Much like the recently released Amnesia: The Bunker, Ad Infinitum is the latest first-person psychological horror title to use a World War One setting. Offering a more linear progression style and direct story delivery, the game has plenty of potential material to draw from.
While Ad Infinitum captures the setting of the war-torn trenches of the Great War, the gameplay and narrative flatter to deceive. Underwhelming revelations and a mish-mash of enemy hide-and-seek sections reduce the impact of the suffocating atmosphere. Once you go over the top, you’ll find little to do except crawl through the mud and hope you make it out the other side.
A Never-ending Nightmare
Ad Infinitum’s story starts off with an intriguing mystery. As a German soldier, you’ll travel between two realms: your family’s mansion and the horrific trenches of World War One. Which one is reality? What is your role within them? Why are there nightmarish demons stalking the charred battlefields of old? Coupled with an excellent opening, filled with dread and intrigue, you’ll want to pursue the story, despite the horrors lurking in the dark.
Without spoiling too much, Ad Infinitum expectedly explores the nature of PTSD and family trauma within the context of its era. Each “boss” represents some element of repressed emotional burden. While there is some thematic representation, the game doesn’t do a whole lot with its ideas. Instead, it’s quite content to tread familiar ground, only reaching a surface-level examination of its material.
At specific junctures in the story, you’ll be provided the opportunity to make specific choices based on how you complete the sequences tied to the bosses. Unfortunately, what could have been an interesting and morally grey ethical tug-of-war is reduced to a simple “red” or “green” binary choice. There’s little nuance and the “correct” choice is always blatantly obvious, diminishing the connection to the choices.
To its credit, Ad Infinitum’s story is at least coherent and well-written, for what it is. Using the perspective of an Axis soldier is an interesting flip of the usual viewpoint and the family drama you unfold holds some mystery. That is until about midway when the game descends into typical tropes of the genre and squanders its most mysterious elements by relying on well-worn cliches. You’ll likely guess the progression of the narrative after the first third, which is fine.
While it’s decent, I couldn’t help but wonder about the squandered potential the early game sets up.
The structure of Ad Infinitum is broken down into four chapters, each starting with a section in the von Schmitt household. Typically, these areas involve solving some kind of straightforward puzzle or exploring an increasingly dark and ever-changing mansion. Similar to PT or MADiSON, it attempts to capture the haunted house style of horror.
It never reaches those heights, but the letters scattered around provide some insightful exposition and a couple of late-game puzzles were a bit more in-depth. As short interludes between the trenches sections, they’re an okay palette cleanser, but they pale in comparison to others in the genre. Much of this time is just spent walking around and gathering items, so your mileage with it might vary a bit depending on your appetite for that kind of gameplay.
The real treads to this metaphorical tank are the battlefield segments. Entering into these nightmarish realms brings you to the fantastically realised setting of desperate World War One survival. Creatures lurk around every corner, metal cans dangle in your way with the menace of alerting foes and the scenery is depressingly haunting.
Most of the puzzles are foregone in these areas in favour of straight stealth survival. You’ll occasionally need to use various items like a gas mask or follow an electrical cable to a certain location, but that’s as complicated as it gets. Instead, Ad Infinitum opts to force you into sneak-orientated scenarios to tip-toe your way out of. Is the stealth system any good? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
In virtually all of the trench-based levels, you’ll be either evading or hiding from a particular mangled creature ripped straight from Hell itself. There’s no means of fighting back, which means you’re left with your wits and your smarts. At least, you should need your smarts, but that’s optional in quite a few cases.
Enemy AI is incredibly basic, whether it’s small creatures sensitive to sound running in pre-designated routes, or a hulking beast that only charges forward. In one later-game set piece, I was supposed to move from light surface to light surface, evading the darkness. It should have been a tense and terrifying run through a harrowing gauntlet. Instead, I just sprinted through without issue.
Levels will have a certain gimmick to them, whether it be using a siren to attract attention or having a short burst light source to navigate a dark area. Sadly, these mechanics are just that – gimmicks. A lot of the time, they’re used for a short section and then discarded. There’s not really a sense of progression through using all of the various tools you’ve acquired. Rather, it feels like a disjointed set of well-crafted but incohesive pieces.
Having said that, there is a genuine element of tension when you narrowly avoid a creature or have to carefully tread through stacks of noisy cans. While you’re always staying out of sight, there’s a bit of variety thrown at you to keep you on your toes. It equals out to a solid and competent rifle, but it lacks the flair to make it a difference maker.
Eventually, you’ll hit one of Ad Infinitum’s main boss battles. The arenas and setups for these showdowns are very good, evoking a powerful sense of atmosphere. Thematically, the game does an excellent job of merging the areas with the figure you’re facing. Some of the musical scores behind these events are additionally brilliant, creating a pungent emotive connection to them.
Which makes the actual encounters that much more underwhelming. Whether it’s dashing through water or kite-ing the creature in circles while you twist valves, they’re mechanically uninteresting. The actual design of the bosses is phenomenal and they’re fearsome, intimidating abominations, only to have all of that fear dissipate when you abuse their AI patterns.
They feel more spectacle than challenge as a result. Surprisingly, given how the game wraps up and the impressive way the battles are showcased, I was relatively okay with it all. Just don’t expect PT levels of creativity in how you engage with this game world.
Having said all of that, I love the art direction and visuals of Ad Infinitum. The way the von Schmitt household increasingly deteriorates, the remnants of a battlefield left empty as the artillery shells layer the blown-out floors. An entire German heavy machinery factory churning and clanking with every movement. Ad Infinitum is brilliant at encompassing the time period it’s based on, and its nightmarish vision of a world corrupted by trauma and pain.
Keep Your Head Down
Ad Infinitum not only looks and sounds the part of a crunching 1914 rifle, but it locks up and jams just like one too. I encountered three entertaining bugs during my playthrough: once when running from a ghoulish figure only to be spring-boarded off the map by a rogue bench’s geometry like some kind of GTA IV swing-set glitch. A second where I accidentally skipped ahead of an encounter, causing a cutscene to not trigger and leaving me to wander out of the map.
The third was less fun: it straight-up crashed when transitioning into a cutscene. It also has some minor issues, like how in one scene I was face-to-face with a blood-curdling deformed monstrosity, only for the audio to just… not happen. Kind of removes some of the tension. Across my roughly 6 hours with the game, these were the only instances, but they’re frustrating nonetheless.
Thankfully, the checkpoint system is very forgiving. Less thankfully, the framerate would often dip from its supposedly stable 60 FPS. Nothing as game-shattering as a rogue artillery shell, but again, annoying. With a binary choice system and collectables to uncover, there is some replayability, but I can’t say I felt overly compelled to revisit once the credits rolled. I did feel satisfied by the conclusion though, which doesn’t always happen in the psychological horror genre.
Ad Infinitum, therefore, isn’t a dud by any means. The suffocating atmosphere and brilliantly realised depiction of World War One carry a lot of merit, even if the gameplay and story fall short of being more than decent. Psychological horror fans may get something from the experience, but I don’t think it’s one that’ll win over many newcomers.
Ad Infinitum initially intrigues with a haunting and visceral sense of atmosphere and nightmare vision. The stealth gameplay unfortunately feels disjointed and the story ends up predictable despite the mysterious first impression. Yet, despite having as many bugs as a WW1 mud-swamped trench, Ad Infinitum has the heart of a soldier desperate to make it through one more nightmarish day.
Ad Infinitum is available September 14th on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam (review platform).
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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