Inferno. One of HLP's biggest projects, in terms of size of the team, size of the ships, size of the modpack, size of the battles, and generally size of the ambition. Known for taking beam spam to its absolute extreme. Generally, it goes overboard trying to be over the top in the excessiveness department
Inferno is currently expecting a well-deserved reboot, titled Inferno: Nostos. The release date was missed a while ago, but the project is far from dead.
Inferno is a key project for HLP, both for its own popularity and for its massive modpack on which many mods are reliant. Without Inferno, we wouldn't have Ancient-Shivan War, Blue Planet, Shadow Genesis, Procyon Insurgency, or a host of other popular campaigns. In fact, my own FREDding project was built on Inferno assets.
Unfortunately, a series of computer problems have forced me to put my project on temporary hold until I can finish overhauling the modpack with newer versions of the assets. While I'm waiting, I feel I owe Inferno a review.
After the positive response to my multi-part review of Ransom's work, I've decided to do another Mega-Review of Inferno and Inferno-related campaigns. Part 1 will cover Inferno itself (aka Inferno R1), the first and only released act of the main Inferno campaign. Part 2 will focus on Inferno: Alliance, a prequel to Inferno set in Sol during the isolation. Part 3 will mix things up a bit by analysing Sol: A History, an alternate prequel made by Blaise Russel using Inferno assets. S:AH's plot leads into Inferno, but conflicts with Inferno: Alliance.
First, a little about me and my reviews. I'm a decently experienced pilot, but I'm not an HLP elite yet. Hence, these reviews are gonna be tailored for two groups of people. First, new-ish people who, to quote General Battuta, are looking for their “...First (or Next!) Campaign.” Not that I'm making n00b reviews, I'm just not making 1337 reviews. These reviews should be of interest to FS fans whether they play on Very Easy or Insane. Second, hopefully my reviews will be helpful to the campaign makers themselves, by way of feedback, encouragement, and a bit of constructive criticism.
I'm going to organize these reviews into four categories. First, PLOT. Characters, story, scary or funny moments, et cetera. Second, GAMEPLAY. Balance, fun-factor. Quality of any new ships and weapons. Clarity of mission goals. Challenge. Third, AESTHETICS. This will barely apply to some simpler campaigns, but this includes cutscene quality, the artistic appearance of new ships/weapons, voice acting, music, spelling... the “look and sound” of the campaign. Finally, TECHNICAL STUFF. Was it easy to set up? Did I run into bugs? That sort of thing. This last section will naturally be incomplete, because I'm no beta tester. I didn't try to break any missions (“really, I wasn't TRYING to break it! It just happened!”). So the only bugs I'll catch are ones that will come up in a casual playthrough- but those are probably the most dangerous type.
Now, down to business.
It's 32 years after the battle of Capella. The GTVA has made massive strides in shipbuilding, allowing it to field an armada of ships that makes its Capella-era fleet look weak by comparison. However, all is not well. When the GTVA completed GTI Melia, a Knossos-derived subspace gate linking Delta Serpentis back to Sol, they found Sol under the rule of the oppressive Earth Alliance. The EA struck out at the GTVA, throwing them out of Sol and invading Delta Serpentis, Ross 128, and Beta Aquilae.
As Terran and Vasudan ships of immense proportions tear eachother apart in beautiful displays of beam weaponry, the Shivans bide their time....
First of all, PLOT. So many people were involved in Inferno that instead of writing my own credits I'll just copy-paste their credits list at the end.
PROs of the plot!
ROGUES GALLERY: The GTVA seems to be facing a few too many enemies at once! (note to self: in Inferno there is no such thing as "too many"). Obviously, there's the Earth Alliance. And it doesn't count as a spoiler to say that the Shivans are going to show their ugly heads sooner than later. Then there's
an odd rouge Vasudan faction, possibly an HoL resurgence of some kind
Interestingly, the mod includes an extensive pack of Ancient ships, with tech descriptions indicating them to be hostile to the GTVA, but they were never deployed in R1.
PHEAR TEH RED SHIPS: Despite the brute-force nature of its plotline, Inferno succeeds in upholding the reputation of the Shivans. The Great Destroyers remain just as enigmatic, and even more frightening. As you would expect, they top the Sathanas fleet.
: Shiamak, Amritaya, Vinaashak, and... Gulp
THIS AINT NO FENRIS: A shining moment in Inferno's plotline is the portrayal of the EA's flagship, the EASD Nemesis. It's an elite superdestroyer, with well-arranged, devastating weaponry, no real weak spots to laugh at, and an intelligent Admiral who pulls of some impressive tricks. Living proof that real men's ships can look like the Orff.
