The final episode of Infra [official site], a first-person explore-o-adventure game about a structural analyst investigating infrastructure decay around the fictional European city of Stalburg, is now out. Having no preconceptions of such a game, I have been surprised and delighted by Infra, not quite sure what it even is as I wander dams and drainage tunnels, fiddle with machinery to solve puzzles, and snap photos of damage.
Oskari Samiola, a co-founder at developers Loiste Interactive, told me that "we wanted to show that you can make a (good) game from nearly everything."
Infra is wonderful to explore. Beyond looking lovely, I have enjoyed finding little environmental stories, pieces of the wider world, urban legends, hints of corruption and conspiracy, and, sometimes, a little horror. And as someone who doesn't enjoy puzzling much, I'm glad that so much of Infra is poking around - and that many puzzles are optional or have alternative solutions.
"Our goal was to make the game universe as deep, rich and realistic as we can, with all the legends and history a city would have, while avoiding most common tropes and cliches found in other forms of entertainment," he said. "We came to that conclusion after noticing during earlier stages of development that solving just puzzles is not very rewarding and becomes boring after a while, so there had to be something else besides them."
"We also wanted to make our puzzles not-so-repetitive, but inventing and developing puzzles tends to be hard and time consuming, and we had already planned out levels according to how they would have been in the real world, and those locations came with lots of gaps to fill without good ideas for original puzzles, so instead there had to be something else," Samiola says. "In many cases, the real-life design approach even helped (or forced) us to come up with original ideas for a good puzzle."
Similarly, Samiola says that a "major chunk of easter eggs and 'strange things to find' appeared during quieter periods of development when we were running low on actual game-related ideas and motivation, we were just toying around creating random details and some of them became traditions (teddy bears)."
Many of the oddities are actually things the team have seen out-of-place in the real world, such as an old computer on a boulder. Samiola says the district of Helsinki he lives in, Kallio, "has a fair amount of weird things."
The team's Finnish background is part of it too, Samiola explains, as "Finnish humor is dry, (self-)ironic and totally weird, and often dark below surface."
Many dark things are below the surface in Infra.
"I've always found city sub-surface with sewers, water delivery systems, facilities and tunnels interesting," Samiola told me. Helsinki has its own maze of underground infrastructure, and he was hugely inspired by Crumbling America, a documentary about the importance and potential collapse of America's infrastructure.
All three episodes of Infra are out now in one package on Steam. The game currently has a 20% discount bringing it down to £15.19/€18.39/$19.99. "Originally we wanted to release Infra as a whole," Samiola said, "but we soon realized that the game is far too massive and long to meet our deadlines, so we decided to split it." Infra started development in 2011 as a Source mod before becoming a full standalone game, launching the first episode in January 2016 and the second in September that year.
While I'm not wild about every part of Infra (our protagonist can seem a bit of a tosser, and some puzzles riled me), so far it's one of my favourite games I've played this year. I'm keen to see how it escalates in Chapter 3, which looks to be quite apocalyptic: