Take a fairly average PC third-person shooter, wait two years before bringing it to a mature next-gen console, add next to nothing to improve the experience and you've got a recipe for a guaranteed dud. Infernal: Hell's Vengeance from publisher Playlogic Entertainment doesn't have much going for it. Had Infernal found its way to the Xbox 360 when the PC version hit early in 2007 it would have likely found a small audience willing to put up with its problems, but midway through 2009, just as the busy release season draws near, it's simply not good enough.
The somewhat bizarre story is as good a place to start as any. You play as Jason 'The Transporter' Statham sound-alike Ryan Lennox, who just happens to be a renegade angel. After a rather action packed, but somehow unexciting opening shoot-out in a fancy bar, Lennox is recruited by Hell in an attempt to restore the balance between Good and Evil. The Etherlight soldiers (Heaven's crack team of agents) have been wiping out the majority of Hell's agents so it's up to Lennox to even the score a little.
At its core Infernal is a pretty standard third-person shooter, but seeing as you now work for Hell you've got some handy powers that your average secret agent doesn't have. The most important is the ability to drain human life energy from their corpses and simultaneously take the items they're carrying, in turn replenishing your health and mana. This mechanic means things rarely get too tricky, but it's still worth clearing a room before attempting to stock up. On top of this Lennox can temporarily teleport and see things that are invisible to the human eye.
While these abilities initially sound cool they end up being rather gimmicky and are only used in specific situations. For example, there might be some laser beams blocking an entrance, so you'll need to teleport to the other side and disable the security system. Lennox's vision powers generally come in handy when you need a key code (why these are written on walls isn't made clear), but it also doubles as a way to hunt down hidden mana and health pick-ups. The only ability that you'll use frequently is your charged attack, but you can usually get by just fine without it against the less than smart enemies.
Boss battles tend to throw a little more originality at you, but they often require you to use the game's cover system - a system that is incredibly awkward to use as it's far too easy to accidentally get stuck onto a wall or object when you just wanted to walk toward it. We've been spoilt by some great cover systems over the last few years, so Infernal's clumsy mechanic just doesn't cut it. The same is true of the controls in general, with aiming at a moving target being far too tricky, even after numerous attempts to find a sensitivity sweet spot.
Two years ago Infernal looked decent, if not great, but today it's towards the bottom end of what we expect from the Xbox 360. Character models are basic, environments are dull and effects lack the quality we've come to expect, making Infernal look like the aged PC game it is. Unfortunately, things go even further downhill during the badly animated in-game cutscenes, and the overacting by the leading characters doesn't help matters. Add to this a complete lack of checkpoints (die without saving and it's back to the start, as we discovered to our horror) and you've got a game that seems to have had little to no effort put into its transition to the Xbox 360.
Infernal will be released at a wallet-friendly price when it hits stores, but that isn't enough to elevate it from the bottom of the pile of 360 titles. It's incredibly dated, lacking features we expected in console games a generation ago, and almost devoid of any truly original ideas. In this battle between Heaven and Hell no one is victorious.