Isometric Isolation: The Inflicted – A Battle For Sanity

By Nathan Grayson on May 29th, 2012 at 9:00 am.

I continue to believe it's just Old Man Jenkins in a monster costume - despite the fact that I definitely just found his eviscerated body in the next room.
It’s been an absolute joy to watch survival horror find new life (or un-life, I suppose) on PC. The games may be small, but the ideas that drive standouts like Lone Survivor and Amnesia lead to so many more shamefully high-pitched fear squeals than, er, evil Presidents. The Inflicted – A Battle For Sanity, then, takes that ball and flees in abject terror with it by designing an entire game around limitations. The whole production is done up in a simple isometric style that does an absolutely fantastic job of emphasizing how tightly enclosed your surroundings are. And while hallways are so claustrophobic as to sometimes felt like fingers slowly slithering their way around my neck, they’re visually minimal. As a result, I found myself focusing a lot more on sounds – jagged shards of shattered glass crinkling against the soles of my shoes, my character’s haggard breaths, a subtle background drone. I do, however, have a few bones to pick with this particular bone-chiller.

For one, the setting – at least, based on the free demo – wears its influences on its tattered, sweat-soaked sleeve, and those influences are every other piece of horror fiction ever. You know the drill: you wake up in some form of testing facility that has ostensibly forgotten to change its lightbulbs for half a decade and come to the conclusion that the place is abandoned, only to realize that You’re Not Alone. Also, there are Hazardous Materials strewn about, and hints of illicit experiments. Again, though, the audiovisual package is strong enough that I’m not too irked by that – even if this means my prayers for a night of sheer, unbridled terror set in a bright lights and reliable barricades factory continue to go unanswered.

The demo does, however, sort of take ages to actually get going. I’m sure it was attempting to build suspense, but instead, I just got bored – and, before long, frustrated due to badly explained mechanics. (You have an inventory. It’s mapped to Tab. Also, book pages turn if you mouse over their corners. I just saved you so much time, but all I demand in return is your gratitude. And lots of money.)

Admittedly, though, the moment when (ASTOUNDING SPOILER) I finally got attacked by a monster (in a videogame, no less!) was pretty frightening – but less in typical survival-horror fashion and more in a yeti-from-Ski-Free kind of way. I’ve always been a fan of the bizarre, unnatural abstraction lo-fi graphics like these can create, and The Inflicted nails it. Monsters chase relentlessly, creating a constant feeling of inevitable doom by sticking to you like hate-powered heat-seeking missiles. This is very much a game whose ultimate goal is to replace your every conscious thought with the words “Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit.” And then: a dead end. So basically, it plays out like a blood-soaked, sanity-straining Pac-Man.

And while survival-horror’s hardly a genre lacking in excellent sound design, Inflicted deserves special mention for sprinkling its soundtrack with all sorts of tiny dynamic effects. A sickeningly rapid heartbeat, for instance, seamlessly transitions into being part of the music when the action heats up. It’s a brilliant little touch that highlights the exceedingly dark corridor crawl’s attention to detail.

I’m very interested in seeing where it goes. There are some definite issues, but I recommend taking the demo for a spin nonetheless. To do that, you’ll need Adobe Air – which, unlike the normal kind of air, is installed on a PC and not, you know, lungs. You can grab that here, and then have a go at the demo here. Thanks, Indie Game Magazine.

However, if you hate playing games and instead prefer to consume them in uncontrollable minute-long segments, I’ve also procured this trailer for you.

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45 Comments »

  1. CaspianRoach says:

    But… but… top-down is not isometric at all!

    • orient says:

      So many people covering games use ‘isometric’ to mean ‘not a side-scroller’. It gets right on my internets.

    • P7uen says:

      I suggest “Top-Down Terror” or “Bird’s-Eye Bemusement”

      • lurkalisk says:

        BEB’s…

        This is now a genre.

      • Stuart Walton says:

        You need to use acronyms that have already been used for added confusement:

        Plan View Peril
        High Elevation Horror
        Map (of) Multiple Objects Rendered Perspectivelessly (as) Ground

    • lurkalisk says:

      It’s more complicated than that.

      I mean, you’re not exactly wrong, but you get the idea…

      • Revisor says:

        Thank you for the link. I didn’t understand it but I know now that I won’t be able to use “isometric” with any degree of certainty anytime soon.

      • sneetch says:

        I don’t see how he’s wrong at all, can you explain?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isometric_projection

        “[Isometric projection] is an axonometric projection in which the three coordinate axes appear equally foreshortened and the angles between any two of them are 120 degrees.”

        This is top-down.

        Edit: ah, just figured it out. Me = duh.

    • UmmonTL says:

      Well to be fair and make myself out to be an annoying know-it-all, top-down is an isometric perspective just one where the angle to the ground plane is exactly 90 degrees. But I can still agree that it should be called top-down as gamers usually think of a different look when you say isometric perspective.

      • CaspianRoach says:

        It’s dimetric then! Isometric means that all plane angles are equal to 120 degrees. (isos means “equal” in greek)

        • Salt says:

          Yeah, the important factor for isometric projection is that each axis is equally foreshortened (achieved by having 120° between each axis). This means that if you have an isometric image of an object drawn at the right scale you can hold any side of the real object up against it and see that it is the same size as the image.

          Dimetric means that two of the axes are equally foreshortened. In the case of a top-down view that is technically true as both the north-south axis and east-west axis have the same foreshortening (specifically, none). However the vertical axis is foreshortened away to nothing, so technical drawing tutors would frown at you if you tried to describe it as dimetric.

          Best stick to “vertical orthographic view”.

