Fighting your way through an adaptation of what is widely considered one of the greatest works of world literature is uncharted territory for a videogame. So when it was announced Visceral Games and EA were working on a game based on the poem Dante’s The Divine Comedy, it’s easy to see why we were a bit skeptical that this particular medium would make for a compelling gameplay experience. After playing through Dante’s Inferno, we are left feeling a bit indifferent towards the game, with its butchering of the classic story, its engrossing portrayal of Hell, its clear ripoff of God of War, and its fun, yet simple combat that, while repetitive, offers a lot of fun for fans of the good ol’ hack ‘n slash genre.
Right off the bat, we should get the story out of the way. If you were forced to read through a translation of The Divine Comedy in high school or college (or decided to do it for fun), then you’ll quickly realize that Visceral Games took a lot of liberties with the narrative. You play as Dante, a crusader who, after growing weary of the ongoing war, returns to his lady in the Florence countryside. When he arrives to meet his fiancée Beatrice, he finds his home destroyed, and his love dead outside. Since the The Divine Comedy doesn’t have much action, or a rime or reason for Dante’s descent into Hell, it makes sense that Visceral needed a reason for Dante to venture there. It turns out Lucifer drags Beatrice into the depths of Hell, and Dante is tasked with venturing through the various layers of this perilous dimension to rescue her. We are not big poetry or literature buffs, but we fell in the category mentioned earlier about having to study The Divine Comedy in school – the game clearly has little to do with the actual story, and instead uses the imagery created in the book to create a devastatingly bleak and gruesome view of Hell.
All of this doesn’t matter much as we know most gamers could care less how much a videogame stays true to the source subject. In fact, we don’t really care that the story was changed so much. However, a change in the game’s name, the character’s name, or even taking a lighter approach to the game would have made a bit more sense. It’s a minor point, and as previously stated, most gamers will not care about how close the story is to The Divine Comedy. Still, there are some similarities. For instance, the Italian poet Virgil is more or less Dante’s guide through Hell, and provides as a sort of narrator in the game. You’ll also run into several historical figures throughout the game that you can either punish or absolve (more on that later).
Dante’s Inferno is an action game down to its core. You’ll hack and slash away at swarms of enemies in a style befitting the God of War series. The game “borrows” an awful lot from games in its genre, like the recently released Darksiders and Bayonetta. Your arsenal includes weapons like the scythe and a holy cross, and various magic abilities. The double jump helps you perform aerial combos, which are easily pulled off by mashing the buttons. Your scythe is your short-range weapon that sweeps through demons with great ease. Your cross acts as your ranged weapon, which aims easily at enemies that are far away.
The game’s currency comes in the form of souls. As you may have guessed, you can acquire these items when you kill enemies or find them in chests (sound like God of War?). Souls are used to upgrade your abilities and weapons. One of the few unique elements of Dante’s Inferno rests in its soul collecting. You have the ability to make Dante fight for good or bad, light or dark. You’ll do this by “judging” your enemies before you kill them. If you decide to punish them, you just kill them and gather Unholy points. If you want to fight for the light side, you can absolve your enemies and collect Holy points. You’ll use Unholy and Holy points to advance Dante with various upgrades. Relics will also add points to whichever path you choose. This makes for an interesting take on the usual leveling system in action games.
As previously mentioned, you’ll run into different historical figures throughout the game that you can choose to punish or absolve, adding hefty points to whatever side you decide. Holy seems to be the easiest in that you can get big bonuses for saving these historical figures. If you choose to absolve the figures, you’ll launch a Simon Says style mini-game. All you have to do time your button pressing with icons that appear on screen – similar to Rock Band or Guitar Hero – to purge as many sins as you can.
The combat never feels all that difficult in Dante’s Inferno, and veterans of the genre should start on the hardest difficulty for any real challenge. The combos don’t feel necessary, but if you like racking up hit combos, you can easily chain 50+ hits. Towards the end of the game you’ll finally fight harder demons. This doesn’t take much away from the game, but it helps it feel like a popcorn game, something to sit back with, relax, hack away at some baby-demons, see some gruesome violence, plenty of nudity, and be glad that you are safely on your couch and not strolling through Hell.
Which brings us to the presentation of Hell itself. To us, this was the best part of Dante’s Inferno, and we tip our hats to Visceral Games for using descriptions from The Divine Comedy to create the game’s background. The game looks wonderful, with few to no hiccups. In fact, we were quite impressed with the cut scene sequences, and how well the game seems to have perfected a grotesque vision of Hell. Sex is at the forefront in the Lust level, while the demonic babies that inhabit this bleak land are dreadful, yet entertaining. That’s not to say this is the most visually advanced game we’ve played, but it’s just nice to look at, and provides plenty of “wow” moments, whether from its violence, sex, or oddities.
The music and sound in Dante’s Inferno is quite fitting, and comes complete with a large orchestral score, and disturbing echoed-cries through the different layers of Hell. The ambient noise helps create the general theme and vision in Dante’s Inferno. In regards to voice acting, for the most part it’s pretty solid, though we did at times discern some issues in regards to lip syncing. Fortunately, this wasn’t enough to detract from the overall experience.
If you are fan of this style of action genre, you may be at odds on whether or not to buy Dante’s Inferno, or just wait until God of War III comes out. We found Dante’s Inferno to be a very solid action game, with some interesting interpretations on the genre. However, there isn’t a great deal of lasting gameplay, with some 12 hours for the campaign, you’ll probably play it once, maybe again on the hardest difficulty, and forget about it. For the average gamer, you’ll probably want to save your money for God of War III, but if you want something a bit more morbid and mature, you should definitely pick up Dante’s Inferno.
While Dante’s Inferno is clearly setting up a new franchise, we find it a bit disheartening that with all the liberties taken to the story, more was not done to change and enhance the genre’s gameplay experience. You’ll get your kicks out of the fast-paced combat, strong mature themes, and brilliant graphical depiction of Hell, but it doesn’t have that huge, epic feeling that the original God of War had when it first launched. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy Dante’s Inferno, but when a developer makes a game so similar to a mega series like God of War, that game has to excel in some way the bigger, and more popular series doesn’t. Dante’s Inferno does not do that, but it does what it does well, and has some really entertaining moments. After all, a game is supposed to be entertaining, and therefore, Dante’s Inferno was a success.