19th Apr2018

‘Infernium’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

infernium-switch-screen

Infernium’s setup is a very interesting one that succeeds on many levels but doesn’t quite add up to a ‘must-have’ title. The slowly unfolding mystery of the early sections soon gives way to a frustration and sense of directionless-ness that even the intriguing setting and evocative atmosphere can’t quite save.

Infernium drops you straight into the game world without an introduction and the sense of confusion that slowly unfolds works to the games’ advantage. You are a silent, unseen character who starts the game with basic light-based powers (although these powers are later expanded upon). Initially you can dash and interact with certain levers etc. in the game world, a game world that is quite numerous with different-sized balls of light which can be drained, I won’t go too much into detail as a lot of the game is best left up to each individual players’ own discovery… in fact, I’ll just describe the first few minutes of the game to give a sense of the tone.

You begin on a small floating island in the sky where the impressiveness of the in-game graphics instantly becomes apparent. You see endless waterfalls flowing, crumbling turrets and distant, seemingly unreachable beaches and foggy steps to the clouds hint at enormous structures in the sky. It’s clear that this is an abstract world indeed, definitely not the standard earth that we are used to, although the artefacts seem human in nature. Within moments, we are taught that we have the ability to ‘dash’ by aiming at the ground within a short distance and instantly being teleported there, naturally, this comes in handy when we need to traverse a rotten rope bridge. After flicking a switch and ascending a creaky wooden lift in a stone ruin lit only by candles, we exit the darkness to see another bridge… on which is standing a spectre of some sort wrapped in a red cloak. Upon approaching him, the music twists into a cacophony of throttled violins as he rushes towards me, I turn and run away only to get lost and cornered in a nearby crevice, the red-cloaked spectre approaches me and the screen cuts to black.

I awaken standing in a passage lit by many orbs, one of which slowly fades out, Walking forwards to a circle of stones, I am transported back to the start of the game to try again, but everything I have touched on my way through thus far remains as it was…

It genuinely begins as a really, really nice idea. The spectres that chase you, slowly and deliberately, never letting up until you travel somewhere that they can’t pass gives a real sense of tension to the game and you feel like a rat scurrying around the labyrinthine levels trying to make your way through. The problem is that most of the difficulty comes from trying to solve relatively simple number puzzles whilst being chased and so after a while it just becomes irritating more than terrifying. The game is set out in such a way that everything seems fractured and it works aesthetically, but it’s not clear where you can go or even where you really need to head. At one point, I referred to a walkthrough and someone spent a good hour getting to a place that it had taken me less than half the time to reach and they appeared to be almost working the wrong way through the game to the way I was. It’s quite interesting in how open-ended this can make the game feel but in practise, the sense of an absolute lack of focus whilst running around claustrophobic stone corridors escaping enemies (you have no way of attacking them) is quite wearing.

There are paragraphs etched into a lot of the walls in the game that add a fragmented back story to what has taken place but they don’t make for interesting reading and are all out of order so it’s difficult to find the enthusiasm to read them (and there are quite a few). Beyond the jump-scare moments, the game is actually quite serene and I must admit that I think I’d enjoy the game more if the red-cloaked figures simply watched you creepily from afar as opposed to chasing you constantly. The graphics are really easy on the eye and the audio work is really enjoyable, easily a highlight of the game with its minimalist, aching score interspersed with sudden bursts of frantic notes.

I’ve read descriptions of Infernium as being Dark Souls meets Pacman, which is a fair assessment. It combines the dreamy, slivers of sparsely-delivered narrative of the former with the traditional chase factor of the latter. The problem that I had was that after I had pieced together the story (and it turns out that I’d correctly guessed what the ending would be), I wasn’t emotionally invested enough to continue as the game repeats the formula throughout:

Wander around hoping you are going the right way, solve simple puzzles with red-cloaks chasing you, (this usually means leading a red-cloak (or two) away from the puzzle, looping around them and flicking a few switches before they catch up), then repeat until the puzzle is completed.

Believe me, after a few hours I would have LOVED to see a button in the menu that turned the enemies off so that I didn’t have to keep repeating the same pattern. There’s a lot of wandering around a corner into one of the spectres, pegging it away, getting lost in the dimly-lit caverns and being caught. It turns what could have been a well-used occasional jump scare into a trial-and-error memory test.

The first couple of hours of Infernium were some of the most involved and intrigued that I’ve been in a game, it throws you into a surreal land of ominous silence, replete with awesome graphics and emotive sounds and music…and then it spends the rest of the time testing your patience for all the wrong reasons.

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