Afterfall: Insanity is a survival horror game that has you controlling a psychiatrist who finds himself venturing through the bowels of a fallout-style shelter after reports of a virus has mysteriously been infecting the residents of the shelter’s sub levels. What’s interesting about the game is that it wasn’t developed by a major studio but instead by a group of people in Poland who wanted to created their own fan project, originally an RPG called Bourgeoisie: Pearl of the Wastelands. In 2009, the RPG game was scrapped and turned into the action game it is today. While the development and publishing of the game by this amorphous group of individuals is commendable, Afterfall: Insanity suffers from a host of technical issues and strange gameplay decisions.
Set in the year 2035 after a cataclysm has befallen the Earth, the remnants of humanity of moved underground in order to survive (sound familiar?). Albert Tokaj is a psychiatrist for the shelter and is tasked with helping the residents cope with living underground and help identify and cure those suffering from Confinement Syndrome. Tokaj himself seems to be struggling in the shelter as well as he is having trouble sleeping and suffers from nightmares that seem a little too real. When Tokaj is summoned by the shelter’s leader to investigate a disturbance in the sub levels, he and a small detachment of soldiers are shocked to discover that the residents have changed into crazed, feral brutes who attack anything that moves.
Afterfall: Insanity is a third person, objective based survival horror game and yet, many of the concepts and mechanics that make up survival horror are absent in this game. There is no item management to speak of, Tokaj can switch between two firearms at any given time or pick up a random melee weapon. You’ll never have to worry about a Tokaj’s health, as it will automatically regenerate when he is not fighting. You’ll explore the environment by following a fairly linear path, battling enemies and navigating through various hacking puzzles and manipulating machines in order to advance. If you happen to find yourself lost or not entirely sure where to go, Tokaj can use his PDA to point him in the right direction, although you will be unable to fight or interact with others while viewing it.
Afterfall: Insanity owes a lot of its design to other survival horror games including Dead Space, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Metro 2033, STALKER, FEAR, Silent Hill and Eternal Darkness. It borrows heavily from each, taking Dead Space’s atmosphere, Silent Hill and FEAR’s psychological angle, Condemned’s reliance on melee weapons and Eternal Darkness’ use of fear. The problem is, the game doesn’t use these elements very well and without real polish. At times, it almost feels like these designs were put in because the development team liked them and didn’t so much find a way to bring them together cohesively.
For example, in Condemned, every weapon you could use came with a set of stats which would force you into weighing your combat options. The world of Afterfall is littered with melee weapons, but there are no discernable differences between any of them. A small pipe handles and hits the same way an axe or sledgehammer does, which is puzzling especially when enemies who wield (or in some cases, dual wield) the same happen to swing faster and are more efficient with using them more than Tokaj is, resulting in cheap hits. You can block attacks, but ultimately it doesn’t feel all that useful since you still take damage. At times, hit detection seemed poor and despite swinging my weapon and making contact with the target, there was no visible account for the hit (normally, the enemy would stagger and drip blood). You can pick up any weapon you want, but be warned. I had a melee weapon completely disappear as it dropped while picking up another firearm.
The mechanic that made Eternal Darkness memorable was the concept of fear and insanity and if your character saw something that frightened them, the gameplay would be affected. Afterfall has this, but on a very superficial level. If Tokaj sees something that’s particularly scary, such as the dragging of a body or the appearance of a creature, the light on his arm-mounted journal will turn yellow, putting Tokaj into Fearlock, which decreases his accuracy (pointless unless you’re using a gun). Becoming afraid of something is usually a lead in to something that’s going to happen. In one case, Tokaj spies a security monitor across a large room that, supposedly, revealed a creature coming up from behind. However, the monitor was too far away to see anything, so the effect of getting snuck up on was lost.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to suffer through some quick time events. One of the early QTE sequences was actually broken, with the prompt disappearing the instant it showed up and missing my chance of getting out of the way of a falling structure which caused the game to break during the death scene, forcing a complete restart. The game is broken in other areas as well. During a timed puzzle sequence, my character died for no apparent reason despite having two minutes left to complete the task. Great.
At times, Afterfall manages to look pretty good until environmental and particle effects begin to seep in. In certain levels, the fog and smoke effects are choppy at best and break if you move the camera around. The character models and creatures look good enough, but whenever the game initiates a cutscene, it behaves strangely, moving in and out of focus for no particular reason. It’s as if I’ve suddenly been stricken with cataracts, as the cutscene goes from clean, crisp visuals to complete blurriness. This effect happens again every single time you press the space button to sprint, making the environment harder to navigate. It is hard to tell if this visual shift was deliberate or not.
During my time with Afterfall, any attempt to enjoy the game was mired by frustrating bugs and glitches. Strange design choices as well as lifting elements from other (better) games and throwing it all together made me want to stop playing Afterfall and go to its source material instead. Although the developers consider the game survival horror, it lacks many of the mechanics that make the genre fun and challenging to play. Combat is about as fun as watching two neanderthals beat each other senseless over the head with clubs. You’ve got your pick of a number of weapons, but none seem to be more advantageous than the other. Using keyboard buttons for the mini-games results in some confusing and annoying puzzle solving. Subtitles contain improper spelling and missing words from the audio track. The main menu has separate screens for Achievements and “Other,” but clicking on these options takes you nowhere.
To put it simply, the game has issues.
Afterfall: Insanity is a bit of a mess. Everything about this product comes off as unfinished and if given more time to cook and iron out the bugs, the game could be enjoyable but in its current state it is barely passable. The game retails online for about $35 but you’re better off spending your money on a better game that is a lot more fun to play.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.