This is the fourth part of a five-part series on INFRA. The previous parts were Optical Delusion, The Abandoned Church and Fractures.

There’s one key section in late INFRA that attracts a lot of praise. It’s another puzzle-strewn location that Mark gets stuck in and, yet again, has to go to silly lengths to escape.

But this is a very different INFRA to the one you have known. It’s not about crumbling infrastructure but an excursion to surreal country.

Welcome to Turnip Hill.

INFRA spans a single day. A serious problem afflicting the endgame is that, at night, nothing looks good. The world is poisoned with darkness, starving the player of glorious sights. This is why, as I mentioned in the previous post, INFRA dishes out a crucial flashlight upgrade, otherwise you’d be guzzling flashlight batteries.

The only way to reclaim any of that familiar graphical glory is to find a place enriched with light. Wandering an evacuated Stalburg at dusk has its moments but much of it is too dark to love. After you leave Stalburg, night usurps the sky and that hair-trigger urge to screenshot ebbs away.

It is a welcome relief to reach the brightly-lit lobby of Turnip Hill which, at first glance, appears to be an ordinary block of flats. But Turnip Hill is anything but ordinary. It is part of the Obenseuer district (“Open Sewer”) that is referenced many times throughout INFRA, a dumping ground for Stalburg’s poor. It’s practically a shanty town boasting its own rules and economy. In design terms, this means INFRA’s real world sensibilities are thrown into an open sewer wearing concrete boots.

Of course, you don’t see many people in Turnip Hill – one rough sleeper and another person soon to die – but you do talk to several through closed doors. There are conversational fragments; All of the people are suffering from mental illness of a sort which can be put down to alcohol and mushroom abuse. In terms of vibe, I was reminded more of Neil Manke’s Half-Life mod trilogy They Hunger. I haven’t played They Hunger since release, so take this comparison with a punchbowl of salt.

Over its duration, INFRA gestures towards the inequity of Stalburg’s rich/poor divide and you might expect Turnip Hill is where this point is driven home. Forcing people into such a twilight existence is tacitly appropriated as a feature rather than a bug in all first-world economies. But INFRA was never really about political messages or truths about the city-state; it utilises the Obenseuer concept as an opportunity to do crazy stuff. Don’t strain too hard looking for messages about injustice or even how Turnip Hill is meant to operate. It has a pharmacy, a book store, a drawbridge and… a bottle recycling machine.

This machine is the simplest way to obtain coins in Turnip Hill. There’s no concept of an inventory when it comes to bottles so Mark has to carry each one individually to the recycling machine. And boy, you need those coins as the Turnip Hill lift is hungry for currency. Mark cannot escape Turnip Hill without coins.

Don’t forget that Mark’s rushing to a nuclear reactor at the point of meltdown! To gain egress, Mark must reach the funeral home and perform one last task: dispose of “biowaste”.

Some INFRA players may not know that Turnip Hill’s biggest secret is the underground city. I never visited and the first I heard about it was through research for these posts. However, access requires you to have done something hours earlier in INFRA. It even offers an alternative, much darker ending to INFRA, complete with credit roll.

Turnip Hill is just the weirdest location. Here’s the thing. If Turnip Hill was some small self-contained project uploaded to itch, I’d probably give it a whirl and maybe even chuckle at it. But it’s strapped to INFRA like a bomb belt and, even worse, Turnip Hill turns up during the wearying endgame. It weighs down exploration with coin grinding and silliness and we find our walking simulator has gone AWOL.

But perhaps I’m an outlier. Turnip Hill’s surreal blend has attracted much love from INFRA players. Its success seems to have encouraged Loiste Interactive to develop an RPG based entirely in Open Sewer in 2018. It remains in early access and updates are infrequent (the last information on Steam was in March).

I hear it has a lot of mushrooms.

Next: A Game I Needed To End

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7 thoughts on “No Hill To Die On

  1. This was the point where my intrigue became incredulity. There’s a lots in this big lovely mess of a game that is clumsy and under-designed, and Turnip Hill is a big knot of that stuff. I’m glad I kept playing but I was so close to packing it in at this point.

  2. I’m glad I get to live Infra vicariously through you, Joel. The more I read about it, the more it seems like a wasted opportunity that took the wrong path time and again in its design.

    This surprised me until I watched the trailer for Open Sewer and it became abundantly clear what kind of developer Loiste actually is. Talk about squandered potential.

    You suffer so we don’t have to, my friend. Promise the next game you longform will be one you thoroughly enjoy. A happy Harbour Master is the best Harbour Master!

  3. MrBehemo

    It was at this point I started regaling my son with the evils of traditional game design, adding gopher mechanics and numbers to give players “something to do”. It didn’t help that I had no “buy-in” regarding the INFRA universe, having followed very little of the game’s lore. I felt the story actually undermined any feelings of Stalburg as a real place.

