Release Date: Q4 2006
How fitting that, as I'm sitting down to write of a game called Infernal, I have just opened a bottle of "Casillero Del Diablo" red wine? Sometimes the depths of my pretension astound even me, a jaded old Goth Queen. At least I'm not listening to The Cure and typing this by the flickering light of a single jet-black candle. Have I given you the impression that what I'm about to expose is somehow a moody drama with much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth? If so, please allow me to butcher such preconceptions; Infernal is anything but a somber exercise in existentialism. Instead, it looks very much as though this is the latest in an illustrious line of anti-hero-driven action titles that draws upon the mythology of Hell and breeds it with John Woo-style gun play.
The three-level preview build that we received says much without really saying anything at all. It provides no true story, no context, indeed no explanations for what it does offer: spectacular graphics, intense action, and a heavy supernatural element underscoring it all. The protagonist has tribal tattooing all over his neck, so we can safely assume that he's not a part-time till jockey at Starbucks. (Their dress code clearly states, "No visible tattoos.")
Infernal is described as a single-player, PC-platform, third-person perspective shooter with a healthy dose of stealth mechanics. That's as clinical a description as I've ever typed out, so let's dig further. "Infernal tells the story of Ryan Lennox (at least we know our in-game name now), a top intelligence officer who just happens to moonlight as a 'Devil straight from Hell.'" I find it amusing that it needs to be pointed out a Devil came straight from Hell, hinting that perhaps some denizens of the underworld wander off from time to time and that (true to his disciplined intelligence officer training) Ryan Lennox deserves accolades for not dawdling.
As I have stated, the build offers essentially nothing, save for three full playable levels. No tutorial, no pre-rendered cinematic, and no cut scenes. As such, I don't exactly know how one of Lucifer's in-crowd came to be working as a covert operative for an unnamed shadow government agency, I just know that he has come into this position and I've got to make the best of it. The political sub-text is drenched in wry commentary, it really is. Besides, I'm having a great deal of fun making up the back story all by myself; I think the wine helps.
Upon loading into the first level (a monastery, incidentally), I quickly make some snap judgments within the first 15 seconds or so. Judgment number one? Metropolis are going to have to work really hard to screw this game up, because in its current state, it's pretty "damned" cool. You admire my word play, yes? Now, why oh why do I so willingly toss objectivity to the wind and instead subjectively gush? Well, for starters, the graphics are just great. It's clear that there's still some optimization to be done, but the whole package appears to be in order: high-polygon models, high-detail textures, spectacular particle effects, and a strong sense of design acumen. Basically, everything I personally look for in a visually stunning title. I do frown at the artists for making me envy the physique of the main avatar. How embarrassing to feel inadequate while looking at a 3D model. I really must get out to the gym more often.
Past the pretty lights, I must admit I was pretty impressed by the fusion of modern urban combat and supernatural powers, even if I don't understand what it is that has led me to be blowing away armored monks wearing fetish-club leather skirts. Lennox-the-Debbil has a really snazzy right-click power that allows him to engulf his arm in flames, and then project it in a violent display of power. At first, I didn't realize it ran off of a mana bar, and I couldn't figure out why anyone would bother even carrying a side-arm when they could just burn baby, burn. Then my zenny magic points ran out, and it all made perfect sense. Let me tell you, just that one ability alone shoves the "this is a game worth picking up at launch" meter into the red. Hey! The Devil is red too! This is just getting weird, isn't it?
There are a few other abilities available to the hip, urbane, Devil-on-the-go. One such ability allows you to absorb the kinetic impact of bullets, another allows an ethereal "ghost" form, and apparently you can absorb the life-energy of defeated enemies. I didn't witness this in action, but that could mean one of two things: Either it hasn't been implemented yet, or I just keep killing the bad guys from too far away (are they bad? I mean, they're shooting at me, but maybe I'm the bad guy, I am straight from hell, after all). There is a zoom function too, and I couldn't help but chuckle at this: Your telescopic view is labelled clearly across the top of your targeting reticle, "Devil Vision." Is it trademarked equipment bought off the shelf at the local intelligence-surplus shop, and the name is just a wild coincidence, or does Satan have his own line of tactical operations equipment?
The current AI seems fairly sharp, although there's still a tiny bit of room for improvement. I was impressed with the manner in which they tried to find cover, moved from location to location, looked for better firing defilade, and even (gasp) crouched down for better firing accuracy! The consistency of this strong scripting lies in the consistency of the behavior. Most of the time, the guys trying to kill me had their wits about them, but sometimes they'd just walk straight into my line of fire and stand there. Hey, I'm not above exploiting an easy "n00b" kill, but somehow I doubt that Metropolis will allow the finished product to spoon-feed me the body count. I really liked how I could run-and-gun or just creep around, too; it's nice having the option to play in whichever style I prefer. I don't know why, but there's one little control feature that just kills me; crouching or standing up is a simple scroll of the wheel. So simple, but I love it! You know what they say about small minds, right? Well color my thought-meats tiny, but I couldn't help but do squats for a while as soon as I figured out that control: up-down-up-down-up, and so forth.
While I wish that there had been more story-arc to this build of Infernal, what is on display is stuffed full of potential. Sure, I've been cracking wise this whole preview, but I really am impressed. It looks great, the pacing is robust, and it looks to have a powerful array of options to keep this from falling in on itself as just another generic action game. If the story can match the technological prowess of this preview build, then Metropolis have a must-have hit on their hands. Additionally, this is an Ageia PhysX supported title out of the box. I am not so fortunate as to have one of these new wunderkind cards yet, but I appreciate the fact that those who have early-adopted the technology will have another A-list title with which to flex their PPU muscles. Keep your eyes on this one folks, I predict it's going to be hellishly difficult to resist.
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