Review: Afterfall: Insanity

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Title: Afterfall: Insanity
PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release date:
November 25,  2011
Publisher (Developer):
Nicolas Entertainment Group (Intoxicate Studios)
ESRB Rating:
The atmosphere is built up well, the characters are usually endearing and the story is told in a surprisingly coherent style.
Poor utilization of the graphics engine, textures are hit-or-miss at rendering, unresponsive keyboard controls, confused design choices and the game is too linear.
Overall Score:
One thumb sideways and one down; 64/100, D, * our of five stars.

When you look at post-apocalyptic real-world settings, there are a few ways that a game can be built up.

For example, within the confines of nuclear war creating an irradiated wasteland, we can look at the Fallouts and Metro 2033 (both of which are great games). To a lesser extent with post-apocalyptic settings, you might also look toward Dead Space as some of the story involves humanity spreading  beyond earth due to the over-harvesting of resources. We can also turn to Gears of War, as the franchise deals with an ongoing war-related apocalypse.

However, we’re not talking about these highly polished games. We’re instead talking about Afterfall: Insanity, a game that tries to take so many cues from some of these previously listed games and make something coherent from these vastly different products.

The story is one of the strongest points of this game. However, seeing as how there are very few strong points, that might not be saying very much. We see the world after a nuclear war has devastated the world and a considerable amount of the population is forced into underground vault-like habitats. The story takes place after World War III (sounding more familiar yet). We play as a psychologist who is charged with finding out what is causing the madness that is spreading throughout the inhabitants of the vault. Throughout the game and the character’s own hallucinations, we stumble across some of the many darker secrets of the vaults rather than just the “confinement illness.” Eventually, we’re also charged with the responsibility of seeking out a new safe haven. It’s a promising premise with likable characters.Before we get to the bad…

There are shining points to this game that make it a project with a strong start. The keyword there is “start” because it just doesn’t feel finished. The story, even though it feels derivative of multiple other stories, is good if you have the patience to actually deal with the problems. More on that later.

Part of what makes the story as good as it is is the fact that there are interesting and likable characters. The characters make the world seem to come alive.

There is one other key thing that the developers got right: atmosphere. The lighting effects, fog, smoke and sound effects are excellent. They knew the mood that they were going, ran with it and we get a game that is almost as drenched in dark and moody atmosphere as a Silent Hill or Dead Space. I applaud the creators for that.

Told you the bad was coming…

It’s hard to know where to start when describing where the development went wrong. The problem is that, outside of the previously mentioned good, everything else feels unfinished and half-hearted. One of the most noticeable elements is the textures which sometimes don’t render. Whether or not the textures render, you realize very quickly that we’ve seen better games made with the same (Unreal) engine. There is just so much that could’ve been done in terms of the animations.

There were also too many confused design decisions as it jumped around in its conception between three vastly different genres. The FAQ section of Afterfall‘s website openly admits that the released product was considerably different from what was originally thought of.

We see glimpses of where the designers might have tried a more action oriented shooter genre, probably more akin to Gears of War. This usually comes up in the general gunplay as well as swapping your current weapons for found melee weapons and firearms that are found, though it works better in Gears. This is true mostly because I’ve run into multiple occasions where dropped weapons ended up disappearing, which made things interesting when I realized that I didn’t want what I picked up. Admittedly, this didn’t happen all the time. However, when it did, it was thoroughly irritating.

We also see glimpses of where the straight survival horror ended up coming into play. Some of the gameplay – particularly the exploration and melee combat – ended up feeling a lot like a broken version of Dead Space. In Dead Space, the User Interface is pretty much all onscreen and doesn’t force a distraction from the gameplay experience. Afterfall doesn’t have this. If the hit detection consistently worked and the animations were consistently better, this utilization of a pseudo-Dead Space presentation would’ve also worked. The hit detection only really works about half the time, which is pretty bad for an action game where a considerable amount of your enemies aren’t armored or require shooting/cutting them apart. Even and especially in the case of this look at genre, it’s a half-hearted utilization of the engine in terms of animation and physics that are capable with the Unreal Engine.

Then we also see glimpses at what could’ve been a Fallout-style RPG. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad thing if the aspects were properly implemented. In this case, it seems like Intoxicate chose to try to  do a third person rendition of Fallout 3 made with the Unreal engine. While that could’ve worked, it feels like a lost opportunity in Afterfall.

For one thing, once you realize where the Fallout 3 inspirations are, you expect there to be at least the illusion of openness. Afterfall doesn’t even try to offer the illusion of openness. Sure, you can argue that some of the doors are broken and locks are jammed. That would make sense, if some of the obstacles that occasionally blocked your path weren’t invisible walls in the middle of corridors. OK, this doesn’t always happen and if you are lucky enough to not run into this issue, congratulations. This also wouldn’t be as big of an issue of the controls were responsive. I can only speak on behalf of the keyboard controls as I don’t have a gamepad. Their responsiveness is hit or miss with an emphasis on the latter. Just a suggestion. If you get the game, make sure you have a gamepad. It’ll probably at least fix the responsiveness of the controls.

Nice try

I see what Intoxicate and the Nicholas Entertainment Group were  trying to do and I like what a finished product would’ve been. However, it feels like the game was released unfinished. I hope that they patch and complete Afterfall so that it would live up to its potential and worth the price.

However, at the price point that it is currently at, the game can’t stand on just the three things that feel complete.

As for future products from both Intoxicate and NEG, better luck next time.  And if you do make another game, stick to the original project. That way the completed project will have and keep a consistent style. It will make the gameplay far more intuitive and coherent. It will also make the project better all around.

Site [Afterfall: Insanity]

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