The international team of the Berlin studio Hekate is working on his debut. Ad Infinitum was once a college project, but development started from scratch for the commercial release.
On the Gamescom 2022 I got into conversation with members of the Berlin Studio Hekate and was able to extract a section from their debut title ad infinitum to play. In the first-person horror adventure, you are put in the role of a German soldier during World War I who returns from the trenches to his homestead and is plagued by traumatic delusions of the battlefield – or is he still at the front and fantasizing about home? Ad Infinitum aims to scare you with psychological horror, and a certain unreliability of your character’s perception and memories is part of the experience.
In the trade fair demo, I find myself in a field hospital in the trenches and first explore the surroundings. I use an ax to hack through a boarded-up passageway and get to treatment rooms. The further way is blocked, a mysterious phone call gives me three names. I have to go through files and find out the patient numbers of the three, the first one leads me to the number of a specific locker and the other two are the combination for its lock. Certain numbers appear suspiciously often in the environment, which is of course no coincidence, but probably a cryptic reference to what is haunting my character. Now, as I unlock the grille into the dark next area, I have to follow a power cable to bring in more light. Luckily I own a dynamo flashlight. The harder I press the left trigger, the faster it gets bright and stays lit longer. But if I want to sneak past certain opponents, according to the developers, not only should the light betray me, but also the sound of the dynamo if I press the trigger too hard.
In one hallway, I spot a pair of wire cutters, not at all ominously held by a prosthetic arm sticking out of a hole in the wall. At first it seems like I can get the tool out of my hand, then she comes to life, disappearing up to my wrist into the wall and gripping the object I’m looking for even tighter. So I turn my attention back to the power source, which is not far away. However, first I have to go through a corridor full of poison gas. I now choose the gas mask instead of my ax with the digit cross. There are no direct mechanical systems to tempt me to put them down again. Instead, wearing the mask is simply uncomfortable because the field of vision is narrowed, but above all because my character’s labored breathing is so loud. Like the side effects of the flashlight and my slower movement with the ax equipped, each piece of gear is meant to come with a tradeoff for its usefulness. When I turn on the power, a grotesque figure appears, but I can’t see it clearly in the dim light. Luckily, bars and a corridor full of gas separate us and she disappears again. On the way to the now open gate I find the wire cutters lying on the ground.
In the next area I often come across floating barbed wire, which I remove with the scissors. However, this follows a rule: I always have to cut the one wire from the group that is moving like a conveyor belt, then the next one that starts to meander, until they are all eliminated. The ulterior motive will become clear later. I find my way through a tangle of corridors between piled-up bedsteads to another power switch.
More gates open and the lights come on. They illuminate the figure again. In the light I see now that it’s a strange amalgam of prosthetics, maybe with some human somewhere between the excess of wooden limbs. The light pauses briefly, and when it comes on, the monster is closer than before. The game repeats itself until it shatters the glass pane in front of me. The lamps remain extinguished now.
The sequence should teach me that the creature only moves when it’s dark. This is reminiscent of monsters like the Weeping Angel dr Who or the creepypasta creature SCP-173, which moves as soon as you look away. Despite the noise of the trade fair in the background, this premise also creates a feeling of unease. I activate the dynamo like crazy and only take my eyes off the thing if I encounter an obstacle while reversing. However, I don’t see the red emergency lighting that makes it easier to get back through the tangle of beds. So I turn around and sprint off. I get lost in a corner and get grabbed by the monster, but I manage to free myself with a quick time event. The exit – a bed I have to crawl under – is in sight. Undecided, I shine a light on the creature. “It’s not that fast,” the developers encourage me, and off we go to the finale of the escape. The exit is again blocked by barbed wire and now I have to cut through it in the right order against the time. The obstacle is gone, once again I have to free myself from the enemy’s grip and then I’m safe for now.
In terms of atmosphere, Ad Infinitum already made a very competent impression. I find the approach of the psychological horror in the First World War very exciting. When I asked, the developers confirm that they are in contact with historians and museums for the depiction of the war. It also deals with topics such as the treatment of trauma and injuries to soldiers, with the primary requirement of making them fit for action again soon, which symbolically takes the prosthetic creature to the extreme.
In terms of play, the title with the equipment and the stealth system wants to go further than minimalist horror walking sims like Layers of Fear, but not classic survival horror. There will also be sections with weapons, but these will only help limitedly against the psychic beings and it’s not about keeping ammo or cures together. It remains to be seen whether the developers will provide interesting mechanics and interactions that go beyond barbed wire mini-games. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of quick-time events to break away from pursuers again, as so often the danger of being caught loses much of its terror.
In addition to the trenches and the protagonist’s family home, Ad Infinitum will also take you into no man’s land and a completely surreal place. Especially in the case of the ditches and the property, sections should also be connected with each other. For example, through lattice doors you can see areas early on that you only reach later. If the villa is gradually opened up (the screenshots shown on resident Evilvibes exuded), this could make for a motivating exploration of the style of the Hub property in Eternal Darkness worries. By the way, your protagonist should also come into contact with the traumata of the members of his German-French family on his psycho trip and your handling of it should have an effect on the end of the story.
Ad Infinitum has definitely piqued my interest as a horror aficionado, and I’m excited to see how well Hekate can live up to the studio’s first game ambitions for release in 2023.