John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Are you enough of a hero to document grievous safety violations in a crumbling Baltic city?
Take the brooding beauty and dystopian, Soviet-flavored setting of “Half-Life 2”—but remove the weapons and monsters—and you got yourself “INFRA,” a video game about fixing a crumbling city before everything goes to hell.
The first-person nonshooter will not appeal to everyone. The action begins in, of all places, a boardroom discussion—a narrative decision the game seems to instantly regret, because you get a pop-up option to “Skip meeting.” “Look, just text me the memos, I want this over with as soon as possible,” your character growls. Yet you might spend the next 7 minutes trying to find the dang exit of your office building, as did a guy who recorded the below play-through video. (He then fell off a ledge and died.)
As for the plot, you are “Mark,” an engineer tasked with saving the infrastructure of a once-profitable, now badly degraded Baltic mining city. Oskari Samiola, who’s 23 and lives in Finland, earlier told CityLab the inspiration for making this game was watching a “documentary about the U.S.A.’s at-the-collapsing-point infrastructure” and “generally after hearing news about spoiled tap water and seeing roads in poor condition.” He seems to have stuck with the decision not to include violence, having the player instead search for technical documents, photograph safety issues like wall cracks, and unveil the deep-rooted schemes and corrupt operators behind the city’s looming downfall.
It might sound tame, but the unique mission and lovely, atmospheric graphics might appeal to a wonky slice of gamers. “INFRA” is available for $14.99 on Steam, where it’s received a “Very Positive” rating. Here’s one user review:
You could use the words 'Walking Simulator' to describe Infra, but that definition barely scratches the surface of what's going on here. You could say that Infra is a puzzle game, but you'd only be talking about the tip of the iceberg. You could say that Infra is a job simulator, but you'd still be missing the real point of what is going on.…
At its brilliantly mundane heart, Infra is an interactive cautionary tale, and one that hits close to home for all of us. All around us we are surrounded by tecnologies and systems that we take for granted and that is the spot where Infra builds the edifice of tension that makes up the game's core. Because despite the cinematic license with which Infra's story is presented, the Bad guys and monsters are entirely human, perfectly possible. The horrific scenarios that play out have happened in our world before and they are doing so right now, even as we sit here unaware of their unravelling beneath our feet.
Enjoy these screenshots and that play-through footage (be warned there’s cursing).