Start up Infinifactory for the first time and you’ll find yourself immediately abducted into an alien world populated with some of the majorly complex and difficult puzzles you’ll ever be forced to solve by a malevolent dictator. Infinifactory offers the dedicated solver a serious chance at digging deep into a mechanical world of conveyors, sensors, welders, and a variety of other devices necessary for making some of the most stupidly complex machines to appease your violent alien overlords. It’s a game that requires an open mind, a heart full of patience, and the temperament of someone stranded on a deserted island.
Like most “good” modern puzzle games, the instant Infinifactory is started you’re given no formal tutorial. You begin by walking down corridors, learning basic movement and block-placing mechanics while absorbing every inch of the dystopic scenery. You know you’re in some sort of spacecraft, and you know you’re not here because you chose to be. Following that grim line of narrative, you notice a multitude of dead bodies strewn in outer space and some within the spacecraft itself. It’s easy to see that this is not a friendly world…
But quickly, as is the case with many puzzle-centric games, you will likely realize that the freaky narrative of being abducted by aliens and forced to create crazy machines is little more than a safety blanket covering what would otherwise be a game without plot, characters, tone, or setting. Infinifactory would indeed be the same excellent puzzle game, even if there weren’t the memorable spacescapes and alien overlords.
So foregoing the story elements for now, I find myself struggling to accurately formulate a complaint about this game. I am no genius. I don’t exactly know how to tell an excellent puzzle game from a less-than-great puzzle game, but I do know that each puzzle I was matched up against in Infinifactory was a delightfully heady challenge to work through. Each problem seemed to have a very concrete direction in the sense that every puzzle has two requirements.
1. Each puzzle builds of the last and you need to solve them sequentially to understand what you’re trying to do.
2. The thing that worked for you in the previous puzzle will not work for you again. You need to deconstruct and build on what the game teaches you.
Each level provides you with a scenario that you are necessarily (assuming you don’t skip a level) familiar with. But despite your familiarity, there is always a layer of the unknown. Each puzzle requires you to break the rules that you learned before in order to comply with the constraints of the current predicament.
This gives a player the sense of slowly becoming a master of what was previously seen as an unknowable pallette of little machines. This feeling arises in the form of an authentic sense of intelligence and ingenuity. This injection of self-confidence combined with the wide-open nature of the game, makes a person playing Infinifactory feel in control and free to address each problem as an intelligent individual. You’re not pandered to in the least. You’re limited only by the layout of each level’s terrain, your current inventory of machines, and your own ability to think through a problem. You’re reminded that YOU are smart enough to design something so complicated and purposeful so that each time you’re frozen with indecision at the beginning of another seemingly impossible challenge, you can’t help but remind yourself, “Well I solved the last one. I must to be able to solve this one.” And with time, effort, and information carried over from previous levels, it gets done.
And then another one gets done. And another. And another. Until you find yourself sitting on top of a mountain of knowledge that you couldn’t possibly begin to describe in words. With each new problem, your mind effortlessly cuts down on seemingly infinite possibilities, until you’re left with the most efficient and practical method of accomplishing the objective at hand. People have described this feeling as flow, but in Infinifactory, I would simply describe it as a player growing as a better and better designer. A better engineer. A better thinker. There is nothing more rewarding when it comes to problem-solving.
All that lovey-puzzly stuff said, the auxiliary story components are always nice little surprises. After completing one puzzle and moving onto the next, there is a real sense of reward when you get to listen to the voice recordings of all those who have failed where you might yet succeed. There’s also a sincerely sinister – and yet somehow hilarious – overtone to the entire game. You’re making machines that create missiles, ship parts, and fuel, for the benefit of some quite obviously hostile beings, while being rewarded with goofy trophies and food pellets. I don’t think secondary rewards like this are necessary in a good puzzle game – and Infinifactory is a good puzzle game… But just like Portal would not have been the same without GLaDOS, Infinifactory wouldn’t quite feel the same without the recordings of the dead puzzle-solvers that came before you and your creepy-but-hilarious alien rulers.
So without really digging much deeper into the specifics of good puzzle games vs. bad puzzle games, I will put forward the opinion that Infinifactory is exceptional. It is robust with possibility, intensely complex yet refined, and painted with a decent amount of narrative, making the world in which the real puzzly meat is housed come alive.
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