Release Date: Q1 2007
Just spent some time with PlayLogic's Infernal, and at 85% complete, it's looking pretty good. The game casts you as Ryan Lennox, a half-man, half-demon intelligence agent formerly working for Heaven's version of the CIA. Having been "fired" for his particularly brutal methods of solving problems, he gets picked up by the other side at a time when the good guys are about to completely wipe out the bad, thus throwing off the balance of the universe. Throw in cliché names like Lucius Black and Professor Wolf, and it starts to sound like any other generic shooter, but the proof is in the pudding ... or in this case, the gameplay.
Of the two levels available, the first (infiltrating a monastery) felt like every other tired third-person shooter out there, save for the fact that Ryan can demonically charge his weapons to deal insane amounts of damage with a single shot. Enemies use clever AI to take cover and try to flank our wayward hero, but they brought shruikens to a gunfight, so they don't have much chance. Hopefully a little more character model variety is on the way, since most of the enemies seen thus far look like Mr. Clean in a bathrobe. Headshots are effective, and sneaking can sometimes be useful to score them. However, other times, I'd walk around a corner out of sight and the previously bright baddies would blurt, "I've lost him!" It felt like, "move from point to point, shoot guys, repeat." Nothing too exciting yet, but there's more in store here.
The second level — inside a steelworks factory — gives a better taste of the actual infernal powers Ryan's been given. When it says, "use the environment to your advantage," they don't mean collapse a wall on top of a guy or shoot them through a distant window. It's more about confusion and overpowering them. Ryan gains the ability to teleport to any location at which you can point your crosshairs cleanly, triggering a Matrix-like bullet-time slowdown where you teleport to said location and begin unloading bullets. Say, for example, two or three enemies are rushing at you with guns blazing. If you stand still and try to face them down, you won't last long. Instead, point the teleportation marker just behind them, click a button, then put a round in the back of each of them before automatically teleporting back to the starting location. It's disorienting to the enemies, and once you get the hang of it, it's very useful and gives the player a real feeling of power. Plus, it just looks cool.
Once you clear a room, it's worth your time to loot each body for items, ammo, and health. Absorbing the souls of fallen enemies replenishes your life stock little by little, eschewing the obvious need for cheesy health-packs in a game like this. Bodies tumble around in ragdoll glory, barrels splinter, dust erupts from stray bullets, and it looks generally chaotic when a gunfight breaks out. The visuals are definitely one of Infernal's strongest points. From the cloth physics to the way Ryan's clothing bends and flows in real-time, to the bloom lighting effects and various infernal power visuals, obviously quite a bit of time was dedicated to making the game look top-notch.
The sound department is no slouch, either. Weapons all sound distinct, and the different abilities have unique audio cues as well. When all is calm, the music dies off, and when things start heating up again, edgy rock pumps up to get you in the mood to fight. I just hope the final build adds a bit more variety to the music, as the same looping rock track gets a little old after a while.
The screen is pretty clean and allows a lot of room to see what's going on. At the bottom of the screen are gauges for health and mana (for demonic powers), and below them are the currently selected items from primary and secondary inventories. Primaries are weapons, which thus far include pistols, sub-machineguns, and flamethrowers. Secondaries include things like demon vision goggles (allowing you to see other invisible things in the environment), grenades, and an infernal ability allowing you to telepathically move around bodies and environmental objects like boxes or rubble.
The controls are similarly easy to grasp, using the WASD configuration for basic movement and the mouse to aim. Beyond that, you have a button to reload, one to toggle which inventory you're cycling through, a demon goggle toggle, crouch, jump, and "loot" button. Digging up security cards to bypass doors will feel pretty familiar, maybe even a little tired, but you can forgive them when you get to the cooler parts of the level, like using the teleport ability to flip switches you could never reach otherwise.
Rather than overcomplicate the controls, everything is at your fingertips from the start. Double-tap the WASD buttons to do a dive roll in the desired direction, and if you're within arm's reach of the target, clicking the attack button (left mouse) engages in some martial arts fisticuffs. Keep your eyes peeled for things you can use to your advantage, like bad guys who still use exploding cylinders for cover. When will they learn? It may feel average and slow at the start, but once you start unlocking the infernal powers, things get interesting, forcing you to rethink your strategies for battle.
Overall, Infernal seems to borrow the best aspects of several other games and make something a little different in the process. Take the gunplay perspective of Resident Evil 4 combined with the man-devil powers of Devil May Cry and the likeness of a goateed Bryan Fury from Tekken, sprinkle in some Splinter Cell-style imagery and sneakery and a little Max Payne time slowdown, and you're about to what Infernal has to offer. It's certainly worth a look, even at this stage in development.
On the technical side, my Nvidia Geforce 7900GT 256MB was cranking the game out at a solid 100+fps, and it was looking tasty every step of the way. It also has built-in support for the Ageia Physx hardware, for any of you early adopters to the dedicated physics processor bandwagon. However, one thing to be aware of is that the playable preview used StarForce anti-copy technology, which has received a lot of bad press lately and is largely hated by the gaming community for the underhanded way it works. Ubisoft recently caved to user sentiment and dropped support for StarForce, so it'll be interesting to see whether or not PlayLogic sticks with it until the retail release.
It's easy to get up and running in Infernal, though some of the more clever infernal powers take a little time to master. Once you do, it feels pretty badass being Ryan Lennox. Let's hope that in the months remaining before release, the minor rough spots can be hammered out, and the breadth of the adventure expanded far beyond the two levels seen so far. If so, it could be one of the best third-person shooters to come around in a while.
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