I’m of the opinion that horror is the most challenging genre in which to excel. Whether it’s games, film, or literature, the task of providing bone-chilling scares that rarely allow the audience a moment to catch their breath is no easy task. Sustaining fear throughout is of the utmost importance and the one element that a majority of horror endeavours fail to do. Balancing an unsettling atmosphere and scary scenes to ensure the player is never quite ready for what comes next is the greatest achievement of Infliction.
Developed by Caustic Reality for PC, Infliction is a haunted house tour de force that has the player uncover a tragedy-riddled past within the confines of a suburban home. Exploring the abandoned, and blood-soaked, halls of what used to be a happy home is a real test of nerves as something now resides there as a result of its violent past. Infliction’s story is one of grief and rage, as the player will uncover clues about what led to the haunting, and more importantly, how to rid the house of its evil spirit. Infliction’s gameplay is reminiscent of Gone Home, as the player will discover household items that reveal events that transpired before your arrival. These items have specific memories tied to them and when found they trigger disturbing audio logs.
Unlike Gone Home, Infliction features a murderous spirit that wanders the halls and will kill you in horrific ways should you be careless.
But before delving into what wants to kill you, Caustic Reality deserves recognition for constructing a house that is equally as terrifying. The home itself is unpredictable in its otherworldly construction. What initially appears as an average home quickly reveals just how affected it is by the violence that has occurred within its walls. Strange markings begin to appear on the walls. Doors that were once locked open by themselves. Layouts start to shift.
Oh, and that door that used to lead to a bathroom? That now leads to the hallway of an insane asylum.
Infliction keeps the player guessing throughout given its smart and always adapting environments. Hallways are engulfed in darkness masking a sinister presence. Taunts such as “You’ll soon be down here” scratched into the now fading wallpaper. Fueling this spooky atmosphere is fantastic sound design that resulted in my having to take breaks to regain my composure. Floorboards creak, bodiless whispers call to you, and doors slam behind you. There is very distinctive audio for walking on floorboards and carpets, which initially terrified me thinking that something was behind me. This speaks to the paranoia-inducing nature of Infliction, as even before the spirit appears, you are anticipating the scares.
It is also worth mentioning that the game’s photorealistic graphics play largely into selling the house as a real place. Part of what made the setting so unsettling, apart from the shadows, was how it feels like a lived-in home. Chances are that we have all been in a house that is similar to it, and this is a testament to the environmental storytelling here.
As for the spirit, you will always hear her before you see her, whether she’s muttering or slamming a door. Working off the phenomenal sound design creates stress that I seldom experience in games. A faint static sound begins to pick up, increasing in volume as the spirit grows closer to the player’s location. Unnerving to say the least.
A crippling problem of most horror games is retaining the monster’s scare factor because usually the more you see it, the less scary it ultimately becomes. This was rarely the case with Infliction. The spirit’s movements were unpredictable, leading to the same skin-crawling reaction every time I encountered her. Sometimes she would run full speed at me, literally fly across a room, or – in what resulted in my prematurely ending one session of the game – spider crawl across the floor in my direction. The spirit is a reflection of real life trauma and manifests her scares accordingly, which fits the game’s narrative well.
When the spirit grabs you, it’s game over, but there are two ways that the player can temporarily defend themselves. About an hour in, the player discovers a camera that, in addition to solving environmental puzzles, can use its flash to banish the spirit from the house temporarily. This can be tricky to use, given her speed and attack reach, so traditional lights scattered around the house are more useful. Flipping a light switch to illuminate a room just before the spirit grabs you makes for some of the most intense moments of any game I have played. There were a few instances where the spirit caught me, despite my having used the camera flash an instant before, but these occurred few and far between.
The camera’s more interesting use is in solving simple environmental puzzles, as its flash can reveal messages and hints that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. In one area of the house, the key I needed to unlock a door was only obtainable by taking photos of walls, until I found a hidden message telling me where it was. The player is always prompted when they will need their camera to solve these puzzles, which ensures that they won’t aimlessly wander around the house taking pictures.
During my three hours with Infliction, the only qualm I had with it was how the game handles death. Most sections of the game begin with the player regaining consciousness on the floor, often after being knocked out or attacked. After a loading screen, these instances take about 20 seconds to complete, as the player’s eyes blink several times before slowly rising from the floor. I can appreciate the cinematic nature of these, but if you are stuck on a particular part of the game, resulting in numerous deaths, you must sit through these 20-second animations every time. There were one or two sections of the game where I was frequently dying, and it was annoying to have to sit through these respawn animations again and again, instead of immediately respawning. A minor nuisance that ultimately didn’t sour my experience.
Infliction is horror done not only right but well. It utilizes jump scares, but it is so much more than that. It uses them sparingly and smartly while spending an equal amount of time crafting an unsettling atmosphere with superior sound design that will have the player jumping at the sound their footsteps. What it lacks in gameplay length it makes up for in memorable moments, and more importantly, scares. Infliction is for those who are often let down by the scares provided by most modern horror.
Infliction succeeds where a majority of horror games fail by providing genuine scares through its hair-raising environments and terrifying spirits that stalk the player.