      • zaphod42 says:

        Other way around. Isometric is a subset of top-down. There’s lots of top-down views, and lots of games use them. You can do a straight top-down (oblique), or an angled top-down. The thing is, the reason why lots of games use isometric specifically, is with isometric projection there is no perspective at all.

        That is the key with isometric projection, all perspective is lost and the object is rendered effectively infinitely far away, with infinite perspective, so that everything is parallel and equal.

        In normal perspective, lines slowly come together at vanishing points towards the horizon. With isometric, lines remain parallel forever, staying at the exact same angle even as they run off the screen.

        This is extremely convenient for game graphics, where otherwise tons and tons of calculations are necessary to generate 3D perspective. Each object must take into consideration how far away it is when rendering, and each object must be rendered separately.

        With isometric, however, all objects appear the exact same, same angles, same size, regardless of position. Therefor, you get games like Age of Empires where you can have a whole bunch of buildings rendered as cheap sprites. They all form neat rows, and it looks like a city. You can even rotate to four quarters views.

        However, the view is “wrong”, it doesn’t look how things would in real life. But it is close enough that we accept it, and its much, much cheaper to render for the computer. :)

    • Syra says:

      That was my first thought too.

  2. sardaukar says:

    Thanks for the write-up, but this is _not_ in isometric view. Sim City 2000, Crusader: No Remorse, Powermonger, Utopia, Syndicate, Q*Bert – all isometric. This is top-down, like Dreamweb.

    • vedder says:

      Dimetric actually

      • zaphod42 says:

        Dimetric and Isometric are both types of top-down. So, everybody calm down.

        That said, this definitely isn’t iso.

  3. kukouri says:

    Nice find. I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

  4. Gnoupi says:

    On the pixellized horror topic, Home releases this friday.

    • roryok says:

      oh god so many games. Sometimes I just feel crushed under the weight of all the games out there. I get a measly few hours a week to play games and the list of things I Really Should Play during that time seems to get longer by the day.

  5. roryok says:

    Of course it’s isometric. You’re all just looking at it wrong.

  6. Maldomel says:

    Will try the demo, i’m always in for some horror.

  7. phlebas says:

    my prayers for a night of sheer, unbridled terror set in a bright lights and reliable barricades factory continue to go unanswered.
    Where’s Molydeux when you need him?

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Actually, there’s already a very good way to implement that. Just invite The Baron (see below) to the party. He doesn’t mind well lit areas or solid objects at all!

  8. wodin says:

    Surely someone writing game reviews for a living must know what Isometric is?? Or is Nathan showing his age as I expect only a youngster would think top down was isometric. Or he couldn’t think of a headline so tried to wing it…not on here son…not on here, us lot are to clever for that…

    • CaspianRoach says:

      >not on here, us lot are to clever for that

    • Stardog says:

      Since when have game reviewers had a clue what they’re talking about? It’s not like sites hire people who actually know about games.

      They hire people who “look” like they know about games. Like that young floppy-haired one on Giant Bomb (Klepek?). Clueless.

      • phlebas says:

        On the plus side the rest of what he has to say about the game seems interesting and well-informed, so I suppose it’s just possible that his misusing one word doesn’t mean he’s a complete idiot.

  9. pipman3000 says:

    i don’t know what everyone is talking about, it looks just like those isometric games i used to play on the sega nintendo like shining force and shadowrun or like those tower defense games on apple’s nintendo.

  10. Donjo says:

    How do I install the demo? What is this .air file??

    Edit: Ah yes, instructions, I see

  11. Jim9137 says:

    What happened to my Tapan Kaikki??

  12. JB says:

    Reminds me of Teleglitch, but less fancy graphics, less action/more survival horror.

  13. zaphod42 says:

    Reminds me an awful lot of Notch’s Left 4k Dead

    http://www.mojang.com/notch/j4k/l4kd/

    Extremely similar art style / rendering style. Probably some other games have used that as well… its sort of like how grand theft auto was done.

    Still, Notch’s version is open source… makes me wonder if maybe they used that as a starting point / inspiration. Or if they just copied the source to begin with…

  14. MadTinkerer says:

    “Admittedly, though, the moment when (ASTOUNDING SPOILER) I finally got attacked by a monster (in a videogame, no less!) was pretty frightening – but less in typical survival-horror fashion and more in a yeti-from-Ski-Free kind of way. I’ve always been a fan of the bizarre, unnatural abstraction lo-fi graphics like these can create, and The Inflicted nails it. Monsters chase relentlessly, creating a constant feeling of inevitable doom by sticking to you like hate-powered heat-seeking missiles.”

    There is only one monster in video games that has ever given me nightmares, and that is Baron Von Blubba from Bubble Bobble. The Yeti from Skifree came pretty close. I never had actual nightmares from the Yeti, but I do recall a few dreams about being chased by the Yeti and then blowing it’s head off with a shotgun (thanks to Doom and Wolfenstein 3D).

    Baron Von Blubba is truly horrific, though. Unlike any other creature, he taunts you with hope even as he chases you. It’s fairly simple to avoid him, just finish the level on time. It’s fairly simple to make him go away once he appears: just defeat all the other monsters… or die and lose one of your lives. But you cannot harm him, and he will not give up the chase until you die or complete the immediate objective. And each level has a time limit, and there are a lot of levels.

    A lot of levels that you had better

    HURRY UP

    and finish… or The Baron will get you.

  15. PopeJamal says:

    Semantic assholery about perspective aside, this was actually a fairly interesting concept. I couldn’t figure out what to do with the broken door and got bored, but I could see myself (isometrically even!) paying for and playing this.

  16. Pippy says:

    Looks like yet another Knight Lore rip off to me.