Trapped in the lonely, uncanny, and deteriorating WW1 trenches that spiral confusingly around the upcoming horror game Ad Infinitum, there’s no telling up from down or right from wrong. My world is collapsing, or maybe that’s just one of my lungs as my breath shakes in my lungs after every corner, waiting for that fateful moment when something menacing jumps from the dark shadows engulfing this forgotten world.
There’s a shovel, but that’s not for fighting. The only possibility is to take a couple of deep breaths and psyche myself up for the long, slow, and merciless crawl around the edges, clinging to the walls. There’s nothing too awful yet, but when you’re left to your own devices, your mind starts to play tricks on you. And let me tell you, with where my mind is going Ad Infinitum could make its way onto our best horror games list in no time.
My short time playing Ad Infinitum’s preview has been a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve been locked in a gigantic ornate mansion, trapped in a small radio-casting room in the abandoned WW1 trenches, and finally found myself in the middle of a deserted French town. My sense of what’s real and fake has left me, as this horror game constantly plays with your mind and your surroundings.
At one moment destroyed ruins of a once bustling market town surround me, but suddenly one wrong turn leads me back to the same trenches that have plagued me earlier in the game. Unfortunately, this time it’s much worse. find myself face to face with a group of eyeless monstrosities that are covered in rows of rotting teeth.
Gliding slowly towards the exit and away from these inhuman beasts, I commit a classic blunder and trip right into a noise trap. The blind creatures rear their heads towards me, revealing the teeth embedded deep within their eyes. The words from one of Ad Infinitum’s devs Lukas Deuschel, echo in my mind, “you’re not going to kill hunger with a gun”. No, maybe not, but it looks like I’m going to die trying.
Left of center
Talking to TechRadar Gaming, project manager and lead sound designer Lukas Deuschel and art director Thomas Lenz broke down how Ad Infinitum makes its own space in the crowded market of horror games and how this title looks to take another look at the psychological horror genre.
Ad Infinitum is set during and after the atrocities of WW1; you play as an unknown protagonist trying to get to grips with the acts you committed during the war and your life after you return from the front. While the setting constantly changes location from your family mansion to a destroyed French village or muddy trenches, there’s no indication of what is real or fake. Ad Infinitum takes place within a fragmented mind that is desperately trying to make sense of its surroundings.
“One of our goals is not only to entertain the player with an interesting and good-looking gaming experience”, Lukas says. ”Our approach is also to show a more personal side of war and how it affected families. Everyone has a family; it's like a common denominator”.
While not all of the secrets that Ad Infinitum holds were made clear during the preview, the focus on family was hard to ignore. Trailing through the dark and forgotten halls of your family home and picking up letter after letter that described the sorrow your mother felt on your return from the war was, at times, hard to stomach. While this horror game occasionally fell into the common pitfall of having one too many letters to read, it succeeded in cementing a feeling of loss and sadness both for the protagonist and for the mother who had lost her son.
However, while the rest of the family were left in the shadows, the developers assured me we’ll see more than just the mother throughout this psychological horror title. “We want to build the characters up throughout the game and different chapters”, Lukas says. “In the first chapter, the focus is more on the mother and her heritage, because she's from a French village. But later on, we focus on the Father, the brother, and even the grandfather”.
A WW1 setting for a horror game isn’t uncommon at this point. In fact, we just got a title with a similar setting in Amnesia: The Bunker earlier this year. However, while the setting is important to Ad Infinitum, this horror game marches to a different song.
“In an abstract way, and we’re aware of the responsibility we have because [WW1] is a hot topic for us”, Thomas says. “It's such an historic event that we want to pay it the respect it deserves, while also taking a closer look at its repercussions”.
This respect is abundantly clear as developer Hekate takes a measured and emotive stance, taking its time to carefully consider and unfold the war that changed generations. Nothing’s approached head-on in Ad Infinitum; many of the characters and monsters that you’ll encounter are an embodiment of a bigger problem.
“The creatures in our game are representations of different aspects of the war”, Lukas says. “There is the starvation of the civilian population, which is represented by the weird, creepy child-size creatures. They're completely blind, and covered in teeth all over the body. You’ll hear them do this weird clicking sound when they're looking for food; they’re really desperate to eat”.
There’s also the decision to stray away from the use of guns in Ad Infinitum, which is a significant decision for a title set in WW1. “Guns don’t really matter, because they never change”, Lukas says. Instead, the developers wish to focus on what does shift, people, ideas of right and wrong, and, importantly, our minds.
“Questioning your own reality is extremely important when it comes to fighting for something and potentially killing people in a war”, Thomas says. “Then you should question your reality and whether this is the right course to take”.
Psychological horror set during the world war is almost too ‘easy’ for developers. However, Ad Infinitum’s idea of combining reality and consequences with mental health awareness fits like a glove without being too on the nose. I’m hoping that come launch later this year in September; players will be able to see the horrific sights and reflect on its wider meaning for themselves with the same thrills I did.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.