Indie Game of the Week 64: Infinifactory

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Between this and Sutte Hakkun this week, I've been burning brain cells like nobody's business. Infinifactory is, like its sister games SpaceChem and Opus Magnum, a puzzle game from Zach Barth (of Zachtronics) that leans heavily on building assembly lines and constructing logic circuits with which to take multiple components and fuse them together to create a desired composite structure. It's the type of premise that starts simple and quickly escalates into over-elaborate pandemonium; sort of like a snowball rolling down a hill, except you're throwing sticks and coal at it on specific points on that hill to ensure a snowman arrives fully formed at the bottom.

I bounced off SpaceChem mightily like it was a futuristic rubber polymer, but I've found myself enthralled with Infinifactory. I think part of why this is, and also a reason why I pencilled in the game for this feature to begin with, is that it's highly reminiscent of a certain mini-game in the PS2 JRPG Rogue Galaxy. As in that mini-game, the goal is to use a 3D environment to craft a series of platforms, conveyor belts, welders and logic circuits (like sensors connected to pushers to tell them when to push), to name just a few tools, to achieve a single desired result. It tends to be a process with a lot of proofing, at least for me, as I figure out where a faulty part of the circuit has screwed everything up and endeavor to fix it. The game is chill as hell about mistakes, letting you test and re-edit the current course as often as you need, and showing where you screwed up if you deposit a finished product with any errors. There's a few quality of life boons I wish the game had - like moving a large mass of blocks at once if you need to slightly re-position everything after a new edit, unless I'm missing that function - but for the most part it's fairly generous. That magnanimity is continued further by how progress is gated: you can unlock new puzzle sets without necessarily completing all the ones in the immediate set. Each new zone invariably adds more block types and thus raises the difficulty by having more variables to consider, but so far it's been unexpectedly breezy given the reputation of Zachtronics's games. That said, it's not like I haven't spent over an hour agonizing over a single puzzle so far. Multiple times, even.

It's working! I can't believe it's working! Uh... I mean, of course it works, I built it that way. Ahem.
It's working! I can't believe it's working! Uh... I mean, of course it works, I built it that way. Ahem.

But man, there is nothing like taking a long time, ironing out all the problems with your Rube Goldbergian nightmare device, and having it work ideally, sending all those perfect constructs off to the deposit zone like you're watching your kid leave for college and being so proud that they somehow didn't explode halfway out of the driveway like last time (is it me, or are my analogies getting darker?). More than once, I've lucked into a situation where the mechanism I set up shouldn't have worked but did (as opposed to the much more frequent opposite) and can't help but feel I've scored an additional little victory against the game. Infinifactory doesn't feel quite as "player adversarial" as some puzzle games I've played recently, most notably that physics kerfuffle simulator Human: Fall Flat, but all the same you take your hard-earned jollies where you can find them.

Infinifactory even has a framing story. Abducted while driving down a lonely highway, the player character is gang-pressed into performing menial factory assembly construction for a race of aliens that resemble the lazy and bureaucratic Vogon of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe. Recognizing that humans are too primitive to rebel against their superior technology, but resourceful enough to do their hard work for them, they've been snatching humans for decades and forcing them to work until they drop from exhaustion or dehydration across numerous alien worlds. That said, they're not completely without compassion: you get a generous helping of food pellets and the occasional gift for performing good work, like a participation trophy or the rare opportunity of eating an entire chicken (raw, of course, and it's not like you can politely decline either). Throughout the various stages you can find the corpses of other human thralls - and the occasional non-human - and listen to an audio tape of their final moments, usually cursing the current puzzle as well as the alien jerks who put them in this situation. Normally, it'd be just enough of a narrative to keep me pushing through the puzzles as they continue to grow tougher and longer, but the game's puzzles actually stand on their own well enough. Still, I'm curious to find out where a certain recurring plot thread is heading.

After a hard day's work telling cubes what to do, it's time to feast upon nutrition cylinders while admiring my armpit VHS.
After a hard day's work telling cubes what to do, it's time to feast upon nutrition cylinders while admiring my armpit VHS.

If you've played SpaceChem or Opus Magnum until cerebral matter started leaking from your ears, you might be surprised to learn that Infinifactory is a far more gentle beast despite the added complication of an entire extra dimension. It helps to come to Infinifactory with some experience with this type of puzzle game; I have all my aforementioned time making +1 laser swords in Rogue Galaxy, but I can't imagine it's too distinct from creating elaborate mechanical systems in Minecraft either, especially with the cube-based interface. It's the first puzzle game I've played in a while that I feel compelled to complete, or at least as far as the story goes: if I manage to escape this predicament, see credits roll, and discover there's another fifty bonus courses to complete, I'll probably call it a day. Happy to recommend this one all the same.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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