It’s not every day that the people I live with will casually confront me about a game I’m playing and I have to explain it’s for work. I don’t usually play games like this, but from looking at the trailer and the artistic elements so expertly demonstrated, it would make an amateur graphic designer scream; I had to try it out. Mediterranea Inferno takes on heavy themes of drug use, sexuality, and self-entitlement laced with insecurity inside of the three leads — Claudio, Andrea, and Mida — as they face their personal demons on a three-day bender.
Set in contemporary Southern Italy, the trio reunite after a few years apart (probably referring to the recent pandemic) for “three days and three nights” at Claudio’s grandfather’s summer house. Once the trio were known as I Ragazzi Del Sole (The Sun Guys) as they believed everything revolved around them. Now on vacation, they’re enticed by a stranger named Madama to try an enchanted fruit called the Fruit of Mirages. Once eaten, the person is transported to a utopia where their fantasies flourish. But there’s a catch! Like a dope dealer, the first one may be free, but it will cost them dearly for another hit.
The game begins in the city of Milan around the fictional nightclub, Club Plastic, in early 2020. Here, the player is introduced to the main characters with a brief description of them and how they are inseparable. Then, it cuts to the present as Claudio invites his friends to party with him in South Italy via text message. I say South Italy as it’s not said explicitly where they’re staying — and if it does, it’s said briefly between gossip and Italian-based references. Mediterranea Inferno’s colour palette changes as the first act opens with Claudio travelling down via the bus. Between explaining to the player how they feel and filling in backstory to the trio’s history, Claudio opens up to a stranger about themselves. Like, opens up to a point where it’s surreal to do in real life. Like, if it was me listening to someone ramble on about their insecurities, I’d nod my head and think of ways to get out of the conversation. The stranger does one better and disappears — standing outside the bus with a glowing, floating fruit in their hand — when Claudio wasn’t looking, which introduces the Mirage part of the game.
Mirages represent the character’s ‘chasing the white rabbit’ into his/her psyche. However, the game cleverly has you accept the fruit like agreeing to terms of service — making you click on a notification on a phone. The first Mirage you enter transports Claudio into a point-and-click adventure where he confesses his ‘sins’ to something in a confessional and is sort of christened as a shepherd…or so I believe. In Mirages, the story is told in half-truths and hints to twists to come, so getting your head around why Claudio or his friends are seeking any type of retribution is left for the story to know and you to find out.
The blend of 2D and 3D visuals is a hard collaboration to pull off. Mediterranea Inferno accomplishes this quite well in static scenes, like when characters are talking, but not so well when conveying motion. The opening of the first chapter has a bus travelling on a one-way road with hand-drawn bushes whizzing by. Because the bushes are moving fast enough that you cannot take a good look at them, the illusion of depth is achieved. However, the next scene has the camera pan to a bus window with Claudio staring outside, which — if you stay on too long — looks awkward and out of place. It also doesn’t help that every character has the same body type, slender build and pointed chins. They tried to separate the main characters by having different hairstyles, but if you lined them up and asked me to tell them apart, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Coming back from the high, the story resumes with Claudio meeting Andrea and Mida at the summer home, helping them settle in. That night, they decide to head out on the town and catch up with a street festival. There they each have their own experiences — both Claudio and Andrea have fun while Mida gets recognised for their appearance in a fashion magazine. After the festival ends for the night, the groups decide to walk around the town for something else to do, finding a shop still open. Once inside, looking for the owner who, surprisingly, ends up being the stranger who drugged Claudio before. Named Madama and dressed like Danny Sexbang, they offer them another fruit of mirages to share, which sends them into a shared hallucination.
The 3D visuals of the town and summer home reminded me of a graphic designer I’ve forgotten the name of whose work I studied back in university (not enough to remember the bloke’s name). His minimalist artworks present dimensions using gradients and perspective instead of outlines and movement, and his choice of vibrant colours demonstrated a tropical paradise like in most of his collections.
The music in Mediterranea Inferno is originally made, lending to an authentic setting of Italy and the mood of the game itself rather than collecting royalty-free music. The audio would sometimes crackle when music — and only then — would play outside of the dialogue segments. But I didn’t worry too much, as I could just lower the volume.
What I deliberately left out — and why I had to explain myself to a family member — is every time you accept the fruit, a cutscene shows them eating the fruit, golden juice flow down their naked body as they grab themselves, which is the worst time for someone to look at your screen while saying “What are you working on, Ben?”.
I won’t spoil the ending of the first act, but you can pick it up on Steam if you’re interested in finding out more…