Consider the masses of titles that have come from Valve’s Source engine. Odds are, if you have been active in the PC gaming community for a while, you have played a game made at least in part with Source.
In the role of a structural analyst working for the fictional city of Stalburg, the main goal of INFRA is to uncover structural decay in various unique locations. One of the strongest points is how this decay is not restricted to buildings. Once one leaves the office, the game is virtually empty of NPCs. So much story is unfolded if the player seeks to find it, and learn about how various power plants and tunnels came to be left behind, and the corruption of those who managed them.
On the other hand, players can simply snap pictures of cracks, breaks, and other damage to satisfy the pretty open requirements for each area–open meaning that players do not have to do their job at all, and can instead opt to explore and, when required, survive. Environments are open-ended and full of puzzles, with many standing out in terms of design, often requiring serious thought. Sometimes, the complete lack of instruction can mean backtracking and even pen-and-paper figuring, but all of that depends on how willing players are to seek answers and solve puzzles. The game has no combat, instead relying on a minimal yet gorgeous score, ambient sounds, and absolute silence. You can die if you make the wrong move, but checkpoints occur at convenient points and never leave you annoyed at how far you need to backtrack.
The player must also keep track of batteries for their camera and flashlight, which are in great supply if you look hard enough. Using the camera is easy, thanks to the highlight feature when you hover it over a flaw or evidence the game wants you to document. Another neat feature is how your character simply pulls himself over obstacles, eliminating the need for the infamous Ctrl-Space jump that is used in Half-Life. It’s terrific fun to play, and before you know it the hours pass as you check on the structures of Stalburg. Even after playing, you may find yourself examining the walls, buildings, and other structures of towns and cities for cracks and breaks simply out of habit.
Despite it being over two years since its initial release, INFRA is stunning. Whether indoors or outdoors, environments look real and lived-in. The lighting itself is a standout, as rays of sunshine point the way forward in old factories and decrepit stations. Each new area felt distinct, and not like a reskin of another area or Half-Life assets. First-person view could not have suited this game better, and there is a wealth of detail packed into notes, equipment, and other items that are found lying around. Environmental storytelling is hard to do, and INFRA both hits the mark and offers it in abundance.
The ambient soundtrack is delightful and plays a big hand in enhancing the mood. It’s tense when it needs to be, and light at other times. Synths can offer a diverse musical experience, and the game’s score illustrates this through upbeat, unsettling, and dramatic pieces, all of which fit into the game’s tone. The sound design shines too, and make the world feel even more believable. Loiste Interactive have been busy patching the game as recently as April of last year, along with continually adding new language packs so that players of all backgrounds can wander through urban decay, but it seems their focus has now shifted to expansions and an Early Access spinoff, Open Sewer.
INFRA is the kind of game that comes along every once and while and surprises you. It shouldn’t work, in terms of its large scale yet abandoned environments, but it’s a respite from nonstop AAA action and adventure titles. It’s a story of the decay and the many ways in which it can present itself, which makes for great gameplay when it falls on the role and urgency of the player to discover it. For $29.99, the value is there in terms of play time, but the experience is absolutely enhanced if one seeks out all there is to see.