The creator of Infernium describes it as Dark Souls meets Pac-Man. That’s probably enough to catch anyone’s attention, though it’s not exactly accurate. Oh, there are shiny orbs, mazes, chasing ghosts, and crushing difficulty, but that’s where the similarities mostly end. I’d actually compare it more to Agony. It’s an unarmed hide/chase horror with some puzzling, platforming, amazing looking environments, and maddeningly obtuse gameplay mechanics.
I might even describe Infernium as user-hostile. It only tells you “this is your teleport button and this is your interact button” in the beginning, and that’s literally it. Oh, it looks simple enough, especially if you’re thinking of that Pac-Man comparison. Just run around collecting all these light orbs all over the place, right? That’s what I did for the first few hours before a random loading screen hint suddenly revealed that I’d been playing all wrong and wasting tons of limited resources and lives. Yep, the hints on the loading screens tell you more about how the game works than anything inside the actual game world ever does. At this point I looked up some tips online about how the game actually worked and just started over.
Turns out the little line on your finger is your light collecting bar and your ultimate goal is to get all the “harvesting fingers” so you can hold enough light to open a final door that needs five bars of light. The trick is, if you pick up light when your bar or bars are already full, you just waste it and it never comes back, and you can’t be doing that. You’re going to need that light for opening other barriers along the way, as well as for buying more lives. Another thing I hadn’t realized was that the giant orbs in the limbo area you get sent to when you die represent how many lives you have left, and after those are all used up your game is over forever…except that’s not really true either, as you can spend light to buy lives back and it even turns out that there’s a hidden path in purgatory that leads to the ice world where you can find regenerating light orbs that add up to exactly one more life’s worth of light, giving you an endless last chance.
Anyway, back in the regular game world you’ve got to make your way around this confusing world full of multiple paths, each leading to a different area full of elaborate mazes, obstacles, and deadly foes. It’s hard to say which is more difficult, finding your way through these incredibly convoluted levels that seem to be equal parts genius and madness, or surviving the aggressive instant-death ghosts that plague you throughout your journey. While I don’t think that the game and its atmosphere are particularly creepy, I must admit that being chased around by these ghosts is one of the most tense experiences I’ve had in a game. There’s just something about the high stakes for death, the crazy noises the ghosts make as they’re rushing up right behind you, and the fact that the game delights in dropping you in situations where you’re locked in an area with a ghost (or ghosts) that endlessly chase you while you have to run around trying to solve a puzzle to open the exit.
There are some especially tricky enemies at later points in the game too, like invisible ghosts that can only be seen in rain or water or ones that charge at you and explode. All these nasty ghosts can be quite a threat when you’re trying to get through a big maze where you have no idea what’s around the next corner. You’ll have to be constantly vigilant and ready to run for your life at any given moment. It can get pretty intense.
Oh, and you also drop any light you’re holding when you die and can go try to reclaim it when you come back, which is really the only way this game is at all like Dark Souls. Really though, it takes so long to pick up your dropped light and it’s usually so close to a ghost that just killed you that your chances aren’t very good for getting it back. It’s probably best to just not keep any light on you unless you know that you’re heading right towards something you need to use it on.
That said, after the rocky start the game did end up growing on me quite a bit. Once I learned all the gameplay mechanics that the game never bothers to explain, I found myself making my way through these levels at a decent pace and managing to keep my hands on enough light to keep making progress and maintain my pool of lives. There were a few extra nasty parts that really cut into my lives, but I was always able to bounce back with enough care and persistence…at least until I finally made it to the final challenge.
There’s an extremely nasty difficulty spike when you reach the final challenge, which has you running in circles across a huge area trying to solve multiple puzzles while being endlessly chased by about five different ghosts of varying speed and difficulty. It’s so much worse than it must sound. So bad that I quickly burned through all my lives after hours of attempts. Since this was so late in the game and I had gotten all the abilities and unlocked access to the special area The Sun, where you can get unlimited amounts of light, I could have gone on to endlessly refill my lives and kept trying to beat this damn place, but I didn’t want to spend more time grinding my lives back up and beating my head against this same damn challenge for another who knows how many more hours so…I CHEATED! I’m a dirty filthy cheater. Oh well.
I guess it’s not technically cheating since these are openly available difficulty settings you can change, settings like setting enemy speed to slow or disabling enemies entirely, but whatever. Either way, what came next removed any regret I had pretty quickly. I got through the final challenge and found that there were actually a few little steps remaining to complete the game. First, you find yourself on this beach with nowhere to go except a path blocked by a light barrier. Turns out that if you hadn’t brought some light with you to open this door, you’re stuck getting the bad ending as if you’d lost all your lives and gone down the bad end path. There’s no light to harvest in either of these two areas and no indication whatsoever that you needed to bring any with you. Cool, so all my hard work was for absolutely nothing!
Ok, I guess I’ll quit out and have to do the damn final challenge all over again. Awesome. I do it again, making sure to bring that light with me and I get through that door only to find that there’s apparently still one final platforming section to get through. Seems like it should be simple enough here, as you’re now in a supposed safe zone where falling to your death now just brings you back to the start of the section with no penalty. Except…one time I fell and glitched into an endless void. I was forced to manually shut down the game and re-load. Guess where it started me when I re-loaded? Yep. Back at the beginning of the final challenge again. Fuck. You.
That disastrous final few hours really left a sour taste in my mouth. The difficulty spike is annoying, but forgivable, but the fact that you can get screwed out of actually finishing the game by something so stupid and trivial is kind of a big slap in the face to the player if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems and you’d still get another chance to go back and do it right before all your progress was lost, but I didn’t want to take the risk of trying to find out. Even if you could, you’re still forced to do that whole incredibly hard challenge all over again at best, and that really sucks.
I’m trying to keep the message of The Witness in mind and just remember that even with these problems, I still did have fun throughout the majority of the experience, but man, these are some pretty huge flaws, and in a game that’s already so punishing and deeply niche I find it pretty much impossible to recommend this game to anyone. Clearly there are some people that enjoy such a tense ordeal of a game, but even then, know that the serious flaws and horribly obtuse nature might induce one too many ragequits in even the most hardcore of gaming masochists.