THE ENDING: The final mission will leave you thinking
You'll very desperately wish for an INFR2.
CONs of the Plot...
NEEDS A LITTLE OOMPH: Well, here's the thing. Inferno's plotline is overall... kinda weak.
Here's the thing. Sync and Transcend, as I discussed while reviewing them, had good plots (great in Transcend's case) but weak gameplay. Inferno is the other way around. Inferno is mainly about big, epic space battles. Story takes second place.
Now, the story isn't dumb or anything like that. It makes sense, it's consistent with canon, and it has a couple good moments. But it doesn't have any real characters. In a sense it's even more of a cog-in-a-machine story than the original FreeSpace, which at least has a handful of genuine characters (Petrarch, Snipes, Bosch). There's also no major shocks or revelations; it's somewhat predictable. At the end of the day, Inferno is really about big ships blowing eachother up; the story's job is to set up the big battles.
I say this with one reservation: This is just the first act of what would have been a much longer campaign. Inferno R1 is a fragment of a larger story, and from what I've seen it looks like the story would have picked up had it ever been finished. The team apparently had some pretty neat plans in that regard. There are plenty of ships in the techroom that don't appear in R1, some of them pretty impressive. The Ancients would have joined the war, possibly as a third faction opposed to both the Alliance and the Shivans. Some of the techroom descriptions seem like spoilers for INFR2, like the Icanus. Ah, what might have been...
Ok, now for the fun part. GAMEPLAY:
PROS of the gameplay:
NU STUFF!: Even if Inferno itself was as lame to play as Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing
(and it sure ain't) the community would still be indebted to it for its modpack. Inferno is packed with new ships and weapons which have found their way into other mods.
With other mods, I've often tried to list all the playable fighters, bombers, and weapons and my opinion of them. With Inferno... well, there's too many, and because we only have one act many of them are never issued to the player. However, I'll toss out a couple that I found particularly interesting to use.
GTF Vesuvius: A very neat multirole fighter. Quite fast, and not exactly delicate. Two twin primary banks and no less than three secondary banks of decent size. Primary arrangement is weird, but not too bad. Capable of carrying the Assassin light bomb, making it useful against smaller capships.
GTF Cyone: How would you even classify this thing? A heavy interceptor maybe? Supposedly a cross between a Hercules and a Loki, it's very fast, with OK maneuverability and hitpoints. Bizzarely huge missile banks – Ares-level – give it a punch, although it only has the basic 2+2 primaries, with a weird arrangement that works fine when fire-linked but makes them hard to use separately. Biggest drawback: poor weapons compatiability. I don't know what to call it, but I flew it on my favorite mission in the campaign.
GTB Sabus: The new heavy bomber, a sort of Super Boanerges. Improved armor, better compatiability, and Herc-style primaries correct the weaknesses of it's predecessor.
GTB Danaus: Medium bomber with 4+4 primaries and decent missile capacity. Would be a decent dogfighter if the primary placement was better.
GTW Subach HL-12: Name says it all. Capable of competeing with the Prometheus. Compared to the Prometheus it has slightly higher hull damage, more spray-factor, and better power efficiency.
GTW Prometheus: The newest of the family. Most of the time you have to choose between it and the HL-12. Of the two, the Prometheus has a little more shield damage, more salvo-factor, and better range and velocity.
GTW Hastor: Upgrade maxim. Fun
GTM Shocker: A heat-seeker, vastly better than the old Rockeye. It can actually hit its target! Damage is low, but it seems pretty good at weakening sheilds, allowing for a followup salvo of Hornets (which, yes, are still around with a moderate accuracy upgrade.)
GTM Arrow: Upgraded Harpoon. Interestingly, it also has an EMP effect, giving you a practical method of delivering EMP to one target and doing damage at the same time.
GTM Assassin: A mini-bomb, smaller than the Cyclops and compatible with some fighters. Works against cruisers, or turrets of larger ships.
GTM Stiletto III: A Stiletto that works! Absolutely devastating to any subsystem.,
GTM Sniper: The new Trebuchet. Awesome on bombers, not too bad on turrets. If you like the "Moar Trebs Solution to Everything" you'll like the Sniper.
For the sake of completeness you'll also get to fly the Perseus Advanced (name says it all) and Menelaos (modified Herc 2), and use the Advanced Disruptor (obvious), Hurricane (new Tempest), and Hammer (a weird remote-detonated dumbfire anti-bomber bomb). The Cyclops and Helios are still around. There's other equipment in there, but since you don't get to use it I'm not going to spend time on it.
