Would you want to play a game about being a civil engineer? How about a game where you’re a kid going on a pretend adventure in his back yard? What? “No”? Well, let’s see if we can change that. If there’s one thing that indie games have taught us over the last few years, it’s that sometimes even the most mundane scenarios can make for something really special and fun! All it takes is spending a bit of time in order to find out what they’re really all about.
INFRA – Loiste Interactive
INFRA’s unusual concept has had me intrigued since I first learned about the game in 2013, and it has continued to hold my attention with each new look I’ve gotten at it. In INFRA you take on the role of “Mark” a civil engineer for the European city of Stalberg. Your task is simple: go out to under-attended facilities, survey them, and report their state to your home office. That may sound rather dry, but there’s more going on in the city of Stalberg than meets the eye. There’s something rotten happening in Stalberg, and your standard investigations may just be what bring it into light!
In INFRA, you are responsible for one thing: finding the literal cracks in the city’s infrastructure. With nothing more than a hard hat, flashlight, your trusty camera and your magnificent brain, you must find your way through each dilapidated location and meticulously photograph all the problems you find. It’s not quite that simple though. The places you’ll be inspecting have all seen better days, so you’re going to have to get creative in order to complete your investigations. Reroute power, build box bridges, or find alternate routes; use that brain of yours to figure out how to get through these urban death traps and deliver your reports so that they won’t fall apart completely!
Are you an urban explorer? If not, then you soon will be. The locations of INFRA are all of the abandoned power stations, tunnels, and wilderness that mostly exist at the very edge of collective consciousness; the places that we know exist, but of which we rarely think about. There are no enemies out to get Mark (that I’ve seen), but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy as I walked these abandoned places in his shoes. They were all so quiet, so still and terribly empty that I couldn’t help but feel a chill from time to time. Seeing them in their run-down state is also genuinely unsettling. Infrastructure is a not-so-insignificant problem in many countries. So, now I can’t help but wonder if the installations I depend on are also in bad condition. Are they stable, or are they only one small short-circuit away from catastrophic failure? INFRA isn’t a scary game, but the reality it asks us to explore certainly raises some unsettling questions.
There’s also the city of Stalberg itself to consider. Every problem I found came with its own set of questions; mostly musings about how it could have possibly gotten this bad. At first I thought it was just poor management, but that’s becoming less likely. Something strange is going on, and I’m now determined to find out! I won’t spoil anything here, but lets just say that it’s looking like someone has plans for Stalberg, and it looks like those plans have been brewing for a very long time!
So far, INFRA has been a fascinating look at the structures and systems that most us take for granted. It’s a window into the incredibly complex system that supports our daily lives and shows just how easily a little inattention could bring that system to its knees. I’ll say this right now, INFRA isn’t the prettiest or the most technically sound independent game I’ve ever played. However, I believe that it’s definitely worth a look should you find yourself with some time and a desire to play something very different from what you’re used to.
If interested, you can find Part One on Steam right now.
Sword ‘n Board – Stuffed Castle Studios
I found out about Sword ‘n Board around the same time I found out about INFRA. In it you take on the role of “Sidd”, a young boy who’s going on a fake quest to find his lost video game console somewhere in his back yard. In short, it all takes places inside a kid’s head. It’s an unusual setting, but so far I like how it’s being used.
Sword ‘n Board is a top-down adventure game in the same vein as the early Legend of Zelda games. It has a large overworld filled with secrets, dotted with dungeons, and is populated with odd roaming enemies. It has dungeons to explore, items to collect and upgrades to find. Oh and did I mention that there’s a ton of cardboard everywhere? ‘Cause there is. From the enemies roaming around, to the literal cardboard cut-out trees, it’s plain to see that this is a world born of the overactive imagination of a kid obsessed with adventure and video games! The environments are vibrant and have a charming hand-drawn quality. The enemies and effects however, look like things out of an old SNES game: very pixelated and very odd, even though they’re still based on objects a kid would see in their everyday life.
Where Sword ‘n Board differs from its peers is in its item combination system. Every item in the game can be combined with the others for fun and cool effects. Got a slingshot? Cool. Got a hatchet. Great! You know what you’ve got now? A hatchet thrower! Get out there and do some damage! This combo system is actually where I had most of my fun in the game’s current early-access state. I honestly cannot wait for more items to be implemented so that I can play around with the combinations!
Sword ‘n Board was and still is being developed entirely by one man by the name of Robert Busey. It’s been awhile, but Robert hasn’t given up on the game, and he has finally gotten the game into beta and has made it available through Steam Early Access! Take a look if it sounds like something you’d like to try!
Have you had a chance to try either of these? If so, what did you think? Are there any indie gems you’ve found that you’d like to share?
Image from the INFRA Press Kit provided by Loiste Interactive.