Infestor is a largely unremarkable puzzle-platformer from Rataliaka Games, but it has a memorable mean streak. You wouldn’t know to look at it, as you’re playing a cute, unblinking alien blob, and the pixel art is simple but colourful. The levels, too, aren’t difficult: there are 70 on offer here, and they never stretch beyond ‘challenging’.
The mean streak comes from the way you ‘infest’, or possess, your enemies. Ugh, even the word ‘infest’ gets us shuddering, and we’re going to file it next to ‘moist’. You are an escapee alien from Human Colony 31-5B, and your only means of getting about is to absorb the head of a human and control them. But, since different humans have different abilities, like pushing blocks or double-jumping, you’re going to need to discard those humans, and you do it regularly.
This means popping them. They explode in innards, and you’re free to hop on the head of another doomed individual. We will admit to enjoying this over and over and over. The designers of Infestor clearly did too, as they keep poking at the concept. You can’t exit a level while attached to a human, for example, so POP, they’re a shower of giblets and you’re onto level 37. Some gaps are impossible to cross with a single jump, so you have to POP your human and use the resulting momentum to just about scrape onto the platform. Other levels are just a chain of different humans, so you will POP POP POP till you can’t stop.
You’ll get an achievement for each human you collect and then pop, so you’ll get an evil glint in your eye as a new one appears on a level. Don’t worry about us – there’s no budding serial killer waiting to come out – it’s just that Infestor does a marvellous job of making this mechanic fun.
We’re glad that developers Woblyware Oy did, because the rest of the game is a bit meh. You start each level as the amorphous blob, but you’re limited to the extreme. You can barely jump, and a single hit will kill you. Luckily, the levels are scattered with humans and – hilariously – most don’t seem bothered that you’ve escaped. They will stand and stare into the middle-distance as you pass by, merrily unaware that you’re about to push yourself into their eye sockets and infest.
There are a fair few humans, and they have different abilities. Spiky-haired chaps can jump higher, captains have keycards to open doors, workmen can push blocks, and soldiers can shoot, which is a double-bonus as you’ve both removed them as a threat and have them as a weapon. None of the abilities are wildly interesting, and some are even a little disappointing: a dude with a jetpack turns out to just have a double-jump.
You’ll need these people to overcome their related obstacles. Robot drones need to be killed with the soldier. Blocks need to be pushed by the workmen to create platforms or block the bullets of turrets. It’s puzzle-platformer 101, but it works reasonably well, and there are no particular control issues.
What surprises most about the levels as they progress, is that Infestor opts for pretty-much the same flavour throughout. A possession-based platformer has a lot of different opportunities (you could have puzzle-oriented levels based around which human is needed, and in which order; or you could amp up the action with a shooter-oriented level), but Infestor chooses to be a timing-based platformer.
More often than not, you will be waiting for an enemy’s patrol route, or timing a run past some slamming doors, or memorising a sequence of lasers. That’s well and good, but it doesn’t really matter which human you are wearing, as the timing puzzles will feel the same regardless. It’s bemusing that 80% of the gameplay is based on navigating these traps, when they don’t take advantage of Infestor’s big old USP: the possession.
It’s completely subjective, but we’ve always had a hatred for death traps that have sequences. It’s the old ‘step forward, wait, step forward two spaces, wait for longer, then run’. We’ve just never found joy in working out the sequence, and they’re tentative and slow when we want to be popping jetpackers.
If you haven’t got that weird allergy to laser puzzles, though, then Infestor is actually a harmless time. The platforming is tight, the levels are short but sweet (although there are no collectibles, difficulties, game modes or multiplayer options to add longevity), and the achievements come at a hefty rattle. As is customary with Ratalaika games nowadays, you’ll come away with 1000G before you’ve even reached the halfway point, and that’ll be music to certain people’s ears. Push beyond the 1000G and there’s a decent 70 levels and two-to-three hours of gameplay here, and you won’t break much of a sweat on the way to the awful final cutscene. You will know already if that’s £4.99 well spent.
Infestor is a puzzle-platform snack that won’t leave a bad taste, but won’t fill you up either. Sure, popping humans never gets old, but it’s the bits between the popping that feel familiar and not particularly challenging. On balance, you might be better infesting your money elsewhere.
You can buy Infestor from the Xbox Store for £4.99 on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S