OTHER NU STUFF: The other factions have their own packs of new fighters and bombers as well. Some of them are... pretty intimidating. If you want to skip ahead to mission design, go ahead; this section takes a while
The Vasudans have the Apis (Vesuvius counterpart), Ennead (basically an armed afterburner), Reshef (elite heavy fighter), Mihos (Super-Ulysses, very good dogfighter), Petbe (fighter-bomber) and Imset (Sabus counterpart).
The SOC is given it's own arsenal of strikecraft: The Banshee (Very light interceptor), Opion (upgraded Vesuvius counterpart), and Horae (very powerful heavy fighter), plus some other ships that don't appear in any missions.
EA pilots fly the Claymore (Dragon-like space superiority fighter, watch out
), the Claymore II (Assault variant, deadly to transports and cruisers), the Stentor (well-armed interceptor, quite dangerous), the Peregrine (medium bomber, more mobile than it looks), and the fearsome Gagana (massive heavy bomber, difficult to kill and vastly overarmed)
The Shivans have been hard at work as well. You'll have to face the Hydra (weird "recon" fighter, slow and poorly armed but well-sheilded and so small you can hardly hit it), the Serpent (Ares-style missile boat), the Chimera (a Shivan Stealth fighter
), and the Gorgon (the Demonic Spider: durable as a heavy fighter, nimble as a Space Superiority ship, secondary supply of a medium bomber and very powerful primaries). And don't forget the Durja bomber. That thing packs plenty of Shivan Ultra Bombs (anti-superdestroyer weapons) and is an absolute damage sponge. And there's still stuff that wasn't used.
BIG NU STUFF: Yup, this is what Inferno is famous for: its Capital Ships. They're big, they're new, and there's a ton of them.
(the fact that it's taking this long just to give a brief list of ships that appear IN MISSIONS should give you an idea of how much work went into Inferno)
The GTVA Terrans have the GTC Alcyone (upgraded Aeolus), GTCv Alexandria (light corvette with great point-defenses), the GTCv Phobos (great heavy corvette based on the Deimos), GTD Iceleus (Basically a Hecate II), and GTD Boreas (heavy brawler destroyer). The biggest ship they deploy in INFR1 is the GTCa Warlock, a Superdestroyer-sized carrier with an insane fighter complement and a very powerful forward beam array. Your homeship is a Warlock-class ship, the GTCa Independence. The Terrans also have switched from Green beams to more powerful Blue ones.
The Vasudans use the GVC Sai (well-armed but poorly-armored cruiser), the GVCv Mandes (frontal-assault medium corvette), the GVCv Patchet (heavy corvette for close-range brawling), the GVD Apothess (extremely effective artillery destroyer, toast at close range or without it's main beam) and the GVD Asarte (powerful heavy destroyer). They top it off with the Warlock's counterpart, the GTCa Tannen, and the unique and highly effective Het-Ka superdestroyer.
The SOC has a big collection of capships, many of which don't appear in-mission. They include the SOC Orc (upgraded Alcyone), the SOCv Phobos Advanced (holy cow, that thing's powerful!), the SOD Segomo (powerful all-around destroyer), and their mighty flagship, the SOSD Olemus. Let's just say it's a nice ship to have on your side
The EA uses the EAC Aesacus (anti-fighter light cruiser), the EAC Eclipse (heavy cruiser), the EACv Darkness (heavy corvette), the EAD Telemus (an extremely heavy destroyer designed for brawling, but with pitiful point-defenses), and the EAD Lindos (weirdest-looking terran ship I've ever seen; obliterates ANYTHING in front of it, but highly vulnerable from behind.) And don't forget their flagship, the EASD Nemesis. The Nemesis excels in all areas, with frightening point defenses and massive anti-capital power in every direction direction. And some subspace tricks up its sleeve. Watch out. I have warned you.
Interestingly, the EA's beams are silver.
And the Shivans. These guys have the SC Abel (the new Cain), the SC Raguel (Heavy armor, insane weaponry), the SCv Scylla (vastly improved Moloch), the SD Kismat (Well-armed, well-armored heavy destroyer with no fighterbay), and the SD Iblis (A destroyer with massive forward firepower but weak point-defenses). Many of the really big Shivan ships are only visible in the techroom, but you'll get to fight the frightening Diablo superdestroyer and... Gulp.
Ok, it took Three "pros" just to cover the new ships. Get the picture?
