While World War II has been consistently explored in all forms of media, World War I rarely gets much attention. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been books, movies, and series that have explored this dark era of humanity, but it certainly isn’t as well represented. Even less frequently depicted are stories told from the point of view of the losing side. As a result, Ad Infinitum immediately makes itself interesting by taking place during that period from the perspective of a German soldier sent home from the front.
After being wounded in combat, our protagonist awakes to find himself back in his ancestral home – but all is not right. While there are plenty of creaking noises, the sounds of doors slamming and voices arguing behind locked doors, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Has he really come home from the front? Did something perhaps follow him back? How much of what is happening is real? These are just some of the questions Ad Infinitum throws at you.
Unsurprisingly, Ad Infinitum is a psychological horror game, specifically about physical and mental trauma. The ongoing effect of PTSD and how the war affected everyone, not just the soldiers thrown into the meat grinder, are just some of the topics that the game explores. But it’s also about the trauma of abuse and the damage families inflict on each other as a result.
As a result, Ad Infinitum is less of a survival horror game than it is an exploration-based, narrative-heavy horror adventure – what we’ve come to dub as “walking simulators”. While there are monsters in this tale, most of the game plays out more akin to the likes of Gone Home.
Which is to say that you’ll be spending most of your time exploring the environment, solving puzzles, and reading the many notes scattered around the world. I’d argue this is also where Ad Infinitum is at its strongest as the writing is quite good and the character’s plight comes through here more than anywhere else. Whether it’s a deep dive into an abusive father’s treatment of his sons, or dealing with the loss of comrades during war, Ad Infinitum does a fantastic job of fleshing out its world.
For those wanting monsters in their horror games? Well, Ad Infinitum has them too. As is so common in this genre, you can’t fight them and have to spend your time avoiding or hiding from them. Thankfully monster encounters are rare and the game is more interested in creating tension through the creepy atmosphere – which the game has in spades. The mechanic of having to hide from monsters or use pieces of the environment to draw them away from where I needed to go eventually wore out its welcome, but their design is suitably stunning and horrific, especially the “bosses”.
Sadly, these sections of the game rely too heavily on trial-and-error gameplay, as you either learn the optimal route or a pattern that exploits the monster’s A.I. The horror they represent eventually fades as a result, and they become annoyances rather than the heartbeat-raising set pieces they could have been.
The boss fights are based around similar mechanics, so while the creature designs are stunning, the fights all play out the same way as you rush about pushing or pulling leavers, hoping to leave the bosses vulnerable enough for you to finish it off. These sections do introduce an element of replayability as there are two “choices” with regard to which mechanic you employ to make them vulnerable; choices that will determine which ending you get.
Now despite the great writing and the setting, Ad Infinitum doesn’t explore either the horrors of war or family abuse as deeply as it could. All the symbolism in the monster designs and environments don’t get the narrative exploration they deserve, leaving the story feeling very superficial. You can interpret it as you please, but the subject matter is begging for a more thorough examination.
Perhaps more significantly, for all the atmosphere the game exudes – in the devastated No Man’s Land or the creepy manor of your birth – Ad Infinitum is never all that scary. The run-and-hide gameplay eventually replaces the horror of the monsters with an annoyance that occasionally needs to be endured.
Talking of atmosphere, Ad Infinitum features some fantastic lighting and material work that makes some of the game’s environments, specifically the manor and a factory, look almost painterly. The manor is wonderfully modelled, textured, packed with detail, and beautifully lit. In comparison, the WWI areas are presented as a grey mess, full of volumetric fog, fires, and muddy trenches. These areas are drab in comparison but I guess they fit the aesthetic well enough.
Sadly, the game suffers from serious frame rate issues, especially in areas where it doesn’t seem there should be any. The bland trenches, in particular, are a sore spot where the frame rate takes a massive stumble, presenting a juddery, shuddery, jerky image in areas. Certain spots in the manor, such as the greenhouse, present similar frame rate stumbles and I assume possibly due to the fog, mist, and fire effects. It’s not a snappy action game that needs a high frame rate, but it’s still distracting and breaks immersion.
Wrapping up, while Ad Infinitum takes a bold stride by telling its story from the point of view of a German soldier during WWI, it lacks the explorative depth to truly make the themes a standout element. There’s a wonderful, creepy atmosphere at play initially, but ultimately the repetitive monster mechanics and a shoddy frame rate hold it back from greatness.
Ad Infinitum was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and PS5.
Ad Infinitum (Xbox Series) ReviewAd Infinitum (Xbox Series) Review
- The rare World War 1 setting
- Inspired monster designs
- Creepy atmosphere
- Great lighting and material work
- Surface level storytelling
- Repetitive mechanics
- Shoddy frame rate