Dante's Inferno (2010)
By: Tristan Jones on February 6, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: PS3
Also available on: Xbox 360
Developer: Visceral Games
Distributor: EA
OFLC Rating: MA15+
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Ever since I heard word of Visceral's (The Godfather games, Dead Space) video game interpretation of the epic Dante's Inferno, I was on the fence. It could be really, really good, or it could (and in my mind, right up until actually putting the game in) be really, really, bad. The poem itself has a huge amount of potential for an absolutely fantastic gaming experience, but often times games that are inspired by something truly amazing fall tragically short of that and while Dante's Inferno isn't necessarily one of these tragic cases, it really is a shame that it's such a lackluster package.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, Dante's Inferno is the first of three chapters in the Dante Alighieri's Italian poem "The Devine Comedy", in which Dante recounts a journey through the realms of the dead (Hell, Purgatory and Heaven). In the Inferno, Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil as they travel through the nine circles that make up Hell, eventually coming face to face with Lucifer before exiting Hell and venturing into Purgatory. The story line of the game is vaguely similar, in that you play as a character named Dante and travel through the nine circles with Virgil as your guide. Similarities pretty much end right there, though bits and pieces have been pulled from other chapters to kind of flesh out their own spin on the story.

Visceral's take sees Dante as a knight in the Crusades, who is murdered by an assassin in the Holy Land, but refuses to accept death and decides to tell the Grim Reaper to essentially blow it out his arse. He returns home to find his beloved (Beatrice Portinari, who is also from the poem, but acts as his guide through Paradise in the literature) murdered. Beatrice's spirit rises and tells him that she knew he would come, but Lucifer rocks up and takes her to into the Inferno, in spite of her innocence. See, Dante's woman made a wager, but to give that away now would take away what was the core reason for me to keep slogging through this game, and what I'm sure will be the core reason for a number of other gamers as well. The revelation isn't entirely surprising, but the story is presented in such a way that it keeps things interesting enough to keep slogging through what quickly becomes a very mindless cycle of repetitious, Gauntlet style, button-mashing. In my mind, this is the game's biggest fault.

The story is decent enough, even with the liberties taken, but the gameplay is completely uninspired. If you've played God of War or any of the recent Gauntlet games, then you've played Dante's Inferno. The similarities to the God of War games are glaring, but if you haven't by any chance played anything from either of the aforementioned series, I'll break it down. Generally what will happen is you'll enter an area and a will be confronted with one of two things: a horde of enemies or a basic platformer puzzle. To advance you either hack the shit out of anything that moves, or solve the little puzzle. Nothing exactly tedious… at least for the first few levels. It does eventually reach a point where you just wish the annoyingly pitiful enemies would just stop appearing so you can get to the next part of the story, or see what the next ring of Hell looks like (more on that later though). It's pretty straightforward stuff. There are a few power upgrades along with items that can be put to similar use if you're really struggling (they do come in handy on the hardest difficulties), but you'll find that you'll generally be hitting the fast attack button and the projectile attack button without any real need for anything fancy, as all it really does is drag the fighting out longer.

One neat little addition that I wish more had've been done with is the option to either "Punish" or "Absolve" your foes. Basically it adds points to your Soul collecting (you collect souls like coins, souls allow you to upgrade) and presents a kind of basic "morality tree" situation, similar to the Jedi Knight games where you can choose to either become a true Jedi or a Sith. It's not quite as in depth as that but it does provide a nice little break and some of the animations that accompany these situations are fun to watch when they're available. The more you absolve enemies or lost souls, the more points you earn towards gaining "Holy" powers, and the more you punish, the more you get for "Unholy" powers. It's a neat little addition, but ultimately not enough to add anything substantial to the overall experience.

What Dante's Inferno lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for with its visuals. The enemies and character models look good (if a little repetitious) but once you start really descending into Hell, you'll find yourself paying more attention to your surroundings than to the action itself, though his probably doesn't matter too much, because you can pretty much rest assured that if you stay still and just mash the attack buttons you can kill everything you need to without even paying attention to what's going on or who/what you're attacking. Every level of Hell is visually amazing, and the way the levels flow on from one to another is almost seamless. Gluttony and Lust are particularly memorable, as is Phlegethon -- an area in the ring of Violence where you must navigate around and across rivers of souls being boiled in blood. The textures are nearly all photorealistic, which makes a number of levels, particularly the ones involving landscapes made up of things resembling human orifices, organs and body parts, really impressive to look at. If you're a fan of Hieronymus Bosch, then you'll find some fantastic little nods here and there.

The bosses are visually very impressive, too. Again, Lust and Gluttony's keepers really are fantastic designs, as are all the others, but I was slightly disappointed by the design of Lucifer himself. Even with his massive dong, Lucifer failed to impress, especially after what had come earlier. He still looks great from a technical standpoint, but after some really inspired work on some of the earlier creatures, he's a little bit boring.

The game's sound is a mixed bag. The ambient sound is great, hearing all the wailing of the tortured souls mingled in with the "natural" sounds of the environment really adds to the levels, and some of the voice work is fantastic -- particularly on the key characters -- but some of it is also painfully average and the general sound effects are about as plain as the play mechanics.

In the end, I think Dante's Inferno is going to be one of those ones that splits gamers. If you're into games where you can just switch off for a few hours and get lost in mindless hack-and-slash action, then it's perfect (at least until God of War 3 comes along), but if you're after something with some depth and resonance (like the literature it's based on) you're going to be very disappointed. It's worth looking at regardless of what sort of gamer you are, because there is some impressive stuff in there, but unless the action genre is what gets you going, you're better off saving your money and marking this one down as a weekend rental only. Oh… and there are boobs.
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