Reviewed: November 10, 2011
Released: November 15, 2011
I remember seeing the video promoting Afterfall: InSanity. It was even on the front page of Reddit not too long ago. I was slightly intrigued by the idea of paying a dollar for a full game, as apparently were quite a few others for it to have reached the illustrious front page. The basic idea is that if Nicolas Games receives 10 million pre-orders of one dollar (quick math: $1 per game + 10 million pre-orders...uhm...$10,000,000?) they will sell the game for that $1. But, if they donít get 10 million orders, they sell the game at $33.90 a pop and your dollar pre-order goes to charity.|
I will admit that, though interesting, the idea didn't hook me enough to order a copy. It seemed to me then that these guys were trying really hard to attract sales that they knew they wouldn't have otherwise gotten, especially with the release of so many other noteworthy titles all at the same time. They even admit to it in the video. I applaud and support indie game developers that are trying so hard to find their place amongst giants. Especially when those giants seem like they're trying really hard to devour the very people who work so hard to feed them. But this game and the whole concept behind it just seemed like a bald-faced ploy at making a ton of money. Possibly the most honest scam Iíve ever seen.
So, I got my review copy of the game and went about installing it. I should have known from that point that I was in for something that hearkened back to the games of yesteryear, and not in a good way. Most games that I play on my PC nowadays come by way of Steam or some other similar game-dispensing medium (if not on a disc). No muss, no fuss. Not this gem. No, this one came by way of .zip file. So, I uncompressed the files and started the install from the setup.exe. My computer told me the installer was designed to work with Windows XP, but it still worked on my Windows 7 machine. Whether that was a good thing or not is still a debatable point. Ok, I can look past all that as an indie gameís way of getting around standard means of distribution. So, weíll forgive these trespasses and move on to the game itself.
I started this game like I do all PC games I play and went into the controls menu to make sure my button layout was the way I like it and that my y-axis was switched to inverted. But wait! There was an option for inverting the x-axis, but not for the y-axis. Really? The last game I played that didnít have an option for y-axis inversion was about a decade ago and I didnít play it any longer than it took to uninstall. I even switched the x-axis back and forth between inverted and normal hoping it might have been mislabeled as the wrong axis. Not only did it not invert the y-axis, it didnít appear to do anything at all!
Thatís alright, though. Iím reviewing this game, so I need to keep an open mind, I tell myself. I start the game and am quickly unimpressed with the voice acting through the opening cut-scene. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that the writers, and apparently the voice actors, arenít native English speakers. Turns out, the writing is about as cliche, uninspired, and awkward as the gameplay ends up being. Ah, but Iím getting ahead of myself.
The cut-scene ends and you are put through a standard in-game tutorial that familiarizes you with the controls, while further introducing you to the Black Mesa/Vault-Tec/THX 1138 style world in which you start. Itís your standard WADS structure with an over-the-shoulder view. The graphics are decent. I especially got a good looks at the ceilings and floors since I kept trying to look the wrong way. And Iím telling you, there were some really nice ceilings and floors. Seriously, though, theyíre using the Unreal 3 engine, so with a few pretty textures, the game is pretty much guaranteed to look good.
Beyond looking good, however, there isnít anything that makes me go ďOh Wow! I canít believe these guys are only selling this for a dollar!Ē And that, I guess, is what I would expect from a game that is only going to cost me a dollar. I want to be impressed that itís only that much. I donít want to wonder whether it was worth the buck I dropped on it, I want to feel like I got away with something sneaky because - holy crap is this game good! But no, I got this game for free, and I still felt like I got the short end of the stick.
As I said before, the voice acting is terrible. All the sound effects are awful. There is only like one or two different bad guy screams that they use, and both of them sound like a drunken geriatric who got lost on the way to the bathroom. Itís more disturbing than scary. In fact, the whole repertoire of sound effects falls rather flat and ineffective. The ďthudsĒ and ďwhacksĒ of weaponry sound empty and powerless. The gunfire sounds cheesy. And did I say that the voice acting was bad?
The story, though interesting, is awkward. Itís like they had this really great idea for a post-apocalyptic world and then got lost along the way. It starts you off doing psychological exams on claustrophobic vault-mates, for lack of a better word, then the next thing you know youíre reporting to a ďColonelĒ who tells you to go down to the ďsecond levelĒ where ďstrange thingsĒ are going on. So...youíre a psychologist/pharmacologist that goes on field trips? I guess. And thatís when the crazies start attacking and you start grabbing pipes and other objects of various sizes and beating up every blood soaked nut-job you see.
The melee fighting is clunky and repetitive, which is unfortunate, because you spend a fair amount of time smashing people with pipes, axes, hammers, clubs, etc. When youíve got a gun with ammo, they kill quickly and easily. Even against some of the larger enemies. And though you get beat up pretty badly, you can take a heck of a lick before you ever go down, which makes the fear element start to wane, though they try to focus on fear as a gameplay element. Your screen will go all weird and hazy when ďscaryĒ things happen. You also play a lot of the game using your flashlight as your only source of illumination.
Peppered into the clunky, awkward gameplay, are clunky, awkward mini-games that are frustratingly confusing and only detract from the pacing of the game. Sometimes youíll be forced to ďhackĒ into a door, which is just finding the right pattern of up, down, left, or right. Make a mistake, though, and youíve got to start the sequence over. And there are no clues to let you know whatís next. Itís just a guessing game. Unnecessary, at best. It just ends up removing you from the already disjointed and confusing narrative of the game.
Whatís more, there is no save option in the game, instead you are able to start back from checkpoints as you progress. I have always been frustrated with games that decide to go this route. If I am playing and I want to stop, I donít want to have to remember how far back my last checkpoint was. I want to be able to save my game, quit, and come back right where I left off, wherever that may be. Is that too much to ask? At least, if youíre going to use checkpoints, make them occur frequently (like every time I enter a new room) instead of every 10 minutes of gameplay, like this one.
I donít know, I guess I have come to expect something unique and intriguing from my indie games. Something that makes them stand apart from the blockbusters. If you just try to take something that the big blockbuster games do (really well, I might add) and do it half-assed, Iím not going to be impressed. Even if it only costs a dollar. And you wonít get my dollar. And neither will your un-named charity.
When it all comes down to it, this game makes me think of the old saying that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. So, if you hear about a game thatís being sold for a dollar, unless weíre talking about Angry Birds, youíre probably not getting the next big thing. What youíre getting is a dollarís worth of gameplay wrapped up in a shiny package to make it seem like something more than what it is. I feel sort of bad ripping this game so badly, but I went into it really hoping to be blown away, and came away feeling like I, and anyone else unfortunate enough to have fallen for their ruse, had been duped.