It's a well-worn form of journalistic shorthand to describe a game by its influences. With Infernium, though, such an exercise might prove more confusing than instructive. And one thing this game doesn't need is any more confusion. While it would be wholly accurate to describe the game as 'Dark Souls meets Pac-Man meets Myst meets Portal,' the constituent parts are just too wildly different for a clear mental picture to be formed. So let's break that equation down a little.
This is a beautifully still first-person adventure full of bizarre scenery, exotic contraptions, and an almost complete absence of combat. That's the Myst part of the equation. It's set in a strange underworld that could be some form of hell, though the story only reveals itself through found snippets of text and suggestive imagery. It's also brutally difficult, with a punishing permadeath system and a semi-open, intricately knotted world to explore. That's the Dark Souls bit.
Infernium is also full of first-person platforming puzzles that are powered by a personal teleportation system, while an intrepid predecessor leaves a breadcrumb trail through and behind the scenes of the world. That's all very Portal. But perhaps the most intriguing comparison point here is Pac-Man. While we mentioned that there's no combat, you do have to face a number of implacable foes. These spooky 'ghosts' head straight for you when you stray within range, and your only recourse is to lead them on a merry chase through the game's mazey corridors. At these points Infernium does indeed feel very much like a slowed down 3D take on Namco's arcade classic.
Of course, the key difference with Pac-Man is that you have an instinctive understanding of your immediate environment. In the dark, claustrophobic labyrinths of Infernium, it takes repeated run-throughs to get the lay of the land. That means numerous deaths, lots of backtracking and plenty of repetition. What's annoying here isn't Infernium's toughness, as such. It's the fact that there's a fair amount of trial and error involved in getting through enemy encounters. You'll often die when you first trigger an unseen stalker and stumble into a dead end in an unfamiliar section. It's only once you've committed the layout to memory that you can ace it with any confidence.
Add in a limited lives system (which can be replenished at a cost), and the fact that it's possible to get properly stuck if you lead certain creatures down certain avenues, and you'll hopefully appreciate that Infernium isn't for the easily riled. Everything from switches to collectible light orbs and even your teleportation system seem to take seconds to activate. This makes for some agonisingly tense moments when you're being chased by a ghoul, and the game has a nasty habit of laying bait for you that's usually best ignored (at first).
If you stick at it, though, this is a deeply rewarding game. There's a rich world to discover here, and it's one that's enticingly open to exploration. The developer clearly wants you to uncover its secrets for yourself, rather than by following a waypoint marker. If you experiment with the slightly finicky teleportation system you can find yourself in completely new and unexpected areas.
Infernium is perhaps a little too vague for its own good, though. Aside from two early portions of text briefly explaining your limited move set, you're largely left to fend for yourself. I can quite imagine people getting stuck very early on - perhaps even the first time you enter the post-death hub. Vital elements such as the light orb gathering system and how to level your abilities get only a few cursory mentions in the brief loading screen that crops up from time to time. You really do need to figure things out for yourself, and the game doesn't make it easy to do so.
There are a few jarring tonal issues, too, such as when the enigmatic opening gives way to a sudden glut of exposition. The narrative is delivered a little clumsily, but is at least reasonably fresh and well written. Elsewhere, the aforementioned loading screen text adopts a very different tone to the main game, and feels a little like an afterthought. It all contributes to the sense of a deeply heartfelt, admirably fresh yet flawed experience. Those flaws ensure that it can't be counted a classic, but Infernium is the kind of game that will inspire a whole lot of love from those who click with it.
Infernium is a beautiful, strange first-person adventure that draws its inspiration from an eclectic range of sources. It's frequently frustrating and maddeningly vague, but those with the determination to crack its secrets will be richly rewarded.