Inferno casts you in the role of humankind's top space-fighter pilot - a man whose reputation offsets the effect caused by his penchant for body play-style waist constrictors and Brass Construction-style flares, and avoids the comments this strange attire would usually arouse in the rough, tough world of space pilotry.
Humanity is fighting a race of fierce and proud aliens, the Rexx-ons. Like all fierce and proud aliens, they're fond of incorporating infrequently-used consonants into their names. Despite being humanity's top pilot, you got caught by the dastardly ones before the game started and were then subjected to all sorts of humiliating and humorous experiments at a party - the one with the ice-cream scoop, the mayonnaise and the rubber glove being particularly popular. Then, the party games at their height, someone foolishly suggested putting you into their morphing cham-ber to try to make you into a bunny rabbit. They probably regret this now. The chamber fiddled with your molecular structure, but instead of emerging with big floppy ears and a hyperactive sex drive, you became the only human who can withstand the Ray-TECH teleportation process. Usually this is only used to zap inorganic objects around the place, and was originally developed to keep death off the streets by rendering pizza-delivery boys redundant. So now, when you die in battle, you regenerate and pop up back at base without so much as a carpet bum on your knee. In other words, it's a good old-fashioned shoot-em-up "life" in fancy clothing. The game allows you to regenerate three times, If you pick up any Rexxon Regen Chemicals in alien craft and installations, it will replenish your regenerative abilities.
Distinct voices, camp lives
If you play the full game, you'll find yourself cast into an ongoing plot, another attempt to present the mythical interactive movie that games companies are so fond of laying claims to, in which your missions are interspersed with all sorts of extra bits. These largely consist of lengthy animation sequences where you walk to and from your craft, informal chats with the Emperor who gives you your mission orders (and looks gaunt enough to be Jack Pall-ance's grandfather) and cut-scenes, in which evil aliens stomp about and laugh at your ineptness.
Realising that if they played it straight people would probably laugh, DID - the company behind Inferno - have obviously decided to get in first and ham it up to the max. The recorded voices are of good quality, with that of your own character being remarkable for its campness. At one point he even says "I feel like a new man - in more ways than one." You almost expect him to waggle his tongue.
Three ways to play
There are three different ways to play Inferno. The Director's Cut is the whole she-bang. In between dashing about the known universe in your fancy spaceship, righting wrongs, blasting alien scum into another dimension and whistling to chicks from the cockpit of your starfighter, you get to sit through millions of the pretty tedious "acty" bits, where you and your Emperor have a chance to show exactly what you learnt at rada. You're just another character in the ongoing scenario (but by far the most important one. of course) and have no input into the decision making.
Evolutionary is the same kind of thing - things to do, people to fry - but the way the tactics of your forces develop is more down to you. Of course, even though you're theoretically the head honcho tactics-wise, all the blasting will again be done by you, so those of you who prefer to delegate while lying on your anti-grav beds with a good holo-book and a glass of space beer can just think again.
Arcade is for those of you who don't give a hoot about all this plot rubbish; you care not a jot who's going out with whom in your office, and wouldn't buy a copy of Hello even if it had pictures of the Pope sucking Mother Theresa's toes on a Li-lo off the coast of St Tropez. All you care about is training gunsights onto sweaty alien foreheads and singing songs from the shows as you pull the trigger. This one's for you. Select a planet to battle on and off you go; Arcade also allows you to regenerate three times in the course of your missions, after which it's good-bye pulse, hello high-score table.
Or are there?
In practice, there are more similarities than differences in the game types. The Arcade game leaves something to be desired as far as immediate thrills go. You still have to sit (or. more likely, click) through the same lengthy animation sequences, briefings and takeoff sections, "meanwhile"-style cutaway scenes and so on. You pick what planet you'll play on. so you have a rough idea what conditions will be like, but the mission structure is the same as the main game. I would have preferred a simple mission selector, where you could choose the environment you wanted to fight in (deep space, planet surface, underwater, in a mothership, or whatever) and jump straight into the death-dealing fun from there. But I'm a fussy shit.
The planning side of things in Evolutionary isn't what I call planning; consisting only of selecting which area you'd like to fight in next - a particular planet, moon or space vector. There's no ongoing war information when you choose a planet, so you just click on something and are thrown into another set of missions.
