Don't step into the light in our review of Afterfall: Insanity

Dr Albert Tokaj 34 years old, Albert Tokaj 34, psychiatrist, Albert Tokaj, pharmacologist. Sometimes it is difficult to remember who you are, locked up underground away from natural light and nuclear fallout, but living in a subterranean shelter for 20 years can do a lot to a person, some might get a little lonely, others a little crazy, and some may turn violent!

Afterfall: Insanity is a dark and brooding third person survival horror that takes place in the Polish shelter ‘Glory’ after the Third World War, you wont be a supersoldier or wastelander in this post-apocalyptic tale however. You take on the role of Dr Albert Tokaj the shelter’s psychiatrist; sent to the second sub-level of the shelter to investigate some strange behaviour reported from the inhabitants. What you are not told is not everything is quite as it seems in the shelter or with Dr Tokaj for that matter.

Afterfall takes inspirations from many games including the most obvious; Fallout, Condemned and Dead Space, but you can also see sparks of insight from the likes of Mass Effect, Rage, Stalker and Doom, now don't jump the gun and start shouting 'rip off' or 'clone' unlike all of the games mentioned, Afterfall has a very distinct Eastern European identity much like STALKER, and whilst they are not as polished as big blockbuster Western games, they are not a cardboard copy of what is popular, rather a spin.

Connoisseurs of survival horror games will know that everything boils down to atmosphere, and whilst Intoxicate Studios do not have the budget of Visceral Games, what they manage to accomplish is pretty spectacular; creaking machinery and your dodgy flashlight will skip your heart a beat on many an occasion. However nothing compares with the fantastic atmosphere built up when you escape from the shelter and explore the ghostly city, the mood is on par with Silent Hill and is without a doubt the scariest part of the game, and definitely worth reaching.

Unfortunately Afterfall: Insanity does fall into a similar trap that Bioshock, and Condemned were guilty of; and there are just too many enemies. A game can only be so atmospheric if it is throwing enemies your way every five seconds, and the game becomes less about fear, and more about smacking enemies upside the head. Once you’ve come into contact with the things that go bump in the night, they aren’t so scary after the tenth interaction.

However your biggest adversary in the game is not the mountains of crazies, but the Confinement Syndrome; after almost 20 years in the shelter it was only a matter of time before somebody would snap, and the Confinement Syndrome ensures rabid hallucinations, unexplainable pain and the need to lash out at those around you. We are introduced to the shelter at the very start of the game in a delivery worthy of Mass Effect, however with Colonel Potocki leading ‘Glory’ it is no wonder why some may feel somewhat stifled underground.

Shot from practically the same camera angle as Dead Space, you wont be pinning necromorphs to walls in Afterfall, instead you need to utilise your environment Condemned-style and use anything within your grasp to beat down the maddened hoards that you will face; that’s pipes, fire axe’s 2x4’s even brooms, however there is no weapon damage system, the flimsy piece of wood you are using to smash into people’s heads is indestructible, which is a bit of a letdown when you discover just how many weapons you have scattered around; need is replaced with want, and once you've found a fire axe you'll have little interest in anything else.

Afterfall is a totally brutal game, and to keep it from getting stale there is a lot of variety and over the course of the story you’ll encounter three different areas, in the shelter you’ll find the gameplay like a cross between Dead Space and Condemned, it’s very typical survival horror and you’ll get a few scares, shocks and a bit of confusion here and there. Then you’ve got the city of cannibals, and madmen, fearful of your uniform and the associations that it carries, this is more action packed, there are more guns, and it’s a fight for your life as you attempt to progress to the third and final area, the city of light that features some fantastic gameplay as you make your way across a barren metropolis streaked with intense sunlight.

In amongst all three areas you’ve also got Resident Evil style puzzles, hacking minigames, QTE sections, there’s even a little on-rails thrown in for good measure, not to mention a remote controlled vehicle section, making Afterfall sort of a Shenmue of the survival horror genre. Afterfall also introduces two unique systems that complements both the atmosphere and experience that the player will gauge. The first is Freefight that enables you to use practically everything you see around you as a weapon, then you’ve got Fearlock that tracks Alberts level of fear, sort of like The Darkness Within. If Albert gets too scared he’ll start to lose it, his accuracy will decrease so using firearms is a waste of ammo, and he will not heal as quickly, however a deep state of fear can also be used to your advantage, and the effectiveness of melee weapons increases so he’ll be far more dangerous to the things that go bump in the night.

Afterfall was developed with both PC and consoles in mind, possibly because of this, the controls appear clunky and the menu system is slow to navigate relying on the keyboard, and although it does not occur often when PC gaming; an Xbox 360 pad is highly recommended for playing Afterfall: Insanity, the combat becomes smoother and quicker, and everything is just far easier to accomplish.

One crucial survival horror rule that Intoxicate handle brilliantly is the availability of weapons, yes there are many varied weapons in the game, however they are all where you would expect them to be, there are not caches of weapons in the living quarters of the janitor, and in fact the only guns that you will procure, you will actually be acquiring them from the cold dead hands of the recently departed, this level of realism is not usually found in games, and works fantastically in Afterfall.

If there is one crowning issue in the game it is the disappointment gained with the enemies that at times look lifeless, and their animations leave much to be desired. This is a true shame because whilst some of the enemies in Afterfall give little to the imagination, in amongst all the mutants, madmen, cannibals and soldiers there are fantastic adversaries like the huge hulking chimeras, the baffling spectres or the chilling screams of shifting ash that are genuinely chilling, but they are all hidden in the final part of the game away from those that cannot stomach the same repeated madmen again and again.

It is hard not to bring up the animation and voice acting which are both particularly hammy as games go, however for a small independent Polish team, the environments are fantastic, and walking through the remnants of the city is a true spectacle to behold, some parts of the game fall alarming flat, however thankfully they are picked up in other areas.

Afterfall: Insanity is a bit of an odd game, rather than falling on its face in the last third like a lot of games, it redeems itself at this point. The only problem is, is that the first two thirds are a little hard-going, and it takes a good 45 minutes for the game to take off, but when you make it to the edge of the city, all of the trudging through the shelter and gunfights in the ghost town seem to just slip away into a fantastic gameplay mechanic mixed with true survival horror edginess.

With a true Polish identity, you won’t find Afterfall: Insanity on the American production line; its emphasis on atmosphere and story is unfortunately overbalanced by mass-combat early on in the game. However invested time proves worthwhile in acts 2 and 3 where the game really takes off, if you can forgive the rough animations and other negativities there is a solid survival horror in a universe that takes the best from other games in its genre and delivers an engaging and surprisingly twistful storyline.

four stars

Afterfall: Insanity is available now from Gamersgate for the SRP of £29.90 and is coming to Onlive in the near future, incidentally there is also a demo available that lets you sample two of the areas that you’ll explore in the game. Afterfall: Insanity is the first in what should be a series of games based in the Afterfall Universe, and we hope that we see more from the small Polish development team.