Review: Afterfall InSanity

(No longer available on Steam)

The third-person action phase of horror seems to have run its course, heralded by the coming of Resident Evil 4 and perhaps ended with the death of Dead Space’s developers. The movement spawned plenty of titles besides the big, recognizable names, and Afterfall InSanity was surely one of the most ubiquitous on Steam. A perennial bargain offering, Afterfall borrowed heavily from the gaming zeitgeist of the time with clear Dead Space, Fallout, and other influences. Despite its origins, though, it makes good on its title with a mad whirlwind of plot beats, revelations, and nigh-inexplicable twists that help prop up what would otherwise be a pretty unremarkable adventure.

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An alternate Cold War left the surface of the Earth uninhabitable, but the people of Poland were prepared. Gathering into a vast underground bunker, a new society plods along under the authoritative eye of Colonel Potocki. A key member of the bunker is Dr. Albert Tokaj, the sole psychiatrist tasked with keeping the rest of the citizens from succumbing to mental malaise or psychosis from being stuck underground. Tokaj and Potocki don’t have the best of working relationships, though, which leads to the good doctor being sent into the maintenance levels to look into reports of workers acting strangely. The situation quickly spirals out of control, with people dead, a saboteur on the loose, and the fate of the bunker in jeopardy. Albert will need to travel beyond the walls of his subterranean home to survive and, if he can keep his wits about him, make sense of it all.

This quick synopsis does not, in any way, shape or form, approach the utterly bizarre twists the story will take in its course towards the appropriately insane conclusion. On the one hand, I always avoid spoiling games in my reviews. But on the other, this game is no longer available for purchase, and if you happen to have it then knowing that you’ll be facing mutants, cannibals, ghosts, and rainbow golems might encourage you to give it a shot. That’s all I’ll say specifically about this mad journey, but the story does everything it can to keep up with the cavalcade of weirdness you’ll be battling with. Albert himself carries a lot of the game, with his observations and exclamations becoming more animated and unhinged as you progress, culminating in one of the greatest cutscenes in video game history.

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Don’t get me wrong, this is still a bargain-basement title. I’m impressed with what the developers were able to do on what seemed like no budget but the cutscenes are awkward, the levels are confusing and repetitive, and the combat has very little substance to it. The entire first half of the game will take place in the grungy underhalls of the bunker, with you fending off crazed survivors and twisted mutants every time you reach a new room big enough to battle in. There’s a ton of weapons to choose from, spanning pipes, wrenches, hammers, axes, prods, and more, as well an a decent variety of guns. These don’t have durability so you can keep the ones you like pretty much forever, and enemies aren’t really varied enough to require different tactics to dispatch. At some point you’ll transition from mainly melee to mainly ranged combat, but that’s about all the variety you can expect.

Afterfall is billed as a horror game, but it lacks the atmosphere or pacing to really inspire any scares. Some of the monster designs are creepy but they always run at you screaming from the opposite side of big open rooms. The very start of the game has a few creeps, but after that it’s all crushing skulls with your fire axe and marveling at where things go from there. The gameplay is ultimately serviceable, obviously not the draw but competent enough to get you through to see the wild story. Things can get frustrating near the end, specifically when the game decides to try throwing bosses at you, but not so bad that you can’t get past it. You won’t find much purpose in exploring, either, with most levels being entirely linear and your reward for poking around usually just being another note.

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This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the game, but I want to be clear that the cheap Dead Space gameplay is not what anyone is here for. It’s the story, a tale of psychological horror told through a lens of indie impulses and nonsensical twists. I’ve never experienced anything else quite like Afterfall InSanity, and I’m glad I did. Albert Tokaj’s journey into madness will stay with me forever more, punctuated by his incredulity at exploding buildings and locked doors alike, and his single-minded pursuit in making sense of a story that defies making any kind of sense. If you can find a copy of this somewhere I do encourage you to take the plunge, fully expecting middling gameplay and low-budget jank, because your life will be all the richer for having experienced this little oddity.

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