Now for the actual mission design.
THE MANY BATTLES OF ENDOR: This is what makes Inferno so... Infernoesque. The prevalence of huge battles between huge numbers of huge ships. Beam spam, big explosions, and all that that implies.
A few examples: In second mission, "One Step at a Time", we see a whole EA destroyer and its cruiser escort vaporised easily by the Independance, as the GTVA captures a huge installation. "El Diablo" pits a large friendly fleet against wave after wave of Shivan cruisers and corvettes in a node blockade; the mission then red-alerts to the aptly-named "Showdown", which involves a two-on-two duke-out between large capships, including three ships of Superdestroyer size.
"Fenced In" pits you against a whole fleet of EA ships as they rush your blockade. The list goes on...
However, Inferno does have some mission variety. You'll get a few smaller skirmishes and escort missions. "Gateway", in particular, is a very tense stealth mission... made tenser by the sheer number of huge enemy ships in the mission
THE MISSION OF AWESOMENESS: "Nemesis", the second-to-last mission of the campaign, is arguably one of the best fan-made missions of HLP history, up there with Forced Entry, Hail Mary, Aristeia and White Noise.
The goal: take out the EASD Nemesis as it orbits Earth, guarding the EA's HQ. At the start, you're covering a team of warships lead by an Iceleus destroyer, the Ramanaya. As you advance over a very lengthy distance towards the Nemesis, the EA throws wave on wave of fighters and bombers – numbers in the hundreds – at your assault force, with the occasional capship mixed in. You have to keep your battlegroup alive as they march forward into the full fury of the Earth Alliance. The EA is making it's last stand, and they know it.
Bombers and fighters of all classes pour in on the GTVA strike force. A cruiser/corvette team, and then a Tereus destroyer, warp in to block your path. But thanks to your cover, the Ramanaya and its escorts are able to push through the EA defenses and battle their way to the Nemesis...
And then warp out. The plan worked. The EA has spent its reserves and its backup ships, and the the Nemesis is on its own. The task force, comprised of smaller ships and in no condition to survive the beam cannons of the Nemesis, departs, while the mighty GTCa Independance warps in on the Superdestroyer's flank and opens fire. The two superships exchange one of the most impressive two-way salvoes in FreeSpace modding history...
And it's the Nemesis's turn to jump out. But it's not retreating. It's making a nanojump to flank the Independance. It warps back in, and the duel resumes.
That's where you come in. After a frantic rush across the battlefield, you have to knock out two of the Nemesis's seven main beam cannons before they rip the Independance apart. These beams are wickedly well armored, and you'll have to evade the Nemesis's point defenses. Not to mention the sheer amount of Beamz flying around you as the two flagships struggle for victory.
The ending is not what you would expect...
I flew a Cyone on the mission, as it's high-speed missleboat abilities seemed perfect. I armed it entirely with Prometheus cannons and Sniper missiles, and went missile crazy on the attacking waves. Then I nearly failed the mission when I found that the entire Sniper capacity of a Cyone
was not enough to destroy both beam cannons on the Nemesis! One beam cannon was still functioning.
And I was out of missiles. And the support ship was 15 kilometers behind me. And I had one wingman remaining. Gha!
Hard to believe it, but I still pulled it off, just battering away with Prometheus cannons as the support ship tried to catch up. It helped that Delta arrived right when I needed help the most.
I'd love to hear some "here's how I beat Nemesis" stories!
Inferno might be worth playing for this mission alone. Wow.
If you're a fan of massive battles, you could do a lot worse than INFR1. But...
We've got to discuss the CONS of the gameplay.
BROKEN MISSIONS: Sigh. Unfortunately, three out of INFR1's 14 missions cannot be completed without cheats. Normally bugs like these would fall under Technical Stuff, but in this case they're truly mission-breaking, so I'm putting them under Gameplay.
Thankfully, Inferno's cheat-checking appears to be disabled. So on the following missions, go ahead and cheat.
After the initial salvo, the Olemus's beams repeatedly miss the Diablo. I'm not sure the cause, it could be low AI level, miss-tabled beams, the Diablo's contorted target profile... or something else entirely. After a few minutes the Olemus will be history. Once the Olemus arrives, make it invincible and `k the Diablo to death to complete the mission.
TAKING THE GATE:
It's simply impossible to complete this one. There's too many threats and not enough wingmen; you won't be able to protect the Hathor. On top of that, the Hathor often misses its targets. This mission really needed more testing.
