Afterfall: InSanity Review

The primary thrust of the game is moving through creepy environments, on the way to completing an important objective like shutting down ventilation systems or cooling reactors or escaping on elevators. Afterfall likes to ambush you with multiple screaming enemies who attack you with melee weapons of their own, and these can be pretty creepy at times, especially when enemies find way to flank you without you knowing they’re there. Combat itself, on the other hand, gets a little more harrowing against larger enemies, but usually just requires some blocking before returning fire with huge swings toward the facial regions of your enemies.

The game also includes a mechanic called “Fearlock,” which is supposed to represent Tokaj’s level of fear at any given moment. If something gruesome or harrowing happens, Tokaj might slip into Fearlock, which makes his attacks more powerful but his aim with firearms much messier. Like much of the combat system, Fearlock feels a little half-baked — it doesn’t really have a major effect on how the game plays or force you to adjust your style much at all. In general, combat in Afterfall feels like a series of good ideas, none of which received full attention. They work, but they don’t work especially cohesively, making most combat just passable.

Afterfall scores points in the atmosphere department, however. Much of the sound design and music composition are extremely good, even if most of those spooky sounds you hear just on the other side of a door or wall never actually pay off. The world feels expansive while claustrophobic, and some of the bigger sequences just sound great.

And there are some moments of Afterfall in which the game is just beautiful. Toward the end, specifically, the art design really opens up and there are a few moments in which I stopped and took stock of my surroundings. There were also some clever uses of light and dark mechanics, especially near the end, that felt brilliantly applied (in fact, that last level in general was pretty great, period). Characters and their animations are usually competent if stilted, but the environments and the graphics that go with them are sometimes borderline breathtaking.

That’s really the story of my experience with Afterfall. From a standpoint of ambition and vision, the game is interesting and gets a pass or two on mechanics that don’t feel as well-conceived. It would be easy to take a more cynical view of the game, and in doing so, pan it; it’s not always a great experience. It’s not always full of triple-A polish.

But considering its origins — the game started as a fan project that was grabbed by Nikolas Games in 2008, it’s an indie, and it’s foreign (which accounts for a lot of some of the weaker voice acting) — Afterfall pushes the envelope and gets some things really right. And you can feel the work and the passion that went into the project. If this were a title that came from Visceral Games, the makers of Dead Space, with EA’s backing, I’d expect more polish and stronger mechanics. But while it’s by no means perfect, Afterfall shows a whole lot of promise and some really smart and interesting design besides.

And at this price and with this background, I find myself excusing many of Afterfall’s faults in favor of its successes. With so much weirdness scattered throughout (and there’s a ton, both cultural, thematic and derived of the plot) and a few interesting chances taken, I’m interested to see where the franchise might go in the future.

Pros:

  • Awesomely atmospheric and fairly spooky
  • Great sound design
  • Takes some interesting design chances
  • Often graphically beautiful (though not really with the characters)
  • Really … weird
  • Remarkably, admirably ambitious

Cons:

  • Combat can be pretty one-note
  • Some weak voice acting and translation
  • Story’s a bit derivative and pretty out-there
  • Quite a few not-fully-realized design concepts

Final Score: 70/100

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Follow Hornshaw on Twitter: @philhornshaw.

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3 Comments on Afterfall: InSanity Review

K3f1r3k

On December 22, 2011 at 11:58 am

“Afterfall scores points in the atmosphere department, however. Much of the sound design and music composition are extremely good”
I’m sorry, but I really doubt you ever heard any extremely good music or sound design if you write such BS. “Indie” or low budget arguments are no excuse for such badly produced soundtrack (especially in cut scenes) or sound effects that are bland and repeated in an irritating way.

Phil Hornshaw

On December 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Okay, guess I’ve never heard extremely good music then (since we’re making sweeping generalizations about my experience as a human being based on your opinion disagreeing with mine), because there were plenty of times where I found it effective. Sure, the enemy sound effects really needed additional variety. But Afterfall makes some very good use of ambient sound and I was pleasantly surprised by musical choices and additions at many different points.

K3f1r3k

On December 23, 2011 at 5:19 am

I can totally understand, that music in some points works, especially the dark ambient sounds when exploring (only because the “music” is not apparent). But it does not change the overall soundtrack’s mediocre quality. It is terrible. Some of the best examples are “Main Theme” (mostly from where the orchestra starts to play) and “Random Encounter”. Those are some of the cleanest examples of composer(s) clumsiness. They simply didn’t know what they were doing and i’s very apparent, especially in those orchestral moments and cutscenes. Having said that, I really was surprised about what you wrote – music was “extremely good”. If you write something like that, you suggest two things: either there are little (or not as many) soundtracks with similiar quality sound and musical wise out there (if that refers to mediocrity – I agree) or this soundtrack is one of the highest quality you ever encountered in games (hence my doubt that you ever heard anything “extremely good”).