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.