours, I saw numerous problems from my rifle clipping through the environment, entire areas of the trenches loading, wonky enemy animations and more. At best, the game was janky, at worst, it was immersion-breaking. Not to mention the framerate for me was dire. I was playing on a Series S and checked it out on an X, and while there was a mild improvement on the X, the framerate was still not good. It is what I classify as a janky 30 fps. With the dipping frequent and the screen tearing nonsense at the worst of times.
And while the art style is very good, the visual fidelity wouldn’t be this demanding. I’ve played The Callisto Protocol which is a stunning game, and that ran perfectly well on my Series S. It’s a shame as the story, while with some bumps, was excellent overall, as it explored very dark subjects in a manner that provided plenty of gravitas and gripping drama. And the voice work, art style, and some genuinely good scares made it all the better. But the technical side is another nightmare in itself.A soldier’s duty is never done
From the footage I saw before playing Ad Infinitum, I did wonder what angle the gameplay loop would take. From the outset, it looks like your run-of-the-mill horror experience we’ve seen with the likes of Outlast, where you run, hide, and make stupid screaming noises like a Streamer. And while there is plenty of that, there are facets of intelligent and captivating gameplay, and multiple instances of new mechanics introduced organically.
There is plenty of searching, exploring, discovering key items and solving a plentiful amount of brain-teasing puzzles throughout, but after your first couple of hours, things do change up with some interesting set pieces, new enemies that react and act differently from the last, and an immense amount of tension-filled moments that brought me back to the likes of The Bunker.
As I said the first couple of hours are basic, and a little slow, as you wander from point A to point B, finding key items to unblock the pathway to the next area, with some smaller sections where sleuthing is needed to evade creepy flesh-eating enemies. And of course, the requisite chase sequence from a scary monster, ending up in an arena where you evade its grasp, flick some buttons and banish it for good. There is plenty of that and all in all, it’s fine.
The stealth is basic, as there are no awareness meters, but no instant deaths as well, and you can easily spot most of the things that will create noise. However, in certain sections, you have to create noise to lure enemies away from blocking an exit and so forth, which is much needed. Later in the game, these encounters do get bigger and more complicated, with one of the best chapters featuring disturbing mannequins that freeze when you face them. Again, it’s been done before, but the atmosphere, combination of other mechanics, and the intensity of the art style do help Ad Infinitum set itself apart from the rest in some cool ways.
The structure of Ad Infinitum is again familiar yet handled well enough, as players will start within the confines of the creaky, old manor, searching small snippets and finding key items that unlock more rooms. You’ll then trigger an event that will see you within the nightmarish trenches, whereupon resolving a trauma as best seen fit, you will return to the manor with more areas unlocked and more horrors awaiting.
While the manor is lacking in comparison to the trenches for unnerving visuals and engaging exploration, it still had its fair share of great moments and tension. It’s not full-on Resident Evil, but it does have various elements that will keep you invested and wanting to see what horrors await you upon your return. As does the trenches too.
Aside from evading beasts, dealing with artillery shells, and crippling isolation, you will be doing a fair share of puzzle solving, ranging from item hunting, riddle solving, and the occasional science experiment. For the most part, the puzzles are good, balancing brain-teasing deduction and item finding, while a fair few were overly tedious and just killed the pacing completely. But for every bad, were two good.
But there are other things you will be doing, more exciting events that will get your blood racing as though it was battery acid. From dashing through No Man’s land as it’s being shelled, to wondering through the eerie storm clouds of a mustard gas attack. And I admire Ad Infinitum for adding in so many memorable moments that do stick in your brain and are rather fun to take part in. Even though the first half of the game is quite simplistic, and the manor does lack depth compared to the later trench levels, I do significantly accommodate the varied gameplay elements and events, despite those pesky technical issues.Overall?
Ad Infinitum is an incredibly admirable video game, one that offers a compelling narrative, set within a harrowing world which infuses the Great War and nightmarish trauma into one grand and heartbreaking venture. The art style, monster design, voice acting, and various aesthetics are of the highest calibre. But sadly, where Ad Infinitum falls short are the numerous technical issues, unpolished presentation for console, and certain humdrum aspects of gameplay which lead to some tediously tired moments.
I do still strongly recommend Ad Infinitum, and if all the bugs were fixed, the polish more upstanding and a few tweaks to gameplay were made, then the rating would indeed be higher. However, I still urge people who loved the recent Amnesia title to check out Ad Infinitum, as the studio shows great promise for their first game, and has immense talent to deliver potentially a stunning follow-up title.
++ Compelling story of family troubles and nightmarish World War I drama
+ Intense, unsettling and at times downright scary
+ Interesting variety of gameplay elements and set pieces
+ Art style and creature design are great
--- Quite a few technical hiccups and issues ruin presentation and immersion
- Many gameplay mechanics are underdeveloped and lack engagement
- Some puzzles and set pieces are tedious and frustrating
A review key for Ad Infinitum was kindly provided by the publisher for this review.