I’ll be the first one to admit, when I first heard about Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance I was intrigued. The story sounded original, it was from a small team so they might be focused on solid gameplay as opposed to flashy substance, and all of the screenshots made it look like a mindless, but fun third-person shooter. Once I finally sat down with Ryan Lennox and his journey from Etherlight assassin to working for the man down under, I began to realize that sometime was wrong. Nothing came together smoothly, the game suffers from some of the biggest design mistakes you can concoct, and it really wasn’t much fun. OK to be fair I am getting a bit ahead of myself, not all is bad with Infernal, but it does do a lot of things that keep it from being the hidden gem it could have been.
The game begins in a bar as protagonist Ryan Lennox is explaining to the woman across the table about how he is enjoying life outside of working for the higher powers. You see Lennox was an assassin for Etherlight, which is just another way of saying he was God’s hit man. This is where the story begins to take a turn for the worse as he quickly discovers that his date is actually there to kill him. You see being one of the greatest assassins in Heaven, makes you a large target when you don’t work there anymore. This begins the opening level of the game, where tutorials would normally subside. The story continues down the path of B-movie caliber and flips back and forth between confusing and entertaining (in a cheesy way) through pretty much the entire game. As long as you don’t take it seriously, it can be compelling.
The game wastes no time tossing you into the action. Bullets begin flying and you are forced to figure out the controls on your own. This is puzzling considering once you complete the opening level; the game begins to give you hints on how to play. Kind of like the second level was initially the first, but the devs decided to add in a new intro and forgot to move over the tutorial. One of the first things you will notice is that there really is no precision aim. Most shooters nowadays allow you to hold down the left trigger to obtain a better shot, or simply to aim period. Infernal just gives you a reticule and leaves the rest up to you, which is much more difficult than it should be.
Controlling Lennox is a chore from the get go. The aiming is so fickle that it took me several trips to the setting screen to find a sensitivity that I could work with. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is wrong, but it feels like every time you get your sights on an enemy, they automatically move, like trying to push two magnets together. The melee combat is also a joke. You have to be perfectly in front of your enemy to pull it off, and half the time your reaction time is so slow that they can move out of the way before you even draw back your fist. You can also take cover and dodge out of the way, but I found the dodge mechanic spotty at best, and taking cover simply does not work the majority of the time.
In addition to the traditional shooting mechanics your character also possesses some supernatural abilities and powers, which you continue to earn throughout the story. These can range from simple teleportation to telekinesis that allows you to move objects in the environment. The first time I earned teleportation it took me ten minutes of struggling with it, just to get past the so-called tutorial on how to use it. The directions were convoluted at best, and even after all was said and done; I felt it could have been easier to just shoot the cameras. I like how they pulled off the idea that since Lennox is switching sides he has to learn all new powers, and I also like how when you enter a Church that your special meter begins to deplete, but the execution of these powers is so sloppy that it rarely makes for a more enjoyable experience.
For most of the game you will also be forced to drain the soul out of every enemy as it is your only means of health. Not until later in the game will you discover health packs. This is nothing new, and it wouldn’t bother me as much if it didn’t take you out of the experience. Granted if you play on easy it isn’t that big of a deal as the damage you are dealt is usually minimum, but playing on Normal or worse yet Hard will force you to siphon each enemy, and hopefully before their bodies disappear. You also have to search fallen enemies for ammo. Again this wouldn’t be such a problem if you didn’t have to stop, look down, and hold a button just to do it, which may sound like no big deal, but imagine if a game like Gears of War forced you to stop every five feet and ask for directions. It would get mighty boring.
The area where Infernal shines is the level design. Each stage takes you to an even more interesting area than the last, and each one is fun to play through. The team really did a nice job of keeping the environments fresh, and the visuals, while a bit dated, still look decent enough. Characters did not age quite as well as their facial animations are off the mark more often than not. Characters also lack decent texture work and look like wax figures in a lot of cut scenes. The dialogue is awesome in that cheesy B-movie kind of way, and there are even times where the subtitles do not match the actual narrative, which is priceless in and of itself.
Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance is the kind of game you really want to love. The story is original, but poorly told. The action is fast-paced, but frustrating. Everything seems like a winner on paper, but when you finally get your hands on the controller things just fall apart. It is truly a shame because the game certainly has the potential to be a lot of fun if the gameplay had been smoothed out just a bit more. As it stands I would not recommend more than a weekend rental, and only because the dialogue and story are so awesomely cheesy, it is worth playing through just to hear.