    Steerpike

    My love for INFRA was irretrievably damaged at this point so the game would have had to do something incredible for me to love the ending. Spoiler: it didn’t. I found most of INFRA’s humour quite dull, frat boy level stuff, everything is drugs and drink. Small mercy: at least there are no jokes about women.

    Still, I will be more pragmatic about the whole thing in my final slice on INFRA and I’m sure Andy D will drop in a comment; he was a big fan of Turnip Hill. I think it offers nostalgia of the rough-and-ready modding community nostalgia, circa 2000.

    You’re right, though. I don’t have too much luck with longform games. Control was a similar story, I enjoyed the middle chunk of the game but I did tire of it. (Prey, on the other hand, blew me away; the story wasn’t the best and the creature design was also lacklustre but GOD I loved exploring Talos I.)

  4. yes, Turnip Hill interrupts the pace of the plot, and seems an absurd interruption in Mark’s goal to prevent the nuclear reactor melting down. thats about as far as i am in agreement with you. i loved Turnip Hill, really loved it. its one of my favourite levels ever, from all the first person games ive played. where you found it a distraction and a chore, i found it a delight, both ridiculous and sublime.

    its an absured portrait of a would-be anarcho-libertarian commune, of people who rejected the corrupt city and its rules, or were rejected by it. who took this building stuck in developer limbo and squatted in it, and made it their own city.

    their own currency? of course! having to pay to go anywhere, even to use the lift? they have no taxes, but things dont run themselves: so you pay for what you use. and naturally, they have a bottle exchange to encourage cleaning up litter. it doesnt *work*: the plethora of bottles strewn around is evidence of that. none of the systems they’ve tried to build actually work the way they idealised them.

    their mayoral elections were tainted by bribery, and the mayor themself is corrupt; even if the magnitude of the corruption is more limited than in the city. most of the inhabitants are caught up in one petty squabble or another. and when they run up against a bare fact of life—that people die; that something has to be done with the bodies; and that someone has to do it—the collision of pragmatic necessity with the sheer absurdity of the place becomes sublime: and becomes another ridiculous quest for Mark (and you) to do.

    and gosh, the place is huge! i kept exploring, and exploring, and finding new areas. i enjoyed collecting bottles, and trying to wrangle with the Source Engine physics to break as few as possible: because every new bottle i found promised more places i could go. and the whole place is packed with details and small interactions to do.

    i always loved how many of the 3d games in the 90s celebrated their interactivity, even when it was pointless: flushable toilets, usable faucets and telephones, playable pianos. that delight in creating irrelevant (and irreverent) details that can be seen flowing gently through many games, not least those from their fellow countrymen in Max Payne, or My Summer Car. and in INFRA that joy is a torrent rushing underground throughout the entire game. that torrent has burst like a broken hydrant into most of the previous levels, but here in Turnip Hill it explodes out in a deluge. it was an absolute joy for me.

  5. I haven’t played Infra, though I’m intrigued by many elements of it. While technically a walking simulator, the idea of one with a specific objective (and some stress associated with that objective) appeals to me — maybe it’s just the concept of a first person game where the player is meant to overcome challenges in unorthodox ways, without shooting zombie nazi aliens. Don’t get me wrong, I love shooters, but also the Tacomas and Gone Homes of the world; games that explore different proxies for progress than the usual suspects and manage to maintain a sense of forward momentum.

    However, I don’t care for environmental puzzles, largely because I suck at them and they make me feel dumb and frustrated. I’m also intolerant of the kind of humor that Infra and Open Sewer clearly rely on, particularly when it’s over-used in a game (or film, or whatever) where it doesn’t seem to have any place. The world Joel describes in these Infra articles suggests a serious one with serious concerns, so it seems humor should be deployed as a momentary stress breaker, not glazed over the entire experience. The trailer for Open Sewer on its Steam page made it pretty clear that Loiste isn’t interested in the themes presented by the environment they’ve created; they’re interested in poop inventory and amusing themselves.

    I’m looking forward to the final installment!

  6. There, a nice counternarrative from Andy. Even though I found Turnip Hill insufferable, I completely agree that it’s a lot larger than you might expect; as with everything in the game, the developers went to town on breathing size and depth into the place. It’s a question that occurs again and again throughout INFRA: why is there more? And the tone of that question depends on how you feel about the game at that point: pleasant surprise or with a sigh.

    That amazement of how pointlessly expansive and detailed the offices are at the start of the game? Every level. All the levels. Naturally assets get recycled (and turned into a metagame in places) and perhaps that’s part of that reason it wore me down?

    Still, I’ll be trying my best to sing praises for INFRA when we get to the final part. Despite feeling that weariness that’s usually only associated with AAA – this is an achievement in some sense – it’s an amazing ride.

    I do wish I could see Turnip Hill with your eyes, Andy, but I think I’m stuck with seeing the mushrooms and beer. There is poop in there too, but not nearly as much as that Open Sewer trailer…!

    I really need to finish the INFRA writing soon, Steerpike, it’s been *such* a long time since I played it. Too much time was spent reviewing Turnip Hill details trying to refresh my memory!

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