Infinifactory comes the way of Zachtronics and a fairly speedy turnaround from early access to full game on Steam. Zachtronics is also responsible for puzzlers like SpaceChem, Ironclad Tactics, and TIS-100, which is to say the main cog in Zachtronics’ clockwork, Zachary Barth, has quite a bit of puzzle game experience.
His latest culmination inside the PlayStation 4 version of Infinifactory showcases that puzzle acumen in an open-ended way. You, as a human kidnapped during an innocuous drive, are made to create manufacturing pathways for your new masters, each group of successful puzzles you solve earning you a gentle pat on the head and another meal. The internal scenes seem to be infused with a magnified version of Portal’s cruelty and escapist mentality, creating an interesting structure from within the puzzles can flourish.
The puzzles do, however, end up standing on their own more times than not with the lore-based excuse to graft you into this rat race seeming flimsier by the puzzle. There are audio logs that give you some characterization from other unwilling participants, but it’s a lead ramps. You just do puzzles, something innocuous happens, then more puzzles; repeat until the game ends. There is some humor that hits, adding some downright necessary tension relief during longer puzzles, but the music feels like the only part attempting to convey emotions or a sense of dread. While the music is lovely and a treat on its own, it doesn’t pull that cart well by itself.
Again though, the puzzles are the main focus and can reach a tremendous breadth very few other games have touched. The underlying concept deals with a system of conveyors and pauses, tasking you with creating specific shapes and configurations of blocks given your available tools, but otherwise, the solutions are yours to find. You can make an absolute architectural nightmare that puts Mouse Trap to shame, or you can chase the paradigmatic “leaderboard” to be the most efficient block placer in the world. Either way, you have to learn and obey the physics of the realm if you’re going to work your way through the production lines. Those larger machinations feel both daunting and grand, putting your ability to take involved puzzle-solving one step at a time to the test.
Along the way, a piece or two seems to have fallen on the wayside with Infinifactory’s design. The PlayStation 4 controls feel cumbersome with too many steps standing between simple actions such as changing block types, especially when compared with the smooth PC interface. This leads into what feels like the game’s largest issue: it’s just not fun. Scale and complexity in your solutions is left to your devices, but there’s no reward or loop to speak of for achieving any goal. The story doesn’t feel worthy of the 30+ minutes you spend on one puzzle solution, and your left with no answers to why you’re still doing these puzzles. This seems to betray one of the core concepts Infinifactory touches on, ironically leaving the player without the reward that your in-game avatar experiences and making the whole process feel like a grind. That feeling is manifest in the segmented controls but isn’t amplified until you find yourself against a later-campaign puzzle, picturing the mass of conveyors and blocks that will have to be meticulously rotated and aligned before you can proceed into another round of the same. It’s a cycle of deflation rather than construction.
That said, the freedom allowed for solutions is an interesting approach that shows how opening up previously linear ideas can influence creativity. But again, without a real reason to create a solution that also serves as a visual treat, it’s just puzzling for puzzling’s sake.
Graphically, the game just isn’t up to par with early 2000s character models littering the experience and environments that look jagged in the background. Stages for puzzles and the blocks themselves look fine in a Minecraft way while the audio—the way of music and logs hidden in the levels—is tiptop. Jetpack controls, which allow you to see the puzzles from vertical angles as well, are appreciatively simple while the touchpad, which one can imagine as a viable alternative to menu scrolling for new blocks, goes completely unused.
Infinifactory is puzzling unbound; you have the pieces, so your mission is simply to find your own solution, no matter how big or small. That concept holds up well enough inside the puzzles themselves, but the areas outside your main platform suffer because of the lack of return from the game itself. The structure doesn’t feel empty or static, but the entire project is never allowed to breathe beyond the open-endedness of conveyor solutions. It stands as a puzzle game that challenges you to K’Nex together your own brand of productivity while listening to wonderful audible treats. The aspects of fun and intrigue, unfortunately, don’t seem to come with this particular playset.
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