John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Grab your flashlight and start fixing a dangerous, crumbling mining city in INFRA.
Tell me if this intro to the first-person video game “INFRA” doesn’t get your adrenaline gushing:
We put you into the shoes of a structural analyst. Nothing more than a quiet desk jockey assigned to survey some routine structural damage.
Quickly though, your mission turns from a mundane trek to a fight for survival. Your tools are simple: the camera around your neck and the wits to navigate a virtual labyrinth of debris.
How you tell your story is your choice, will you have the commitment to finish your duty, or will you ignore all else but the preservation of your own life?
OK, so the premise isn’t as action-packed as swinging across a floating, racist city in “Bioshock Infinite” or no-scoping ultranationalist terrorists in “Modern Warfare 3.” But INFRA has the power of realism on its side. Given the crappy state of a lot of the world’s infrastructure, who can’t relate to the fear of being crushed by an old bridge or barbecued by an exploding gas line?
It was actually America’s dangerously outdated roads and levees that inspired Loiste Interactive’s Oskari Samiola to create “INFRA.” “The idea to make an infrastructure-themed game came after I watched the ‘Crumbling America’ documentary about the U.S.A.’s at-the-collapsing-point infrastructure,” says Samiola, who’s 22 and lives in Finland. “And generally after hearing news about spoiled tap water and seeing roads in poor condition.”
The protagonist is a Finnish engineer who recently got a job in Stalburg, a fictional Baltic metropolis that once was a flourishing mining hub. However, corporate corruption and disrepair has transformed it into a hazardous warren of cracked concrete and rusty metal. Your duty is to document and fix the deficiencies, using nothing but a camera and your handy flashlight. In look and feel it’s sort of like “Half-Life 2,” but instead of killing headcrabs you’re slowly fixing a city.
Excitement comes from escaping collapsing buildings, avoiding hazards like radioactive mushrooms, and preventing disasters—in one instance, by diverting raw sewage to a treatment plant instead of a river. But most of the game’s allure rests in solving puzzles and exploring Stalburg’s antiquated locales, from abandoned factories to flooded tunnels to wooded dams to a “memorial for industry and its victims.”
Players shouldn’t expect to hammer enemies with their flashlight, say, or run over the boss who delays your work orders with a subway-maintenance train. You can’t even throw the batteries you collect from random spots, like a dingy work locker. “No violence,” says Samiola. “Well … the player could maybe kill a rat.”
It’s a risky concept in a first-person gaming field dominated by bloody shooters and slashers, but to believe the gorgeous screenshots and atmospheric trailers it just might work. Samiola and his fellow developers have already gotten the green light from Steam, and plan to sell the game for $25 at an undetermined date.
Have a look at some more settings, and if you want to support “INFRA” head on over to Indiegogo.