Inferno: The Odyssey Continues
for PC (DOS)

Mr Creosote:
Company: Digital Image Design / Ocean
Year: 1994
Genre: Action
Theme: Flight / Science Fiction / War
Language: English, Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 1310
Review by Mr Creosote (2022-10-01)

Due to a large amount of stupid buyers (including yours truly) paying for the atrocity that was Epic, a sequel was a commercial necessity. As the first one, the game was delayed repeatedly, until it was finally thrown on the market for Christmas 1994. And weirdly enough, it was called Inferno, only the subtitle (The Odyssey Continues versus Epic: The Adventure Begins) very subtly hinting at a potential link between the two games.

It doesn't tell much of a plot. A strange decision in the post Wing Commander 2 days. Nevertheless, what there is continues straight from Epic. Humans and Rexxons are still at war. Humanity's only hope is a genetically engineered super pilot. Bam, that's it.

We are so evil! Mwahahahahaha!

Highly trashy cutscenes between missions illustrate the tides of war without ever getting highly specific about anything. The stylistic choice of having still 3D rendered characters of exaggerated body proportions is a major contribution to the entertainment factor. It all looks a bit as if they were trying to tell a story with photographed 1980s action figures.

The absence of a strong plot component is based on a gameplay choice. Instead of the Wing Commander approach of stringing missions together in a pre-determined order to advance a pre-written story, Inferno just sets the fundamental scenario and offers missions which don't need to be tackled in any pre-defined order. In what can be considered the main game mode (“Evolutionary”), it is the player's choice where to attack or defend next. Success or failure having an impact on subsequent battles, this even introduces a mild strategic element. Alternatively, the player can choose to just be sent on a random string of missions (“Arcade mode”) or go into “Director's Cut” mode. The latter does, after all, offer a sort of pre-determined story arc, but it feels like an afterthought considering it is still weakly told.

Semi-useful mission/map screen

Terms like “random” already used, it is worth speaking of the missions themselves. The game boasts to offer 700 different ones. This is, of course, achieved by generating missions procedurally instead of actually individually defining them. Standard building blocks such as defending a space base or exterminating an enemy convoy are randomly combined to form an overall mission. This makes missions less predictable than tightly scripted ones. The idea was to enhance replayability as each campaign is actually somewhat unique. However, it comes at the cost of the missions being rather samey overall. Myself, I'd rather have 30 well-made missions than 700 which repeat themselves endlessly.

Not all is lost, though. Indeed, Inferno lets its player fly in three fundamentally different environments which after all does inject some nice variety. The default beginning of each mission is in space. This, unfortunately, is actually the weakest part. In the course of many missions, the player later is asked to dive down onto a planet's surface. This was already present in Epic. The existence of a ground plus fully modelled ground structures enhances playability strongly. It also looks nice due to the abundance of differently themed worlds. On Terra Nova, you'll meet dinosaurs. On the neighbouring world, you'll dive into vast oceans.

Navigating narrow corridors

The second special environment shakes things up even more. As everything is fully modelled in polygons, it is possible (and often required) to fly the agile fighter ship into larger ones, such as a carrier ship or a space station. Suddenly, the cast open space or skies are replaced by narrow tunnels to navigate through. It's not quite Descent, graphics being weirdly monochromatic and washed out, but plays well enough.

All that sounding pretty good on the drawing board, there are nevertheless playability issues which spoil some of the fun. A number of them directly inherited from Epic. First and foremost, orientation in space is still highly problematic. With the keyboard, the player's craft is de facto uncontrollable. With a good analogue joystick or a mouse, things get sort of bearable. Nevertheless, finding one's way in three-dimensional space is still hard. The ship's radar is now configurable in different modes, but none is overly helpful. Directional indicators exist all over the screen, but their link with the coordinates is anything but clear.

Planet surface battle

What helps is the ability to set navigation markers on the map which the autopilot will then target. In the same vein, another autopilot mode will follow the closest enemy craft at least roughly (though, of course, not closely enough to actually shoot it down, which would invalidate the complete game). Though both are in all honesty just workarounds for fundamental issues which shouldn't be there in the first place and which indeed aren't in comparable, competing games.

On top, enemy ships are both faceless and act mostly stupid. It is apparent that they don't have any actual artificial intelligence, but rather just fly along hardwired patterns. In outer space and on planet surfaces, it is actually even unlikely that you'll ever get to see them up close. Their movement patterns are so erratic and so fast that as soon as they would actually appear, they are already gone again. Shooting them down from a distance, when they are indicated by the targetting computer, is usually the only option. Score plus one for the cramped corridor flying where this works much better.

Out in space

Resources collection during the missions has been retained from Epic as well. The pods containing weapons, shield energy, fuel etc. are now clearly indicated on the useful map, making this feature feasible this time around. It's not something which really enhances fun, but also doesn't take away from it anymore.

Inferno exhibits a large discrepancy between its ambition and its execution. It is not the unplayable mess of Epic anymore, but mostly just due to workarounds instead of actual solutions to the inherent issues. On the other hand, while missions clearly show their random generation nature, it does offer variety unmatched by the competition simply by introducing three fundamentally different environments to fly in. None of the three can compete with the best of the specialised games with a similar setting, but the combination in one game scores some extra points.

Is it worth playing today? Only for completionists. In spite of everything, playing it feels not so much like flying a spaceship and dogfighting enemies, but rather like skeet shooting. Which is probably not what you're looking for in a space opera. In the big picture, the rocking soundtrack is really the only thing fully convincing. It is finally no wonder and probably for the better that this series was not further continued.

Comments (1) [Post comment]