Just make the Hathor invulnurable. When you get the order to destroy the fourth weapons subsystem, use cheats to make sure weapons subsystems 1 through 3 and the one Telemus destroyer in the distance are destroyed.
The most embarrassing of the three. The final mission is broken, not because it's too hard, but because it's too easy. The SSJ Gigas is supposed to fire a beam at the GVD Hathor. Once the Hathor is destroyed, you receive an RTB directive. However, the Gigas never actually fires the beam, forcing you to use physics-defying cheats to betray the Hathor in order to complete the mission.
So here we have Inferno's biggest problem. 21% of the missions require cheats to complete. (Incidentally, if the missions worked for you, please tell me.)
DIFFICULTY: And be warned. Even on the missions that do work properly, Inferno is a hard campaign. Missions tend to be long, and there's a tendency to have a hard part right at the end that can send you back to square one. If you find it hard to stay organized during a Battle of Endor scenario, you'll probably find Inferno pretty frustrating.
That brings us to AESTHETICS!
PROS of the aesthetics:
MUZAK: Inferno comes with three mission packs of neat custom music. It's pretty good. The "Second Reality" set is pretty jarring, good for tense moments (humorously, Blue Planet: Age of Aquarius borrowed this track, possibly because of the title). The "Hidden" set is actually scarier in its ambient form, the proper battle music is more upbeat. My favorite is the "Decisive" pack: very tense, but not so "in your face" as to drive you crazy. Keeps you on your toes. Perfect for long, epic missions like... well... Inferno missions in general
(Nemesis in particular.)
SPELIN AN GRAMMAH: Inferno gets an A.
PERSONAS: Interestingly, the Inferno team did the work to write pilot personas.
CONS of the Aesthetics:
MODELING & EFFECTS: Regarding the graphical works in Inferno, there's a pretty big variety where quality is concerned. On some of the ships (Diablo, Menelaos, Asarte) you can practically count the polygons. Other ships are in better shape, like the Perseus Adv, Claymore, and Jotun.
Inferno was made over a long period of time by a lot of people with different levels of modeling skill who got better as time went on. It's also very old, and it doesn't use MediaVPs; in many ways its visual quality is closer to FS2 retail than modern FSO.
In my book, graphical quality is less important than plot and gameplay. But this remains another area where Inferno shows its age.
NO VOICES: Inferno is not VA'ed.
Finally, the TECHNICAL STUFF section. Rather than use pro-con organization I'll just summarize.
Inferno was originally intended to be played over Retail FS2. The standard Inferno VP file (possibly the biggest VP ever made) goes in your root FS2 directory. Nice and easy.
To play Inferno with FSO, you need the Inferno SCP Patch VP as well. There are two ways to run it. According to the readme, you should stick both Inferno VP files in your root FS2 folder and use the launcher flag "-mod INFR1". The drawback to this is that you have to remove these VP files in order to run other mods. What works better IMO is to stick both VP files in a folder labeled something like "INFR1" and select that mod folder like any other mod.
If you're really 1337, since the two VP files are somewhat redundant you can actually break them down into ordinary folders and then merge them, overwriting Main files with Patch files. I did that myself after playing it (mainly because I was considering using INFR1 files to make my own campaign). But if you just want to play the campaign that's just a waste of time.
My reaction to Inferno was... strong, but mixed. The plot was sensible but not particularly powerful. The assortment of ships and weapons was huge, but many of them were unused. The missions ranged from spectacular to broken. The models were numerous but many lacked polish.
Two things to take away. First, Inferno is ambitious but unfinished. The amount of work that went into it is staggering, but much of it ended up unused. The plot breaks off somewhat abruptly. Some missions would be great with some easy revision. Had it been finished... just imagine it.
Second, it's old. By today's standards the models seem clunky, although we're probably spoiled by Blue Planet and Shadow Genesis. You won't find FREDing "stunts" like Vassago's Dirge or The Antagonist.
I'm going to need a few more days to complete my agonization process before I can give percent scores. But if you want my recommendations:
You may or may not want to play Inferno. If you're willing to put up with the broken levels in order to reach the epic ones, you're okay with old graphics like I am, and you're in the mood for gameplay rather than story, go for it. Otherwise, Warzone or Shadow Genesis will give you fairly big battles with fewer bugs.
Put another way, Inferno is prime material for a reboot. It's cons are big enough to make a reboot necessary, but it's pros are big enough to make a reboot appealing. I'm eagerly looking forward to Inferno: Nostos.
Stay tuned for Part 2:
Project lead: Woomeister
Senior Staff: Darkage
Other Staff: Alikchi