The 2007 PC game Infernal told the tale of Ryan Lennox, a fallen angel who teams with the devil when he discovers Heaven’s secret police (his former employers) are trying to kill him. Given that it’s a third-person shooter with a cover mechanic, bringing it to the Xbox 360 should have not been a problem: rip off (ahem, “borrow”) the control scheme from Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto IV, or Rainbow Six Vegas, and you’re good to go.
Instead, when porting the game (and adding a subtitle, “Hell’s Vengeance”), the developers reinvented the wheel, coming up with a setup that makes the game feel incredibly clunky and imprecise. Meanwhile, the problems that brought down the original version are still here, as are the title’s few-but-notable good attributes. This isn’t an awful game, but it faces a lot more competition on the 360 in 2009 than it did on computers in 2007, and thus there’s little reason to play it.
The controls and cover mechanic harbor the biggest flaws here, and to understand how the developers got it wrong, it helps to play Infernal back-to-back with one of the aforementioned recent shooters. We went with Gears of War. In Gears, the aiming sensitivity is perfect by default; in Infernal, even after adjustment, your crosshairs always jump around either too slowly to track nearby running enemies or too quickly to aim with precision. In Gears, the left joystick exists solely for the purpose of movement, with the A button reserved for various tactical maneuvers; in Infernal, the left joystick does almost everything, meaning that you can get sucked into cover by just walking past it, and that you can execute an evasive roll by accident (you roll by tapping the same direction twice on the joystick). In Gears, your character hunkers down behind cover well enough that he rarely takes damage, and you can lean out to shoot quickly and efficiently; in Infernal, you get hit in cover a lot, and when you lean out it takes forever to get a shot off, giving your super-accurate enemies plenty of time to knock some health off your life bar.
Add all this together, and Gears feels incredibly natural, while Infernal feels awkward and dated. The transition from PC to console was the perfect opportunity to perfect Infernal’s controls (which drew fire from reviewers even in their PC incarnation), and the developers completely blew it.
The other problems with the original title are back as well. You have the ability to crouch down and walk quietly, but when you do so, the enemies still see and shoot you almost instantly. The story is still shallow (and not entirely coherent). Every single fight scene still occurs to the tune of an annoying, repetitive heavy-metal riff. Your ultra-powerful demon-dude still dies whenever he falls more than a few feet. There are still bizarre inconsistencies when it comes to which parts of the environment you can destroy, which doors you can open, and which walls you can take cover behind. The level design is still almost completely linear, and the puzzles are still painfully easy (find keycard, put in door). In addition, there’s no autosave feature, a fact we discovered when we died for the first time, after playing for about an hour. The good news is that while Infernal’s problems weren’t fixed, its laudable qualities weren’t removed, either.
Infernal augments its shooting action by giving Ryan a variety of supernatural abilities. None of these abilities radically affects the gameplay, but they offer a break from the arcade-style shooting action. The one you’ll use most is soul-sucking. When you come upon a dead body, you can drain its spirit, which gives you life (and also frisks the body for guns, ammo, and keys). This adds a level of strategy to the bigger battles, because you have to figure out which bodies you can get health from without getting shot. The downside is that most of the time there’s no need to drain the bodies before the shooting is over, so soul-sucking becomes a tedious chore to perform before heading to the next room. It’s also frustrating when bodies disappear before you can get the health from them.
Other abilities include Infernal Vision, which helps you see secret codes and power-ups, and teleportation, which lets you briefly warp to another part of the area to flip switches and shoot enemies from behind. You can also charge your weapons, delivering the powerful blast needed to break through bosses’ shields, and even move objects and enemies from a distance, much like the gravity gun enables you to do in Half-Life 2. Many of these powers use “mana,” a form of magic you gain by “sinning” (mainly, killing the forces of Heaven). You also gain mana by hanging out in dark places, and you lose it when you’re in the light, which can make boss battles complicated.
Speaking of boss battles, they provide some of the game’s best moments. You have to keep your mana stocked by (for example) shooting out the lights, hiding in a dark corner, or killing a few lesser enemies before unleashing a charged shot at the boss. Figuring out exactly how to tackle each major foe can be a pain, and we’ll confess to consulting an online FAQ now and again, but overall we found it a satisfying experience.
In terms of presentation, the game is a mixed bag. The dialogue and voice acting fluctuate between “so bad it’s good” and “just plain bad,” and as already mentioned, the music gets on one’s nerves in a hurry. Also, whereas the PC version’s graphics earned almost unanimous praise, we found the 360 version’s visuals to be merely above average. Most of the environments are well-detailed, but not all are, and the characters look unnatural when they speak in cutscenes. We even noticed a few visual hiccups, including framerate drops.
On a platform that’s actually been criticized for having too many shooters, it’s tough to recommend a shooter so mediocre as Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance. Once it hits the bargain bins, it might be worthwhile for killing some time, as it does have its good qualities. At $40, however, it’s impossible to forgive the many flaws, in particular the truly terrible control scheme and cover mechanic.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
They’re above average, but there are some hiccups, and the face animations during cutscenes look unnatural. 1.9 Control
Various third-person shooters have had lots of success on the Xbox 360. The developers could have used any of their control schemes, but instead made their own, apparently just to be different. Aiming is a chore, and the cover system is unusable. 1.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The same metal riff plays whenever there are enemies on the screen. It grates in a hurry, as do the incredibly weak dialogue lines and voiceover performances. 3.6 Play Value
There’s about eight hours of play here and lots of achievements. 3.1 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.