What originally started out as a student project, Ad Infinitum is a first-person horror experience set in World War I. In almost a decade of development, the final product has, at long last, come to fruition. Whilst Hekate’s efforts are admirable, the lasting impressions I took from this are mixed. The backdrop of war resonates strongly in the genre but I don’t feel things have quite come together.
The story is an interesting one. Our protagonist returns from the battlefield to find the family home deserted. Within, the trauma the conflict has brought is all laid bare. There’s a strong military background with a lot of skeletons to uncover. Sibling rivalry, legacy and guilt are consistent themes and I did enjoy reading the letters that painted a fairly full picture of complex emotions. The game’s message is nothing new but I felt it was told relatively strongly.
Gameplay is largely focused around first-person exploration and some very light puzzle solving. Whilst areas like the trenches can feel labyrinthine, Ad Infinitum keeps things narrow and linear throughout. It keeps the pace up although can feel restrictive. Puzzles and their solutions can be simple to deduce. The answers are usually to hand or very close by.
Our soldier’s movements are fairly standard. You can run, crouch and sneak through certain gaps. To begin with, it’s limiting but more items become available that unlock other abilities. Wire-cutters can be used to eliminate barbed wire, a pick axe can smash boards that block your path. There’s not a lot that feels optional but the curious players will enjoy how some areas appear to open up. I find the wire-cutters to be fiddly to operate. During more hectic moments, they can feel downright clumsy.
Combat is entirely out the question. Whilst there are moments where you’re armed, firing a shot in anger is reserved for one scripted instance. Thankfully, the enemies you encounter are fairly easy to manipulate. They are otherworldly in nature and these offer some great creature design. Some of them are outright grotesque and the boss creatures surpass you in movement and size. They provide the biggest threat but they don’t appear too often. Typically, they present a chapter’s final challenge with only three of these fights in total.
The standard enemies are more abundant but are much easier to control. Early on, they can be sneaked by and, even when startled, they lack a movement speed to provide any real danger. The remaining problems are environmental in nature. Fire and barbed wire can limit progression and gassed areas can’t be traversed until a mask becomes available. I was rarely confused by Ad Infinitum. Objectives are clear and the items you require to progress seem in obvious places. Even the boss fights become puzzles themselves. These encounters have a morality to them which ultimately boils down to a simple good or bad resolution.
The game does tend to alternate in location. The stately home is a large, empty area that focuses on puzzles and filling out the background of household. It’s grim reading but it was interesting to see how the war and other events influenced everyone under that roof. As spacious as that place can seem, most doors are locked, given you little room to deviate from the main path. When new areas become unlocked, it’s nice to loop back around into the main hall but I still had occasions where I’d lose track of my location.
The same problem extends itself to the trenches. Much more interesting than the house, these maze-like areas are well sign-posted. The command bunker acts as a prominent hub and you’ll revisit it a number of times. There’s simply more stuff to do there and the letters found focus more on the failure of the leadership. The more direct horrors of war are manifested here and it’s generally a lot more visually arresting.
For a game in development for so long, there’s a lack of polish in a couple of areas. Whilst nothing broke the experience, I had one part of the trenches vanish in front of me for a second. Performance does noticeably dip in the more intense scenes. Frame-rate seems to be sacrificed but it’s not grinding to a halt. Musically, the soundtrack is good. The trenches feature military-themed efforts and the musical stings hit the right places. It heightens well with the action and the voice work compliments the letters and notes well.
The areas seems largely well designed. The house can be fairly mundane but areas like the greenhouse offer a change of scenery. The trenches dominate the high points with the muddy, darkened corridors being light up by fire and gunshots. I think comparisons to Layers of Fear will be apt, although Ad Infinitum doesn’t devolve as often into the realm of impossible spaces.
Whilst it’s not saying anything new, Ad Infinitum does present a decent tale of household and battlefield trauma. The lack of any conventional combat does limit enemy encounters into extended puzzle segments but the visual design of these creatures are beautifully grotesque. It lacks a little polish and the larger areas can be clumsy to navigate through. Still, I think genre fans will take something positive out of this.
+ A well-told story, even if it does sound very familiar.
+ Great creature design.
+ Strong soundtrack.
- Puzzles are all too simple.
- The more frequent enemies carry little threat.
- The house segments bring the pacing down.