Review – Afterfall: Insanity Edition

In my continuing quest to clear The Pile™ this time around I played Afterfall: Insanity, a post-apocalyptic FPS from Polish developer Intoxicate Studios. It’s a game I wanted to like but in the end I felt it fell a bit short.

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one. There was a global nuclear war and the only survivors were those who were able to get into one of a few underground vaults. People have lived for years in these vaults under the control of a general overseer, but now problems are appearing and one person must go up against the General in order to protect the vault.

Or not.

In Afterfall you play Dr. Albert Tokaj, the psychologist for the vault Glory. The inhabitants of Glory think they are the last survivors of the human race and they have been living here for years, long enough that Tokaj is seeing more and more cases of what he calls “Confinement Syndrome” and the number of patients he is having to treat are increasing. So much so that he even falls asleep during one session.

Then he is sent by the General running Glory with a team to investigate a problem on a lower level. He gets there to find that a plague of some kind is breaking out. People are becoming mindlessly violent and attacking one another and even mutating into horrible creatures. Tokaj comes to discover that someone is behind the plague and violence but then finds that he himself is being accused of causing the problems and he must fight the vault’s security as well as the deranged inhabitants in order to determine what has happened.

Things don’t go well. Tokaj winds up having to flee the vault Glory and having to make his way across the blasted surface to another vault known as The Fist. Along the way he learns that things may not be what they seem.

Gameplay is pretty much a standard shooter with a heavy emphasis on melee. You can carry two guns and a single melee weapon at a time but one annoying thing is that whenever you switch to a gun you drop whatever melee weapon you were holding, so if you really liked that axe you will have to go back and get it.

While most of the game is taken up by combat there are a few puzzle sequences to mix things up. Early on (while still in Glory) you will have to endure lock-picking mini-games as well as puzzles to do things like balance the cooling flow to a reactor and move train cars around on tracks. These puzzles however end about halfway through the game. Towards the end there is a sequence where you have to find a safe path through an environment where stepping into the sunlight is an (almost) instant death, but that’s about it.

For the most part the combat was straightforward, if a bit bland. You aren’t doing any fancy combos or maneuvers, just point and shoot. But, there are two or three (depending on how you count one) “boss fights” that seemed completely out of place. These are of the “massive boss where you have to shoot the glowy bit or figure out the trick to hurt them” school that almost seem like they came from another game. And the “stay out of the sunlight” bit was annoying.

It also uses checkpoint-based saves that sometimes force you to redo sections more than you would like.

The story seemed to be interesting. I say “seemed” because I felt like I was missing parts of it. I think the game may be based on a novel or series of stories from Poland and that some familiarity with the background was assumed, or maybe there was more in-game that I either didn’t find or was cut from the translation.

Or maybe something else was going on. Some story spoilers here, so skip past the spoiler bird if you want to continue.

Spoiled bird

The thing I liked about the story is that we have an FPS with an unreliable first-person protagonist. At the very beginning of the game Tokaj falls asleep during a session with a patient and has a “dream sequence” where he is running through tunnels under the vault. There are also various times where things seem to be “not quite right” around him, strange shimmers can be seen or opponents appear or disappear without explanation.

There is one. Tokaj is insane.

Early on Tokaj becomes convinced that there is another person responsible for what is happening to the vault while everyone else seems to be blaming him. He chases the other person but they always seem to disappear when he gets close or jump out of the way when he shoots at him.

This other person seems to be Tokaj’s other personality.

At the very end of the game Tokaj makes it to The Fist where he has a final confrontation with his nemesis. (This is the third “boss fight”.) The fight ends with Tokaj and his nemesis pointing guns at each other. The camera pans up and you hear a shot.

Tokaj is then discovered and taken into The Fist. There, he is telling his story while an interrogator watches some sort of video footage on a monitor. There, we see a few different versions of scenes we played through earlier. The scientist Tokaj was trying to save is instead brutally killed by him. The colleague who committed suicide in front of Tokaj is instead shot by him. And when we see Tokaj for the last time he is either the Tokaj we have played all game, or the nemesis (which one you see apparently depends on how well you did in the final “boss fight”).

This alone I think makes the game worth looking at and completely changes how you look at everything before it. Those mutated creatures you were fighting at the beginning were just the ordinary citizens of Glory, Tokaj just saw them as monsters. Even the completely ridiculous second “boss” (a robot that assembles itself from scrap that then raises the spirits of the dead to attack you, or something like that) is now explained as just a hallucination by Tokaj. (It’s still a completely ridiculous boss fight mechanically, but it no longer is something that makes completely no sense.)

So I want to like the game. I really like what they did with the story here (there are similar ideas in Spec Ops: The Line but I think Afterfall came first). And it addresses what it may be like to live in a vault for decades better than any of the Fallouts ever did. But after leaving Glory the story wobbles quite a bit (what was with the “film set” city anyway?), the boss fights (explainable or not) are still annoying and don’t fit the flow of the rest of the game and the combat is otherwise a bland corridor shooter. It does go pretty cheap during Steam Sales and might be worth picking up just to see what they are doing with the story, but don’t expect too much out of the gameplay along the way.

And the boss fights are still annoying.

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