This is a factor throughout the game, whatever the version you are playing - often, on completing a mission, there's little feedback apart from the odd sarcastic comment from the Emperor, or a bit of mutual slimey back-slapping back in the bad guys' hq. Even if you deliberately shoot down a Deliverance ship, you're simply told what your next mission will be, and off you go again. When you combine this with the fact that you never get the same game twice, (there are over 700 missions in the game, and completing a game involves completing up to 70 of them) it reduces the element of feeling that you're actively influencing an on-going plot. It's hard to believe that what you're doing has any bearing on your next mission, which makes you wonder why you have to sit through all the other rubbish in the first place - apart from the fact that it's on cd-rom, of course.
The game also falls between two stools in the gameplay department. On the one hand, there is nod in the direction of the ongoing war scenario, and on the other hand there's the fact that you get points and shoot-em-up style power-ups, in the form of floating combat pods which are teleported to strategic points. Flying through them rather than simply beaming them aboard gets you extra style points, but on the other hand (three hands now) they can eat really into the time you take to perform a mission. If you shoot down one of your own Deliverance vessels, or torch a space-chicken, you lose points. Likewise, flying through a projected docking corridor in space gets you extra points, but using the flight and combat aids and save game facilities too often is frowned upon and loses you points.
Graphic marvels ahoy
Missions take place underwater, in deep space, on a planet's surface, or even inside installations and larger ships. These larger vessels seem to possess something of a tardis-like quality (without, of course, the ability to de- and re-materialise on piles of polystyrene). They're large from the outside, but seem to expand ten-fold once you're inside. There are loads of views, some more useful than others. One of the more useful is an excellent padlock view that keeps enemies on-screen for you automatically. It makes flying a bit confusing at first, and isn't recommended in confined spaces as a result, but it does the job. The only peculiar bit is when you look behind you and see yourself. Presumably you're having some kind of out-of-body experience.
As you'd expect from the people who brought you TFX; the all-singing, all-dancing flight sim, the bits where you're actually flying about above the planet surfaces are the most satisfying -these bits are more like a traditional flight simulation, except that your craft combines the qualities of a jet fighter and a helicopter. I must admit I couldn't feel very much difference between the claimed "three different flight models": the craft seems to handle just the same underwater as it does in the air. in space and inside ships. In all three, conventional flight models have been abandoned: your revolutionary ship can hover in mid air like a... er. hovery thing. Whizzing between buildings and gigantic radar installations in the planet surface missions is genuinely exhilarating and the underwater missions are also nicely done with long streams of seaweed floating above your head. External views allow you to see the craft adapting itself by folding its wings away when you submerge, and so on, but the feel is the same.
Where the game comes into its own is in the slickness of the combat. Whether you're inside one of the installations, or in deep space, the combat is fast and smooth. Admittedly, a 486SX has trouble chucking the corridors about around you when you're flying through an installation, especially when other craft come for you in narrow corridors.
Clearly the game needs the maths co-processor of a 486DX for these bits. However, in all the environments, the scaling effect -where objects become less fuzzy as they come toward you from a distance - is nicely done.
The sounds, as you'd expect from a CD, are very atmospheric -and very loud. Explosions shake the speakers, laser fire... er, does not, and the whirrs, when you raise and lower your cockpit's little dashboard thing, even sound good.
The missions have a nice variety in them, and unfold as you kill things, rather than giving you everything from the start. You might be asked to fly to a certain reference point, then to enter an installation, then exit again to go somewhere else. One of the more nightmarish missions involves setting off a destruct sequence within a ship and trying to get out before you become rather more spread out than you'd like: others involve searching for missing ships, simple patrols and blast-frenzy defensive actions. Throughout, there are variations in geological and meteorological conditions on the different planets.
Overall, the game has more than enough to keep you coming back to it again and again. In terms of the great space shoot-em-ups, it probably falls somewhere between the very linear Rebel Assault and the do-what-you-can of TIE Fighter. If you want a combination of blasting and planning, TIE Fighter's your baby; if you just want arcade blasting, Rebel Assault is a better bet: but if you want something between the two. go for Inferno.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP