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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Carlos Coronado
Release Date: April 5, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Infernium'

by Fran Soto on Aug. 1, 2018 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Infernium is a non-linear first person survival horror game. Dive in an interconnected beautiful portrait of hell, die in a prison without bars and overcome a brutal penitence.

In a world of unknowns, Infernium seeks to answer the question: What is Hell? Creating an atmosphere of loss and confusion, this first-person, horror-survival, indie game gives players a mind-bending experience in the depths of the Infernium. Taking inspiration from games like Dark Souls and Portal, Infernium utilizes warping to get around and picking up orbs of light that serve as currency throughout the game. The game utilizes a permadeath system, and players are given a set number of chances to complete the game. Failing to do so within the required amount of lives leads to some very bad things — according to the developers. More than anything, Infernium gives players a multitude of choices in how they want to make their way through the game.

We awaken in what appears to be a fiery depiction of Hell. A burning sky and arid atmosphere create a tense world in which the player must survive. Unknown to the player is the protagonist's origin or any backstory as to how we arrived here. The game follows the now-standard mechanic of very little tutorial, with more emphasis on the player's cognitive ability to solve puzzles in the world around them. While this method is appreciated amongst players, Infernium runs into the immediate snag of not telling players important information beyond how to move around the map using the warp function.

While playing, it was obvious that most of the important information appeared in the developer tips on loading screens. Much of the game does need to be played with trial and error, which definitely takes away from the player's limited chances to beat the game. The beginning leaves the player feeling lost, and not in a good way that contributes to the overall atmosphere and personality of the game. The major lack of structure leaves the player wondering what exactly they're supposed to be doing. While the game boasts an open-endedness to the map (similar to the way Dark Souls maps feed into themselves), Infernium is almost too open-ended and leaves feelings of confusion more than anything else.

As players stumble forward into progression, dying will inevitably occur. Once a player dies, they are transported to what appears to be a dungeon of hell. Is it purgatory? I could only liken it to the Firelink Shrine in the Souls series because, again, there are no explanations. Interacting with the candle-lit circle in the middle sends the player back to Infernium. This area is a dimly lit dungeon with giant orbs perched around columns and on the ceiling. Each orb is filled with the light of life. Once a player dies and is sent to this area, one orb at a time is snuffed out until there are no more left. At the end of the hall is a giant door that holds the final death sequence. Once this door has been opened, players need to restart their progress all over again. However, exploring this dungeon area leads to a lower room at the bottom of some stairs that contain an enemy and a light barrier leading to somewhere. Throughout the game, players will encounter these light barriers, which feed off the light collected.

Throughout the world are orbs of light growing amongst vines. These not only serve as currency for passing through the various light barriers around the world, but there is a chance to offer them up as tribute in exchange for another life. Players need to do some management with these orbs because once they're collected, they are gone forever. This also means being careful about how much light is taken into areas with many enemies. Dying causes players to drop whatever light they've accumulated. Taking more inspiration from the Souls games, players are able to recuperate their light where it was last dropped. Dying again before being able to reach your light means that it's lost forever, and the player will have to search for more light sources.

Light becomes central to the game as players progress. Managing the amount of light taken and distributed becomes an interesting facet of Infernium. Initially, players start out with only being able to hold light in one finger. Eventually, picking certain key items in the game allows players to hold light up to five fingers on one hand. While it is possible to navigate the immediate areas with one finger of light, players will eventually reach a stairway leading up to the heavens. The first light gate only requires one finger of light, but in order to progress to the top, players will need to be able to store light in all five fingers. Various gates encountered within the world provide access to new areas. Each gate is marked with a roman numeral up to five, indicating how many fingers of light are required to unlock it. While some gates need to be unlocked in order to progress, there are many that create shortcuts to some areas.

Infernium takes much of its inspiration from the Souls series, and one of its most outstanding features is a map that creates all sorts of paths and shortcuts to various destinations. One developer note found in the loading screen states that if players see orbs of light in an area, it is accessible. The multitude of routes provides alternate possibilities for players who may be stuck in an area because enemies are guarding it too well. Throughout the game, players will encounter robed spirits who will follow until a player is able to warp out of reach somehow. Whether by closing doors behind you or taking an elevator up, the spirits will be hot on the player's heels until they can manage an escape. While these robed creatures are not exactly the scariest, there is a prickle on the back of the neck that does occur when being chased down by one. The atmosphere created by these creatures strengthens the overall ambiance of the game.

True horror appears, however, when the player encounters invisible enemies. Not knowing where they are creates even more sense of dread. Being unable to fight, players must only run and warp out of reach. However, if a player finds themselves cut off by an enemy, shortcuts and secret paths hidden behind walls allow for an easy escape to a different area. While Infernium creates a challenge for players, it also gives players opportunities to creatively bypass certain areas.

Infernium seeks to give players a creative installment in the survival-horror genre. With various ways to roam the maps and manage light, the game lends itself to multiple play styles. There is even a detailed photo mode for players wishing to capture the beauty of this hellish landscape. In my case, I used photo mode as a flashlight for obscenely dark areas. Vivid colors and smooth frame rates make the game a fun experience on the surface, but its use of various mechanics taken from other games makes its playability overly complicated. The title forces players to figure things out through trial and error. Instead of this being a fun experience of discovery, it instead turns into tedious, frustrating gameplay. It appears there are too many cooks in Hell's kitchen, and that leaves the game feeling disjointed. Players will find sparse fragments of story written on the walls, unfortunately only leaving feelings of confusion. As players navigate the world picking up these tidbits, it appears Infernium is a place one can go to if the right amount and combination of drugs are taken. (By those standards, Woodstock '69 should have been Hell on Earth.) However, the story is truly an afterthought, as it does absolutely nothing to elevate the gameplay experience. If anything, the story pieces are more Easter eggs than plot mechanics.

One of the most notable developer notes found within the loading screen is that Infernium started out as a salsa dance simulator. Given the title's choppy gameplay and a major lack of direction, the game should have stayed as originally intended. In order to sum up Infernium in the best way possible, I quote the most memorable developer note, "If you play this game with the developer at your side and you ask him something about the game, he would tell you, 'I don't know, I've never played this game before.'" While the game has tons of personality with an interesting concept, a fun challenge in some areas, and even a New Game+ feature that adds new surprises, it's ultimately a Frankenstein's monster of other games cut together. If leaving players lost and confused in Hell is Infernium's goal, then it has succeeded.

Score: 6.0/10

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