Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
“Open-world survival horror Pac-Man” is one hell of a hook, I’ll give them that. I honestly had zero clue what to expect going into something like that, and after an hour of it I see what they’re going for. I also see a boatload of problems with that, problems that feel like they were ignored in the pursuit of making good on their claims. It would be nice if the unique concept, environments, and mechanics were enough to earn this one a pass, but the execution is sorely lacking, in ways that drag the entire game down.
The first red flag comes right at the beginning, when you are dropped with absolutely no context onto a pillar of rock high above a rushing, ephemeral river. There are some immersion-breaking tutorial bubbles, globes of light you can absorb, and a path into some tall fortresses that lead you into the rest of the game world. You’ll get plenty of plot, mind you, just not up front and not illuminating in the slightest. Turns out you’re in some kind of purgatory called Infernium that was explored by a prior group, whose base camps and hand-drawn maps you’ll find in your travels. It’s a neat touch that helps bridge the gap between the real world and this very video-gamey world, but I’d be lying if I said the scribbled notes on walls about politics and philosophy didn’t get old in a hurry.
Setting aside the weirdly fractious plot, the mechanics are what’s going to dominate your time in Infernium. That Pac-Man appellation comes into play in two ways, with those globes of light and with the ghosts. The light globes can be absorbed to fill sigils on your hand, which are then used to unlock gates. At first you can only fill one sigil so you can only open doors with one mark, but somewhere in the world are more sigils and additional shapes to collect and open new paths with. As for the ghosts, you’ll see them hovering around parts of the world, usually between you and where you want to go. When you get near they’ll give chase, and you’ll either need to outpace them or leap to somewhere (using your slow-ass teleport, you can’t jump in this game) they can’t follow.
None of these mechanics are explained, mind you, and while that’s not an issue with the ghosts it very much is with the dots you’re eating. I didn’t even realize I was charging a sigil on my hand until half an hour in, and I wasted a ton of globes by absorbing them while my sigil was full. There’s no direction towards the necessary upgrades, either, because apparently the developers took the “open” in open-world extremely literally. You can do an absurd amount of wandering and exploring without discovering anything, through dusty tunnels and white-washed chambers and icy snowfields and more. You might even figure out how the checkpoint system works, or the big particle fields, or what the seemingly-random symbols on the maps mean.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good mystery, and the unexplained weirdness does make for a solid atmosphere. The environments are a high point of Infernium, with towering staircases leading off into the void, luminous subterranean waterfalls, and slick ice floes stretching on forever. At one point I found a seemingly-inverted castle stretching down from the clouds, reaching right to the surface of the rocky plain I was on with a little door to enter its vast halls within reach. It was a striking moment, one that will stick with me, as will the winding maze of featureless halls and aimless wandering that lead to.
As good as the concepts are here, they’re never fully translated into something fun or even scary. The floating bathtowel ghosts are only frightening when positioned to surprise you, and once they’re after you they’re little more than annoyances. There’s too much time spent being lost and confused to make the game entertaining, and not enough direction to keep that from happening. And even as much as I like the environments, they lend to some very boring gameplay. I found a secret path from the area you go to when you die that led to a vast field of ice floes, which made for an impressive vista. But when I went to explore it I was beset by a blinding blizzard, which made it impossible to discern between the ice to walk on and the water that would kill me. My reward for seeking out a secret was even more tedium and confusion, and that really told me all I needed to know about Infernium.